Whenever I write about the number of mosques in this or that European city, someone usually writes to say, “Nonsense! My wife’s cousin lives there, and there are no mosques in town.” What they mean is there isn’t a big thing with domes and minarets dominating the skyline. The new Muslim populations in western cities weren’t in a position to order up purpose-built buildings in prime real estate locations so they met where they could find a space to rent – old office buildings, converted houses and, quite often, shuttered churches. Those ad hoc mosques provided adequate temporary accommodation, but now they need something more permanent:
“We have recorded 184 projects to build new mosques, of which some are already under construction,” Salim Abdullah, of the German Institute of Islamic Archives, told the AFP news agency this past week.
“We are talking here about buildings with a dome and a minaret, which are clearly recognizable from the outside, and not the 2,600 prayer areas housed in various buildings throughout the country,” Abdullah added.
Of some 1,200 institutions used as mosques in Germany, only 159 are recognizable mosques, serving a community that numbers over 3 million. The remaining are so-called “backyard mosques,” meaning they are in rooms in buildings that have other purposes or would not obviously appear to be mosques to unaware passers-by. In 2004, mosques with minarets numbered just 141.
On the other hand, Christian leaders looking to unload surplus property needn’t worry:
In recent weeks, a church in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin was sold for 550,000 euros to the Muslim Association of Intercultural Centers, which plans to turn it into what it calls a “house of peace.”