Minarets Rise in Germany Shows Increasing Power of Islam

A surge in the building of mosque sweeps through Germany. A very grand and legitimate mosque is now under construction in Berlin, which has prompted Berliners' fear about the influence of Islamic faith in their country.

Dusted in marble, workmen scurry in the muted glow of stained glass. Some paint Koranic verses on the walls; others make last-minute alterations to golden-tipped minarets pricking a drizzly skyline. The mosque is expected to be completed in May.

Ali Gulcek is the director of the Islamic organization that is building the mosque. Gulcek's mosque is being built south of the city center by the Turkish Islamic Union, one of several Islamic organizations in Germany overseeing construction plans for such projects. Gulcek's mosque is part of the surge in Islamic construction sweeping Germany.

Mosques are landmarks of faith. There has been a long time that Muslims in Germany held the prayer meeting in basement and backyard. The construction of the mosque marks a leap of recognition of Islam in the society. It also reveals the determination of Muslims to gain a better position among the German communities, as Gulcek said, "We don't want to hide anymore."

"The mosques will allow us to show ourselves off better to society. We can help with the crime and social problems in these neighborhoods," Burhan Kesici, spokesman of an Islamic Federation said.

But in Europe mosques are also symbols of change that can instigate fear, especially as congregations at Christian churches steadily decline on a continent with the fastest-aging population in the world.

For many Europeans mosques are perceived caldrons of radicalism instead of places since 9.11. That sentiment is likely to endure if Islamic militants were involved last week's train bombings in Madrid that killed 201 people and wounded 1,500 others.

That is why the mosque is not welcomed by most of the Germans.

"These new mosques will make Islam more visible and jobless and angry Muslim men will go to them. They can become places infiltrated by political Islam," said Werner Mueller, a pharmacist in a Berlin neighborhood where proposals for two mosques are encountering opposition from government agencies.

There are a lot of new Islamic projects in the Kreuzberg-Neukoelln area, Germans think that is dangerous for them if there is too much of a concentration of religion in a small area.

The city's planning office of Germany wants veto power in complicating the planning of four mosques in the city boroughs of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln. The government claims it is not singling out mosques, but trying to bring uniformity to the skyline. Gulcek has been fined $100,000 fine from the borough for minarets were too high.

Petra Reetz, a spokeswoman for the planning office noted that Berlin is a not a Turkish town, so special consideration should be taken for the mosque building in order to keep a face of the Central European town.

The mosque building boom, mirroring the growth of an Islamic population in Europe that has doubled over the last decade to between 13 million and 15 million, may be most pronounced in Germany.

But France, home to Europe's largest Islamic community, has 49 traditional mosques, including nine large ones in Paris. The estimated number of mosques in Britain "most of them converted buildings, apartments or prayer rooms with no minarets" has jumped from 613 in 1996 to about 1,000 today.

The alarm that Islam is going to dominate Europe which is used to be having Christian- oriented culture, especially in the central country, Britain, France and Germany, has been ringing in the wake of Muslim extremist terrorism and some other physical cultural changes. There is a need for Christian leaders to look deep into the risk and solve the threat with action.