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3Novices:n 18thThe new mosque Iin Berlin for the 'silent majority' of Muslims, where men and women pray together

BERLIN // The Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque in Berlin is named after a 12th-century Andalusian philosopher and an 18th-century German poet, but everything else about it is thoroughly modern — even radical.

It is located on the premises of a Protestant church in the west of the city and is open to Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites and Sufis alike. The sermons are in German, and men and women can pray together. The mosque was inaugurated with Friday prayers led by a male AND a female and imam. The event, naturally, too place under police protection.

The seven founders, led by women's rights campaigner Seyran Ates, said they represented the silent majority of Muslims who were clamouring for a more modern interpretation of Islam, not just in Germany but around the world.

"It took me eight years to find people who had enough courage to do this today," Ms Ates, 54, told a packed news conference. "Many said it will be so dangerous. That's why many decided not to join out of fear something could happen."

She said the mosque was aimed at countering Islamist extremism and confronting the conservative interpretation of Islam imposed by clerics around the world.

"We will reach out to other religious communities and ideologies. We don't bedevil anyone who doesn't believe in God. We want to confront Islamist terror and all the things being done in the name of Islam," she said.

There are about four million Muslims in Germany, of whom about three million are of Turkish origin. They are served by Germany's biggest association of mosques, Ditib, which brings in conservative imams from Turkey. Ditib has declined to comment on the new mosque.

Ms Ates, a lawyer who has represented Muslim women and who received death threats following the 2009 publication of her book Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution, said many people had emailed her asking to join the mosque community. But she added that others had expressed criticism.

Ms Ates said she had avoided mosques until now. "I felt discriminated as a woman in mosques in Berlin and across Germany because there's no praying together, because women have to go in an ugly side room."

She said women would not be allowed into the mosque wearing burkas or nijabs because those full-face veils were a political rather than a religious statement.

The founders include Muslim clerics with origins in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Turkey and Syria.

One of them, female imam Elham Manea, who led the prayers on Friday and also teaches political science at Zurich University, said it had been possible in the 1960s and 1970s in Malaysia and Indonesia for men and women to pray together in mosques but that there had since been a "re-Islamisation" based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran.

"It's time for us to reconquer our religion," she said. "This is a good start. Twenty years from now we will be the norm. We're doing this out of love for our religion."

Another imam, Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, said: "We are trying to depoliticise Islam and to let Muslims simply be Muslims. We want people who are seeking closeness to God to be able to find it with us. That's the most important thing. Muslims know that Islam is in an identity crisis at the moment and they're happy that a reform of Islam is being tackled. We are giving a forum for the silent majority of Muslims, which is around 85 per cent."

At present, the mosque is just a spartan 90-square-metre room on the third floor of a building behind the 19th-century, redbrick St John's church in Moabit, a district of Berlin with a large immigrant community.

It has white walls and green prayer mats are laid out across a white carpet. The group rents the space from the church for a small fee and only a few dozen people are expected to use it for prayers initially. Ms Ates said she hoped the community would eventually be able to move into its own building.

Abbas El Fares, an immigrant from Lebanon, said he had not set foot in a mosque in Berlin for 40 years because he had held a liberal view of Islam ever since he was a child.

"Everywhere in Islam there are many, many hundreds of thousands of people who share our view," he told The National.
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