DIK - Deutsche Islam Konferenz - Mosque in Buggingen

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Visit to the mosque in Buggingen

If there are ever reports about mosques in Germany, these are usually because residents are protesting against one being built in their area, in Berlin Pankow-Heinersdorf, for example, or the Ehrenfeld area of Cologne. People are afraid of the Islamisation of Europe and fear a mob of radical Islamists on their own doorsteps. Prejudices are rife.

I decided to form my own impression and searched on the internet for information about the mosque in Buggingen, my neighbouring town in south west Germany.  Information was minimal. There is no mention of the mosque on Buggingen’s local authority website. I finally find out the imam’s telephone number by asking several friends and make an appointment to see him.

Off to the mosque in the heart of the Markgräflerland

It is Friday morning, around half past eleven. I get on my bicycle and set off for Buggingen. With only 3,800 inhabitants Buggingen is a small community in the heart of the Markgräflerland, south of Freiburg. Nothing much has changed here recently. There is a gaggle of small shops around the old village square with its modern fountain. The town has a primary and secondary school, a sports ground, a Protestant and a Catholic church and even an Edeka supermarket, which opened a few years ago.  And yet there is a mosque in Buggingen! This is the reason for my excursion today.

I turn onto the cycle path that follows the B3 south. While I cycle past maize and wheat fields with the Black Forest silhouetted behind the Rebhangen, I see in my mind's eye Arabic lettering, Turkish sesame bread rolls, minarets, hookahs, donkey carts and colourful bazaars that I remember from my trips to Turkey and Egypt. Now in the midday sun it is almost as hot as a warm Egyptian spring day and only the wind in my face caresses it with its cool touch. I am curious to find out what awaits me.

Outwardly inconspicuous mosque building

The Buggingen mosque is located in the Kaliwerk district on the former industrial site, a little outside town. I cycle past a disused filling station and a bowling club. On my right towers the Kaliberg, shimmering a matt grey in the midday light. The road opens out onto a large gravel car park.I stop and look around me, searching for a minaret, but instead I see a dome, topped by the familiar crescent moon. So, I am standing in front of the mosque. I have made an appointment to meet Ahmed Tugran, the imam of the mosque, at noon.

My gaze moves up the façade. If the dome were not there, it would look like a normal residential building.  Work started on the mosque in 1995. First the rooms in the lower ground floor were built, and then the rest of the building followed over the next six years. It was consecrated in 2002. I already knew this from a notice in the information sheet.

Above the entrance a Turkish flag hangs as does another flag in a lighter red, bearing an inscription that I cannot read.  "This is the flag of the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Association," a voice explains. The voice belongs to Mr Tugran who, in the meantime, has approached. Mr Tugran is probably in his early 40s, wears a white shirt and light grey trousers and speaks with a local southern German accent. I like him immediately. "Usually the German flag hangs here too, but it has a tear in it and it is still being repaired." Then he invites me into his office on the lower ground floor.

Drinking mocca with the imam

We drink a strong mocca and Mr Tugran tells me about his work. "I come to the mosque at least once a day, sometimes twice, and do everything that needs to be done." Today, he will not be able to be at Friday prayers at 2.30 p.m., the most important prayer time of the week. He is on a late shift at his company in Neuenburg. "With my work at the company and work in the mosque, sometimes there is not much time left for the family." Up to 200 people come to Friday prayers, and sometimes even as many as 600 come to the final prayers during Ramadan. The catchment area for the Buggingen mosque stretches from Freiburg to Lörrach, making it one of the largest in the whole of Baden-Württemberg. "Space is sometimes at a premium." Many of the faithful, who cannot come to prayers in Buggingen regularly, organise themselves around the prayer times that the mosque organises for the whole area.

The mocca is black, hot and sweet and I almost feel at home in Mr Tugran's office. I look around. On the wall is a shelf with files; most of them with Turkish lettering. "Authorities" is written on one, "Foreigners' registration office" on another. Mr Tugran has followed my gaze and laughs, "Yes, this sort of thing is part of my work too.If people have problems with the authorities or have only just arrived in Germany and don't speak the language well, then we help them." The telephone rings. Mr Tugran speaks down the line in animated Turkish. Now and then I hear "alham-de-liläh", a common Arabic expression for "Thank God". “Most of the members of our association are Turks," explains Mr Tugran, when his call ends. There are only a few people from Arabic-speaking Islamic countries. He himself comes from Anatolia.

Table football, kitchen and marriage room

We begin our tour in the lower ground floor. Next to the office is a large recreation room with table football, a dart board, several billiard tables and a kitchenette. “Parties are often held here until late at night. Sometimes we hire out the room for weddings too.But usually so many guests come to weddings that there is not enough space here. So families prefer to hire the Buggingen community hall.” At this time of day the recreation room is almost empty. Just three old gentlemen sit enjoying their cigarettes together. Next door the television is on. There are two elderly gentlemen here, too. “This is our community room, a non-smoking room. It’s generally a bit quieter in here.”

Mosque tours for schools and police

This room is also used to receive and entertain visitors to the mosque. For this is a frequent occurrence. The Muslim community in Buggingen participates every year in the prayers for peace to which Christians, Jews and Muslims from the whole area come. In addition there are tours for groups and school parties with an invitation to partake of pastries, tea and sesame bread rolls at the end. In October every year there is an open day at the mosque.

Since last year, the mosque has even been working with the police academy in Freiburg offering seminars to explain Islam to police officers and to provide the Muslim community with contacts in the police. Such meetings always conclude with a shared meal in the community room. “It is important to have such campaigns so that people get to know us,” says Mr Tugran, “but sometimes it is also difficult for us.  Lots of people come and only ask why our womenfolk wear a veil and why they have to stay at home.”

We continue. The lower ground floor of the mosque is almost like a little Turkish-Arabic world of its own. There is even a small hairdressing salon and a food shop that sells Turkish and Arabic delicacies, as well as fruit and vegetables. Today, “Cola Turka” is on offer: "Three litiresi for 2.50 euros". Unfortunately at this time of day both shops are closed.

Impressive prayer room

Before we ascend to the next floor and look at the mosque, Mr Tugran shows me the ante-room used for ritual washing before prayers: six washbasins are fixed to the wall at knee height; a stool stands before each one. But no one is here yet. “Most people don’t come until just before prayers start, then there’s sometimes a queue here.”

Upstairs, we take our shoes off. I place my scarf around my head for which Mr Tugran looks very grateful and then we enter the mosque. The soft carpet absorbs our steps and our voices. I am impressed. In front of me is a room approximately 200 square metres in size into which the rays of the sun creep through the windows, conjuring up the blue and red colours and pattern in the carpet. Mr Tugran flicks the light switch and the large chandelier in the dome suddenly glitters in the shape of innumerable crystals from the ceiling.

The shapes in the pattern of the carpet all point in the direction of the niche in the wall, towards Mecca. This is the direction that Muslims turn towards to pray. Mr Tugran shows me the Koran, lying ready on the pulpit (minbar). “It will be used today for prayers. A colleague will represent me later.”

The muezzin lives in the building

On the wall, ornaments and verses from the Koran and the name of the Caliph are artistically painted. I decipher the word “Ali” with difficulty and receive a look of admiration for my efforts. Artists came from Turkey especially to decorate the mosque, explains Mr Tugran.The walls are covered with colourful tile ornaments. At the back is a microphone for the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. He lives here in the building. In the upper storey there are three apartments, one of which belongs to the muezzin. The other two apartments are part of the guest wing.

The women’s area is in a raised gallery that is separated off by a half-height transparent curtain. “Here, the women are higher than us and they have a better view,” Mr Tugran chuckles. He lets me take my photos and excuses himself to complete a few tasks in his office.

An invitation to the garden

When I step out of the mosque and fish around for my shoes I find that others are waiting for me. Two gentlemen are standing enquiringly and a little undecidedly at the entrance and are clearly waiting to find out what I am doing here. When I tell them that I am taking photos for a competition run by the Federal Ministry of the Interior on the subject of “Muslims in Germany”, they seen to be as delighted and proud as if they were taking part themselves. In simple German, but also with a southern twang, they tell me to follow them.

I am led around the building into the garden. Here there is a small summerhouse, a barbeque and a pavilion; an atmospheric area for balmy summer evenings. I walk to the pavilion and look at the fountain in the middle, whereupon the two men start a lively game and play with the garden hose and watering can. They want to show me the fountain and combine their strength to try to get it to work.  At last, the first jet splashes down. “It runs on rainwater,” the younger of the two explains to me proudly, while the other nods emphatically and smiles at me happily. Naturally, I take a photo.

By now it is already half past one and people are beginning to arrive at the mosque. Friday prayers begin in an hour. I do not wish to detain my hosts any longer and take my leave but not without promising to visit again some day, inshah’allah (God willing).

Do the people of Buggingen know this mosque?

Then I hop back onto my bicycle and ride home, stimulated by the mocca and the new impressions racing round my brain. Who would have thought there would be a proper, large mosque in the small town of Buggingen? I think that often many things are different and yet amazingly the same: the Muslim community cares about the needs of its members, meets for social gatherings, to celebrate together and pray together. A community whose centre is formed not by a church but by a mosque. And everyone is welcome to meet them.

Apparently, nobody protested against the building of a mosque in Buggingen when it was proposed. How many of the almost 3,800 inhabitants even know that there is one? Who knows whether the protests in Berlin or Cologne would have been less vociferous if people could see how most Muslims in Germany really live? Perhaps then they would recognise the extent to which a mosque enriches their area and perhaps the benefits for themselves, too.

Melanie Kunz, 2007.

Melanie Kunz submitted this article to the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s student competition for 2007 on the theme of “Muslime in Deutschland – deutsche Muslime “ [Muslims in Germany – German Muslims].

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