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    Protest mars opening of first mosque in east Germany

    17.10.2008 - 11:08 | Son Güncelleme:

    About 200 people chanting anti-Muslim slogans demonstrated on Thursday at the opening of the first mosque in the formerly communist eastern part of Germany.

    Attacks on the site and protests by residents and the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) have dogged the mosque's construction.

    The demonstrators, many of them older people, held banners reading "Stop the Islamization of Europe" and "Stop the Abuse of Religious Freedom", Reuters reported.

    A few black-clad young men with shaved heads, a trademark right-wing style, joined the protest but the NPD called off a march.

    The 1.6 million-euro (2.15 million-dollar) mosque has a 12-meter (39-foot) high minaret and can hold up to 500 worshippers -- far larger than Berlin’s 200-strong Ahmadiyah community which financed its construction.

    The building of mosques and minarets has sparked controversy in Europe, with opponents criticizing growing Muslim influence in the region and foreign funding that sometimes bankrolls the construction.

    The protest highlighted difficulties in integrating Germany's 3.2 million Muslims into mainstream society, especially in the former communist east where few have settled.

    Supporters say the mosque will foster better ties.

    "The mosque will be a hub of social activity, not just for praying," said Ijaz Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyah mosque.

    "It will play a role in boosting integration and promoting dialogue with politicians and other religious groups."

    The local citizens' group said Ahmadiyah is a sect with racist and discriminatory views.

    "We have a big problem with sects that put religion above everything else, allow the beating of women and deny equal rights," the group said on its website. "Our opposition is directed at this sect's ideas and in particular its ideas about women," it said.

    The edifice symbolizes "religious and cultural tolerance in our town," Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, who was among some 300 people attending the gathering, was quoted by AFP as saying.

    The Ahmadiyah movement, whose slogan is "Love for all, hatred for no one", was founded in India in the 19th century. It defines itself as Muslim but is not recognized by some mainstream Muslim groups because of different beliefs.

    Germany's roughly 30,000 Ahmadiyah members aim to have about 100 mosques in the country eventually.

    Germany is home to about 2,500 mosque communities and has 2,250 active imams. Most of its Muslims are of Turkish origin.

    Photo: Reuters

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