A Liberal Mosque: Founder receives threats for "disrespecting" Islam

“You will die!” 

“She is the devil!” 

“She will burn in hell!”

Seyran Ates, a Muslim human rights activist in Germany, has been receiving social media messages like these and threatened out in public on a daily basis. 

“They shouted they have to kill me… to rape me,” says Ates. “These are their messages.” 

What has Ates done to warrant the harassment and veiled threats? She has founded what is being described as Germany’s first “liberal mosque.” Ibn-Rushd-Goethe is an all-inclusive place of worship with the goal of introducing a new way to practice faith and pray together. The mosque, housed in a section of a former Lutheran church, is open to Muslims of all traditions, as well as LGBT Muslims, and people of other religions or of no faith. The mosque also allows men and women to pray together, and even accepts women as leaders in prayer services.

The wearing of burqas and niqabs, however, is forbidden. 

Ates says this is more for “safety reasons, and because it is our conviction that the full-face veil has nothing to do with religion, but is a political statement.”

The founding of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin is enraging Muslims worldwide. In addition to the many anonymous, and public, threats and criticisms pouring in, entire governments are condemning Ates’ revolutionary project. Religious officials in both Egypt and Turkey are calling it an “attack on Islam,” firmly believing it “disrespects the key elements of the Islamic faith.”

al-Azhar, a Sunni institution based in Egypt, declared the mosque as “an innovation that is not approved by Islamic Sharia," and Egypt's state-run religious authority issued a fatwa condemning the mixing of sexes during prayer as a violation of Islam.

Diyanet, the religious authority in Turkey, accused Ates of “ruining” the religion. “We are convinced that all fellow believers will keep their distance from such provocations,” Diyanet said in a statement. 

Though the number of Muslims in Germany is growing, there is still a great deal of resistance to adopting western values. Assimilation is not only discouraged but threatened.

In May, the so-called “morality police” composed of Chechen Salafists, a group of Muslims who believe in strict adherence to the original teachings of Muhammad, posted a video saying that any Muslim, especially women, who socialize with non-Islamic people will be “set straight.” 

Despite the backlash, Ates remains unintimidated. She hopes that her mosque will help to bridge the gap between Islamic and Western values. The name of the mosque itself is symbolic. “Ibn-Rushd-Goethe” combines two historical figures from each respective culture: Ibn Rushd, a medieval Islamic scholar and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, an 18th-century German writer. 

“I will continue to stand up for my organization. Islam needs a change, and together with our supporters across the world, we can make a difference.”

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