Marxloh miracle?

09 08 19

The “Marxloh miracle” describes the German mosque that managed to bring a community together and remains a point of civic pride. Rosie Carter, senior policy officer at HOPE not hate describes her visit.

Duisburg is a city made up of connected sprawling towns in the Ruhr metropolitan area of north-western Germany. Built on the steel and mining industry, today most of the mines and processing plants have closed. A total of 15% of its 500,000 residents are born outside of Germany. Adding together the foreign-born population with the children of migrants born in Germany, this group makes up 32%.

The majority of the minority ethnic and migrant population in Duisburg are Turkish, with most having arrived though Germany’s ‘guestworker’ scheme in the 1960s, a recruitment of foreign workers for manual jobs in the industrial sector as part of post-war reconstruction efforts. There was little infrastructure to cater for these new populations, who were treated as temporary, though most made their homes in Germany. As late as 1985 the Muslim community in Duisberg was using canteens in local coal mines as places of worship.

Unease and outright hostility toward Islam in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, has led to huge protests against the construction of mosques. Disadvantaged, working-class areas like Marxloh-Duisburg are frequently named ‘no-go zones’ by far-right agitators and commentators. Towards the end of the 1990s, a plan to build a central mosque in Duisburg to replace the growing number of ‘backyard mosques’ was met with fears that this construction would ignite protests, attacks and increase hostility toward local Muslims.

Instead, the new mosque was turned into an opportunity for integration that involved the whole community. Unlike other mosque construction projects, there was little local opposition and none of the large-scale protests seen elsewhere in Germany, and it has become a site of civic pride. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Marxloh miracle’, the success of the central mosque in Duisburg was in fact down to a lot of hard work, patience and forward thinking.

As part of my Churchill memorial fellowship, I visited Marxloh to meet with representatives from the Municipal Integration Centre – part of the city government – and the chairmen of both the mosque and the mosque’s education and communication centre. Building on already-strong interfaith relationships in Duisburg was not just about a mosque, but about creating a strong, resilient network of community leaders, and “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue”.

The Marxloh mosque was built through participatory planning and public engagement, a slow process which was which was finally completed in 2008. A panel of key stakeholders from all faiths and none was brought together from was brought together from across the local area to allow the whole district to discuss the project. This was to be a mosque that had the input of the entire community, a building everyone could view with pride.

And seen from both inside and out, iAnd seen from both inside and out, it’s an impressive and beautiful building that bears the mark of the development process. In the education and community centre, each of the three domes are hand–painted with Islamic art, bearing a different flower:: roses to symbolise Islam, white lilies for Christianity, and and olive branches for Judaism. The walls are lined with books from multiple faiths and there is even an interfaith archive.

There is a meeting centre and a bistro open to the public, and there are two separate entrances – – one for the prayer halls and one for the education and community centre – – designed to make non-Muslims feel more comfortable coming in. There is no muezzin call to prayer: a decision taken by the Muslim community at the very beginning of the project, and the minaret is no higher than the steeple of the nearby church.

Transparency was key from the very beginning. One of the smartest aspects of the project proved to be the enormous windows that line the prayer halls, a central aspect of the design to create transparency, and key to opening a pathway between the local Muslim population and the wider community. I’m told that through the participatory planning phase it became clear how important it would be to look in and see what was going on, as well as for worshippers to see out, in order to stem suspicion from either side.

The result has benefitted the whole community, and the surrounding neighbourhood has been regenerated by the development. The mosque is now a source of civic pride for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, drawing visitors from around the world. Yet the completion of the building was not the end of the project and the mosque now acts as a centre for dialogue, where the physical space creates opportunities for local people to openly discuss any concerns, anxieties or tensions so that they can be resolved.

The success of Duisburg central mosque shows the importance of engagement and dialogue in overcoming fears and in creating space for inclusion and cohesion. HOPE not hate’s own work has found that the best way to combat tension is through difficult conversations. We have also found that by engaging people on immigration, most people have balanced views and want to meet a consensus, and often change their minds just through the process of talking. Marxloh is no miracle, instead it shows how we can do better by overcoming our fears to engage.


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