To Indonesian eyes, there does not seem to be anything special about the photos of soaring minarets and people praying in mosques currently on display in an auditorium in Paramadina University in South Jakarta. Indeed, they seem an everyday thing, much like what you’d see on any ordinary Friday or Islamic holiday. But the 60-odd shots of mosques and Islamic activities in a number of German cities taken by Stuttgart-based photographer Wilfried Dechau have a rather deeper story to tell.

Dechau’s work in the exhibition titled “Mosques in Germany” tries to convey a narrative of minorities, human rights, tolerance and conflict. “I embarked on this project without blinkers and without prejudice, motivated by an almost naive curiosity,” Dechau said of his work. Through his mostly architectural approach, the seasoned photographer, who has twice won the German Photo Book Award, captured images from Pforzheim, Penzberg, Manheim, Wolfsburg, Aachen, Karlsruhe, Hamburg and Stuttgart – all cities with large Muslim populations – during his two-month tour of the country. “All the positive experiences and encounters made my work into an affair of the heart,” he said. “This does not mean that I am about to become a Muslim. But we must talk to each other. That much I learned during those eight weeks.”

It is always intriguing to talk about minorities, a category that the some 3.5 million Muslims in Germany still fall into, despite forming the nation’s second largest religious group after Christians – especially given the Western country has a long history of Islamic culture that began from diplomatic ties dating back to Charlemagne and Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century. Until the 18th century, Islamic culture was for Europeans something of an exotic penchant from the Orient, documented in various forms of arts, from Karl May’s tales of the Ottoman Empire to a couple of architectural remnants of secular buildings constructed in the style of mosques, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. It was only recently that Germany had to create a different kind of understanding of the “exotic” culture because the Turkish and Kurdistan migrants who brought Islam closer to Germans back in the 1960s have planted deep roots in the country, while still holding on to their religious beliefs.

Jakarta Post

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