Debating the shape of Islam in Europe

The German architect who designed an ambitious, if controversial, mosque in Cologne cannot wait for construction to begin in the new year so that he can watch his dream take physical shape. Paul Bohm, a 49-year-old non-practising Catholic, admits to being nervous, but proud of what he has envisioned. He has good reason. His is a daring design of swirling columns and glass, alongside squat structures and minarets, which has excited and appalled in equal measure. Traditionalists are unhappy with its modernity, while many non-Muslims say the mosque is further evidence of “creeping Islamisation” in Europe. Thousands protested in the German city. Apart from a few fundamentals – such as the fact that the congregation must face Mecca when they pray and the call to prayer is inappropriate in western secular societies – Muslim activists, scholars and architects argue continually about how the new generation of mosques in Europe should look. Some insist minarets and domes are essential because Muslim and non-Muslims expect them, though there is no theological imperative to have either. Some say mosques must be self-effacing to avoid upsetting non-Muslim communities. Others say mosques must be brash to show that Muslims are confident. Despite pressure from local politicians, the public and even the church to make the mosque less imposing, Mr Bohm said his designs have remained largely unchanged. Simon Freeman reports.

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