Since built five years ago as an emblem of religious and cultural integration, one of Germany’s largest and grandest mosques has begun reaching worshippers with an Islamic call to prayer publicly sounded for the first time on October 14.
The historic event unfolded on a Friday—the holiest day of the week for Muslims—at the Central Mosque in Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city. Home to about 120,000 Muslims, Cologne has one of Germany’s largest Islamic communities.
The call to prayer was no straightforward affair, however. It was the result of a 2021 agreement with local authorities that paved the way for the muezzin to publicly issue the customary Arabic chant—something that was previously done in Cologne only within the mosque’s four walls, at no more than 60 decibels, over two loudspeakers only of Fridays for five minutes maximum and only between noon and 3 p.m.
Noise limits vary from mosque to mosque, depending on the location. Unlike Cologne’s roughly 70 mosques, which are located in relatively remote corners of the city, the Central Mosque is in Ehrenfeld, a neighborhood just west of downtown, renowned for its role in making the city the cultural and economic seat of the Rhineland.
Run by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, the Central Mosque has two towering minarets. Architecturally, the building is modernist and was inaugurated by the Turkish President.
Across the road from where the muezzin broadcast the call to prayer that day, some 20 people gathered in protest, testifying to the lingering opposition to the mosque’s existence spurred on by right-wing groups and a former Catholic archbishop.
Wielding banners demanding “No Muezzin Call in Cologne! Public space should be ideologically neutral,” the demonstrators were accompanied by a group of women protesting a recent crackdown on protests in Iran of a law requiring women to cover their heads with a hijab in public.
In yet another challenge to this holy tradition, the call to prayer from the Central Mosque is subject to a two-year trial period. Still, Abdurrahman Atasoy, a senior official with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, described the temporary agreement as “an important step in the perception of Muslim religious communities as part of society.”
“That Muslims have arrived and been accepted with their representative mosques as a visible part and with the call to prayer as an audible part of society is the core message of this long process,” Atasoy said. And recent developments have catapulted Muslims “out of unseen and unpleasant backyard mosques into the fold of society.”
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker has expressed agreement with Atasoy’s assessment. Muslims, she said last year, are part of the city’s social fabric, not least because many of them are German born.
“If we also hear the call of the muezzin in our city alongside church bells,” Reker said, referring to bells of the commanding Catholic cathedral that is a major city landmark, “that shows that diversity is appreciated and lived in Cologne.”
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