Praying for change

Woman who founded liberal mosque receives daily death threats

Seyran Ateş and Dr. Bertold Höcker (Facebook)

The opening of a new mosque this month in Berlin has drawn criticism from across the Muslim world — and a daily barrage of death threats for the woman who founded it. Named in honor of German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe and the medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Rushd, the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque is the passion of founder Seyran Ateş who —  despite receiving hundreds of death threats every day — has remained firm in her conviction to create a space where Muslims of all sects can pray together.

Ateş, a 54-year-old lawyer and women’s rights activist from Turkey, is no stranger to challenging the traditional interpretations of Islam. Sunni and Shiite, Alawite and Sufi Muslims, as well as men and women and members of the LGBTQ community are all welcome in the mosque and Ateş encourages communal worship. Progressive in its methodology, the mosque also gives a platform to other female Imams like Ateş and U.S.-based Ani Zonneveld, who was invited to give the call to prayer during the mosque’s inauguration.

While liberal practitioners have championed the mosque, conservatives are vehemently opposed claiming that it “disrespects the key elements of Islamic faith.” Perhaps the most troubling criticism comes from Diyanet, Turkey’s religious affairs agency, which condemned the mosque in a statement saying that it’s practices “do not align with Islam’s fundamental resources, principles of worship, methodology or experience of more than 14 centuries, and are experiments aimed at nothing more than depraving and ruining religion.” Home to a large Turkish population, the mosque is the latest point of contention between the German and Turkish governments, whose political relationship is already strained due to several diplomatic disagreements.

“I want to be very clear in rejecting all comments that clearly intend to deprive people in Germany of their right to freely exercise their religion and to limit the right to free expression of opinion,” declared Martin Schäfer, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry. Although the threats have become so commonplace that Ateş has had to hire personal protection services, she remains undeterred. “I will continue to stand up for my organization,” she vowed during an interview with CBS. “Islam needs a change, and together with our supporters across the world we can make a difference.”

Read the full story at CBS News.


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