MODERN Germany's sometimes uneasy relationship with multiculturalism appears to be facing a new test after moves by the nation's large Muslim population to expand the number of mosques in the country.
Apart from plans to more than double the number of mosques in Germany, a push has been under way by Muslim leaders to buy some of the country's large stock of empty or barely used Christian churches and convert them into mosques.
Indeed, the sale of two churches in Berlin to Muslim associations, combined with the release of details of the program to build 184 new mosques (presently there are about 160 mosques) across Germany, has sparked angry responses from both Catholic and Protestant leaders, as well as triggering a new round of soul-searching about the nation's burgeoning migrant population.
"I was shocked when I read it," said Bernd Szymanski, a Berlin Protestant church leader, who said churches were "significant Christian symbols".
"Why shouldn't we sell to Muslims?," asked Werner Kiefer, the finance director of one of the churches that has been sold and which is to be transformed into a mosque and culture centre with links to Iraqi Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani.
In recent years, other financially hard-pressed Christian congregations have watched their church buildings meet somewhat less-exalted fates such as being turned into supermarkets and banks.
Once among the richest churches in the world, Germany's Protestants and Roman Catholics have fallen on hard times with dwindling congregations, the greying of the population and high unemployment playing havoc with their previously lavish finances.
In particular, money from Germany's Church Tax, which makes up about 80 per cent of the budgets for the nation's two big churches — the Catholics and Protestants — has contracted significantly in recent years and is forecast to drop by 50 per cent in coming years.
Somewhat unique in the world of religious affairs, the tax is levied on all people in Germany who declare themselves to be members of the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or several smaller faiths.
But with about 3.5 million Muslims living in Germany, the nation's Islamic associations have been campaigning for years to receive some of the funds collected under the Church Tax.
The country's main Muslim groups, however, insisted that resistance from the Christian religions meant they were not necessarily in the market for buying churches.
"The main Christian churches refuse on principle to sell any more churches to Muslims," said Bekir Alboga, spokesman for the council representing Germany's leading Islamic bodies.
That said, however, the controversy of the expansion of the number of mosques represents the latest challenge to Germany's attempts to grapple with the emergence of a multicultural society.
The head of the German Protestant church, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, questions the motives behind the building of the mosques and linking the issue to what he claimed was Muslims' "claim to power".
But the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Hans-Joachim Meyer, said Muslims had the right to "dignified houses of God" with the Germany's Muslim population having worshipped for years in makeshift surroundings.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Clerical Whispers’ for any or all of the articles placed here.
The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.