Who’s afraid of a Minaret?

An article by Gert Kelter, translated by Wilhelm Torgerson, submitted and edited by John Stephenson, Registrar & Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St Catharines, Ontario.

Editor's noteThis article appeared in the first 2010 issue of SELK Informationen, the monthly news service of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany. The author, Gert Kelter, is the pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Görlitz, which is geographically the easternmost parish of the SELK. Pr. Kelter also serves as Provost (Propst) of the Eastern Region (Sprengel Ost) of the SELK and as his church body’s spokesman on Ecumenical Relations. Provost Kelter’s article has been translated by Wilhelm Torgerson (“Torgy”), himself a retired pastor and provost of the SELK who was until recently director of the Wittenberg Project.

Minaret Controversy

As the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano reported in its 11 December 2009 edition, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has criticized Switzerland’s decision not to allow the building of any more minarets on its territory. According to the Vatican newspaper, the second most important man in the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church maintains that the decision taken in the Swiss referendum arose from fear [Angst]. In Bertone’s view, “Plebiscite decisions should emerge from a certain perspective and be directed towards a positive goal.” Incidentally, the cardinal made his comments while being filmed in the Vatican by the Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera. In the referendum of 29 November 2009 about 58% of Swiss voters had approved a prohibition on the further construction of minarets in their country. Already before the referendum, Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the papal council on immigrants, had rejected the idea of a ban on minaret building. With Islamic states in mind, the archbishop went on to say that this principle stands even where there is no reciprocity with respect to rights and freedoms. [On 25 February 2010, Libya’s Colonel Gadaffhi branded Switzerland an “infidel state” and called for a jihad against it!—Tr.]. 

It pertains to the nature of Islam to divide the world into an “area of Islam” and an “area of war.” The Islamic community (umma) is called, indeed obliged, to wage so-called Holy War in order to achieve the gradual incorporation of the “area of war” into the “area of Islam.” Islam neither knows nor wants any distinction between politics and religion, between state and faith.

Of course, “holy war” can be waged peacefully and by all sorts of different means, but when necessary also by force. The full existence and orderly development of the Islamic umma in the form prescribed by the Koran can only occur when sharia, Islamic law, determines a society and achieves absolute validity within it. All effort directed towards expanding the area of Islam into the “area of war” consequently has the goal of establishing this sharia-determined order of society. Not only in Cairo, but equally in Cologne or Bern.

And for that you need majorities. Numerical and—eventually—political majorities. These can come about, as I mentioned before, completely without the use of force by way of the democratic process or of simple demographic developments.

“Minaret” simply means light tower. Its only function is to provide the muezzin with a platform from which he issues a call to prayer five times a day. The often forgotten catch in all this, though, is that we are not dealing here with a mere call to prayer, but with a proclamation of Islam’s claim to absoluteness. Conversely, ringing a church bell is actually “merely” a call to prayer. To make a direct comparison you would have to imagine a Christian verger (sexton) loudly chanting the Athanasian Creed from the church tower seven times a day (according to the schedule of the seven offices of prayer): “Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally”!

I’d like to see the German or European Court that would in this case plead the cause of freedom of religion if Muslims or atheists should feel harassed and insulted.

Even silent minarets speak volumes. The poster put up by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which advocated the ban on minarets, depicted them in the form of rockets perforating the Swiss flag. A rather demagogic image, to be sure. Yet it aptly illustrates the statement made a few years ago by the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, that minarets are “the bayonets of Islam.” Just think about that one for a moment!

By the way, why do minarets or even mosques in Western Europe have to look as if they came out of A Thousand and One Nights?  Manifestly, Islam has no intention of adapting itself or its architecture to our culture; it does not want to integrate; rather it wants to export its culture and order of society.

The old cigarette factory in the City of Dresden looks like a mosque with minarets, but it is a factory with chimneystacks and everyone considers it rather charming. And it certainly is true that the style of architecture is ultimately unimportant. What counts is who does the building and with what intent.

In 2002 the Church Leadership [Kirchenleitung—Governing Council] of the SELK published a document entitled Guide for Evangelical Lutheran Christians for Life Together with Muslims in Germany. It contains this crisp and clear statement: “(36) As a matter of principle Islam knows no distinction between the religious and the secular, or between service to God [Gottesdienst] and politics. The Koran and the sharia strongly aim to order the world under Islamic law. On account of this attitude the danger exists of mosques becoming places where appeals are issued to change the free and democratic order of our society. Yet not every mosque or mosque association aspires to such goals. (37) But the Christian faith cannot see even in the peaceful, moderate mosque ‘the beloved sister in faith.’ Rather, it sees itself summoned to witness before the mosque. And as every mosque is said to be ultimately a mission centre for Islam, so every Christian worshipping assembly should be a ‘city on the hill that cannot be hidden’ (Mt 5,14). The debate must be understood in spiritual terms and be determined not by power and honour, but by the cross of Christ and His sacrificial love.”

A Muslim who wants to be faithful to the Koran cannot therefore but cherish the wish and intention to establish an Islamic community in the place where he lives. The minaret does not automatically achieve this goal, but it does symbolize it. And the rulers in most Islamic states are well aware of the reverse impact: The building of churches is strictly prohibited on their territory. And one of the reasons for this policy is the symbolism such churches would project to the world around.

We have to decide what we want when we are confronted by the question of whether minarets are to be allowed. Viewed in isolation we are merely dealing with a building which—depending on one’s taste—we might consider beautiful or ugly, in harmony or disharmony with our city architecture. But from the viewpoint of Islamic theology minarets are the border posts of the Muslim umma placed in the non-Islamic “area of war.”

Fear? This is never a good advisor when decisions must be made on a rational basis. But in the case at hand it is not unfounded.

And we cannot counter this fear other than by the re-Christianizing of Europe. Islam has a good conscience—and from its own viewpoint justly so—when it advances into formerly Christian regions. What it finds there are for the most part not exactly deeply convinced supporters of the “religions of the book” as the Koran appraises them. Rather, it confronts the irreligious and—according to both Islamic and pristinely Christian tenets—immoral masses.

Thus it is quite understandable when the Islamic community is not terribly impressed by protests coming from those who are “unbelievers” not only according to Islamic principles.

But it is regrettable when we hear nothing from the churches but politically correct protests pandering to majority views and references to a certain “fear” that Rome too deems unfounded. Or should the cardinal’s words be understood differently?

Or perhaps the Cardinal Secretary of State was simply full of “fear” to do other than vent cheap indignation against the voters of Switzerland before the cameras of Al-Jazeera.