Mosques as Keys to Integration

They are first points of contact and provide both footing and orientation: Muslim communities like that of the Al-Nour Mosque in Hamburg help refugees and those seeking protection. 

When the religious walk with undone shoelaces up into the bustling streets of the Hamburg district of St. Georg after prayer, it can happen that automobile drivers suddenly begin to blare their horns – people park their cars underneath the mosque. Since 1993 there has been a mosque in the car park located in the small one-way street that descends from the railway district in Hamburg.

“We have one of the largest mosques in northern Germany”, says Abdellah Benhammou, board member of the Al-Nour Mosque in Hamburg. The backside of the city’s crest reflects the light shining down from the mosque’s ceiling. Anyone who mindlessly sits down on one of the many wooden chairs that are used during prayer runs the risk of hitting her or his head against the ceiling. The congregation has been renovating an abandoned church since 2013 in order to move out of the car park. “Hamburg doesn't need more mosques, but rather representative mosques. Ones that can be recognised as such from the outside and that aren't just car parks or warehouses”, criticises Benhammou. Because of this, they are forced to go to the nearby monastery school or the Turkish community for educational offerings.

Emergency assistance for the abandoned and for cultural education 

That more room is necessary became clear in the summer of 2015: “starting in August we had, for three months, roughly 400 to 500 seeking shelter each night. The mosque was consistently filled to capacity”, says Benhammou in retrospect. Those seeking shelter? Refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea. “Many of them were just passing through. They wanted to go onto Scandanavia. He offered them food, drink, a place to sleep”. But it’s not just emergency assistance that’s important for the community. It’s also important to them to be able to help refugees integrate.

Mosques are very important for integration, says Benhammou: “these people have different cultures. They have different views about how people should get along together”. They have to be explained, for example, how women who sunbathe in the park are not looking to sell their bodies. Just because women are friendly does not mean that they’re interested. “But these are things that you can't really convey as a German. Only a community that understands the culture can do this”. That's why Benhammou works as a mediator between the German and Arabic cultures in weekly presentations where he explains to refugees what Germany and Germans themselves are like.

Help from churches, bakers, and volunteers

It’s the little things that help refugees adapt to and become acquainted with Germany. “We've asked people in the mosque community to give us whatever extra Qurans they may have. Which worked out quite well”, says Benhammou, referring to the involvement of the Al-Nour mosque’s members. Food for refugees comes from bakeries and businesses nearby. The scarcity of supplies is one reason why it’s difficult for most of the communities to help out directly. Either they have no space or they have no money. But the Al-Nour mosque should be getting an upgrade soon.

You can read in the e-magazine about how Christian churches are helping refugees.

Florian Bunes
19 years old, Hamburg
. . . refugees need people who don't just understand their language, but also their culture.