The demonization of Islamic reformers: woman who starts liberal mosque in Berlin gets hatred and threats from Muslims

CBS News reports that a Turkish woman named Seyran Ateş has started a “liberal mosque” in Berlin. This one, the Ibn-Rusd-Goethe mosque, incorporating the name of the great German literary polymath, is unusual in several respects. It welcomes devotees of any sect of Islam: Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and so on; women are not segregated from men; gays are also welcome; there are female imams; and even non-Muslims can worship. Further, as the report notes, “House rules state that female visitors not wear full-body garments like the burka or niqab, as it ‘would only send a political statement'” (presumably that women are to be controlled).

BERLIN, GERMANY – JUNE 16: Muslims attend Friday prayers during the opening of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe Mosque on June 16, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Now this is the kind of reform that Islam needs, as stressed by reformers like Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Asra Nomani. So how do you think Muslims reacted?

Yep, you guessed it: with severe criticism and even death threats:

While liberal Muslims who feel restricted by mainstream Islam cherish Ateş’ project, conservative worshippers have expressed outrage, calling it “disgusting and sinful,” as it “disrespects the key elements of Islamic faith.” Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyyah, a state-run religious authority, issued a “fatwa” or official decree labelling the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque an “attack on Islam.”

The Egypt-based Al-Azhar, the most prestigious Sunni institution in the world, called the mosque, “religious innovation that is not approved by Islamic Sharia”.

“I receive hundreds of death threats every day. I rely on personal protection, but I will continue to stand up for my organisation. Islam needs a change, and together with our supporters across the world we can make a difference,” Ateş told CBS News.

Human-rights activist Seyran Ates (R) introduces the first Friday prayers during the opening of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe Mosque that she helped found, June 16, 2017, in Berlin, Germany. GETTY

What’s worse, a Turkish religious agency went after the mosque big time, and there are thousands of Turks living in Germany:

After Turkey’s religious affairs agency Diyanet commented on the new mosque, the case became yet another point of contention between the German and Turkish governments.

The mosque’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. We are convinced that all fellow believers will keep their distance from such provocations,” said Diyanet in a statement.

German officials were “very surprised” by Diyanet’s stance. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer defended one of Germany’s fundamental rights; “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.”

. . . Diyanet and a number of pro-government newspapers in Turkey went further, linking the Ibn-Rush-Goethe mosque to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters, whom the Turkish government blames for a failed military coup in July 2016 and wants sent to Turkey to face prosection.

Did founder Ateş get help from her fellow Muslims? Are you kidding?

“Over the past few years I would approach conservative Islamic organisations with the aim to cooperate, but instead of a peaceful dialogue they accuse me of being a member of the Gulen movement,” [Ates] told CBS News.

Now remember, this is in Germany, where one wouldn’t expect so much resistance from a Muslim community in the West. But. as elsewhere, they’re largely fundamentalists—people who abhor the multiple ways that Ateş is seen as deviating from tradition in a harmful way. Harmful enough, in fact, to warrant “hundreds of death threats”. From The Religion of Peace! I expect vandalism and even attacks to follow (as noted, Ates already requires bodyguards).

Let us see real peace. Let us see the imams of Germany unite and stand up for this woman and this mosque, and tell us that it’s okay to worship Allah however you want. But if you think that’s gonna happen, I’ll wear a crucifix in Mecca.

Why is it that Muslim reformers like Nomani and Nawaz are seen as “inauthentic”, reviled by the rest of the Muslim community? It’s because by calling for gender equality, and for the rights of gay people, they’re seen as posing a mortal danger to Islam. Until that medieval mindset has vanished, and the West starts listening to the real reformers instead of theocrats like Linda Sarsour, there’s no chance for a “taming” of Islam—as happened with Christianity since the Enlightenment.

Here’s a new video showing that Islam isn’t much tamed in the U.S., either. The notes are from MEMRI:

At a rally held in Times Square, N.Y., to mark International Qods Day, activists chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans. One activist shouted that “the Zionist state has been helping ISIS since its creation” and that ISIS stood for “Israeli Secret Intelligence Service.” He further said that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was a Mossad agent and that the Zionists had assassinated John F. Kennedy because he opposed Israel’s obtaining nuclear weapons. Nerdeen Kiswani of the NYC Students for Justice in Palestine led chants of “We don’t want two states, we want ’48!” and “U.S. imperialist, number one terrorist!” and Joe Catron of the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network shouted: “Intifada, revolution!” and “Israel, go to Hell!” American-Filipino activist Mike Legaspi, of the “Bayan USA” alliance of Filipino organizations, accused the U.S. of “bombing the crap out of the Middle East” and demanded that “U.S. imperialism stop funding Israel.” Quds Day is an annual Iranian-led event, declared by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 and held on the last Friday of the month of Ramadhan.

Zionist Nazi terrorists? Oy! Note the crowd applauding and cheering on the destruction of Israel (euphemism: “One state”). If you don’t think this is anti-Semitism, you’re deluded. And if you think the crowd is all supporters of Trump, think again.

Anyway, I wish Ateş well, and hope that she’s not harmed.

h/t: Grania, Malgorzata


  1. Kevin
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    A very long road lies ahead for the faithful. Martin Luther had a swell time making a new road. Now there’s lots of roads, and most require no belief to get on.

    • Zach
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Martin Luther had a swell time making a new road.

      And yet, he was eventually successful—at least, successful by our standards. The irony is that traditional Muslims may see in his success not a precedent, but a warning, and will oppose reformation of their faith in a way that the Christians who followed Luther did not. I think Theodore Dalrymple summed up the conundrum best:

      My historicist optimism [in the eventual secularization of Islam] has waned. After all, I soon enough learned that the Shah’s revolution from above was reversible—at least in the short term, that is to say the term in which we all live, and certainly long enough to ruin the only lives that contemporary Iranians have. Moreover, even if there were no relevant differences between Christianity and Islam as doctrines and civilizations in their ability to accommodate modernity, a vital difference in the historical situations of the two religions also tempers my historicist optimism. Devout Muslims can see (as Luther, Calvin, and others could not) the long-term consequences of the Reformation and its consequent secularism: a marginalization of the Word of God, except as an increasingly distant cultural echo—as the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the once full “Sea of faith,” in Matthew Arnold’s precisely diagnostic words.

      And there is enough truth in the devout Muslim’s criticism of the less attractive aspects of Western secular culture to lend plausibility to his call for a return to purity as the answer to the Muslim world’s woes. He sees in the West’s freedom nothing but promiscuity and license, which is certainly there; but he does not see in freedom, especially freedom of inquiry, a spiritual virtue as well as an ultimate source of strength. This narrow, beleaguered consciousness no doubt accounts for the strand of reactionary revolt in contemporary Islam. The devout Muslim fears, and not without good reason, that to give an inch is sooner or later to concede the whole territory.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the article.

        Attraction to protestantism is generally pragmatic: like I need a divorce or I will make more money or I will have more free time or I want to watch that movie. To first order, calving away from the mother-glacier-of-religion begins with changing actions not belief. But this will always be tenuous since beliefs are so elastic.

      • rasmo carenna
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Very insightfull. Thank you.

      • Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:16 am | Permalink

        One should not forget that Martin Luther was quite of an asshole himself. He was an antisemite as his texts prove and he explicitely wanted more witches to burn. That the protestant church of Germany celebrates this guy this year (2017 is the 500th anniversary of the start of the reformation) is a disgrace.

        • Filippo
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

          Regarding women dying in childbirth, the noble Luther said, “Let them die of it; that is what they are for.”

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I was waiting for someone to throw a net over that guy on the pickup. If a moderate, revised version of Islam is the first step to getting rid of it, I’m all for it. Good luck to them if they can survive.

    Israel is backing ISIS? That’s a good one. If that were true in some insane way, Why are they losing?

  3. mikeyc
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I hope for the best for Ates too, but I also hope she and the people who attend her mosque wear body armor. This is not going to end well.

  4. Jimbo
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Protect this mosque Germany! Station video cameras and armed guards around it to protect these voices and this property. Then again, Germany did import a million people from the Middle East so the odds that this effort survives seems highly improbable.

  5. Historian
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I found it bizarre that near the beginning of the video are shown what appears to be two Orthodox Jews, one of whom is waving a Palestinian flag. I think I recall that there is a sect of Orthodox Jews who do not believe in Zionism. That is, for some theological reason they oppose the existence of an Israeli state. Perhaps some more knowledgeable person could comment on this.

    In any case, I could only watch about half of the video. It did appear that the crowd was not particularly large. I would guess that the young man ranting at the beginning of the video actually believes what he says. The power of brainwashing is strong.

    • Dave
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I believe there are several Orthodox sects which oppose Zionism. The one that seems to be most vociferous in their opposition is called “Naturei Karta”. I’m not sure if the characters in the video were from this group, but it’s quite likely.

      As far as I understand it, their opposition to Zionism rests on the idea that a pure, theologically-sound Jewish state can only be established by the Messiah, and that it’s blasphemous to attempt to set one up before he arrives. In their eyes, the existing state of Israel is an impure, man-made abomination, and it’s their duty to support anyone trying to bring it down.

      Bizarre, I know, but that seems to be the essence of it.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      There are a few extremely fanatical Jewish sects (the worst is Naturei Karta) who regard Israel as a one huge blasphemy. Israel was supposed to be rebuild after the coming of Messiah. Messiah didn’t come yet so how dare these blasphemous Jews build a state? That’s the end of the story. The few Jews who belong to Naturei Karta – I don’t know how many they are but somebody counted that about 100 of them are actively supporting every anti-Israel movement there is (they were the best buddies of Iranian Ahmadinejad) and are travelling from one anti-Jewish event to the other, celebrated by antisemites of all hues. They are shown as a proof that an antisemitic organization is not antisemitic and are praised as only “true Jews” on Earth.

  6. claudia baker
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I, too, could only watch about half of the video. Insanity. Plus, why do they have to shout and scream, when they are holding a microphone? Ugh – couldn’t imagine a worse place to be than in the crowd watching this crap.

    • Gamall
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      What about being on the wrong side of the *mob* crowds such as this are trained to become?

  7. BJ
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, Imam Tawhidi, who has gained increasing fame on social media for being a moderate Muslim, supporting civil rights for all (including women), tolerance of all faiths and all different types of people, and promoting the idea that Muslims should integrate into their western societies,
    is now being censored by Facebook and Twitter because of his oh so hateful speech (read: speech that doesn’t align with the regressive narrative). He calls himself a Muslim reformist in is Twitter bio (and that certainly seems to be true), and you can read his statement of values — and why the regressive left hates him — here:

    Notice how his statements of love and acceptance were marked as “sensitive” by Twitter.

    Notice in this next link that Facebook blocked one of his posts and **gave him a seven day suspension** for posting a simple picture of himself smiling, which Facebook said “doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.” Link:

    We’ve been seeing such incidents on various social media sites more and more over the last year or two, and this may be a sign that they’re now taking it even further, defining anything that defies the regressive narrative as “hate speech” or “offensive.”

    Same old story as always: “we must listen to the voices of the marginalized…unless they disagree with us about what we think the groups we’re ostensibly protecting should be saying, because then they’re just race traitors, gender traitors, have internalized misogyny or sexism, etc. and they must be shut up and ostracized.

    • BJ
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Sorry, the link I provided quoting his statement about his progressive, reformist values should have been this one: . The original Twitter link I posted link was to his Tweet of his screenshots confirming his picture being removed from facebook and him receiving a seven day ban in retaliation. So you don’t need to rely on the Reddit link for those screenshots, but get them straight from Tawhidi’s Twitter post on the subject.

      Again, Twitter marked it as sensitive.

    • Zach
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Is this an example of a top-down crackdown by whoever decides these things at Facebook and Twitter, or is it simply an automatic response to bottom-up flagging by censorious leftists?

      It’s reprehensible either way, but if it’s the latter possibility, it just means they need to adjust their flagging policy. (I shudder to think what the former possibility signifies.)

      • BJ
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        I agree that it might be a bottom-up flagging operation, but this has been going on for at least nearly two years, and the rise in incidence coincided with Facebook’s new initiative for cracking down on “hate speech” and “offensive content.” Moreover, this kind of censorship rarely, if ever, happens to people spouting the regressive narrative, even when they post truly horrific things. All of this makes it hard to think that, even if it is mass-flagging, it doesn’t have the tacit support of Facebook itself.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      About two years ago I wrote a post about a couple of new mosques in South Africa that were the same as this one in Germany. They had a helluva job getting started because of opposition from more conservative Muslims.A few weeks later my site was hit by a hack attack. It took a while to get things up and running again, but I thought everything was okay.

      A few months later I had cause to refer to the progressive mosque post, and I discovered it was gone without a trace. There was not even any way I could reconstruct it from notes on my own computer, which I originally thought hadn’t been accessed. (I’ve upgraded my security since.)

  8. Scorch
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    First comment, be gentle with me!

    I’m not really sure I really approve all that much of this idea of a ‘liberal’ mosque. I applaud the woman’s obvious bravery in the face of such opposition, but do we really need half baked mosques like this? To me it just seems a combination of smarmy ecumenicism and a bit of denial. As a signal and perhaps provocation (in the good sense of the word) it works, but I feel there’s a distinction between wanting to push for a reform of the religion in the world in general and how to handle muslims in the western world. I’m all for reform in the world, if only because it is better for muslims themselves, but I don’t feel like accomodating a watered down version of islam that so sharply opposes core principles as to suddenly be acceptable. I’d rather see muslims in the west take their religion less seriously without involving the rest of western civilization.

    Can I applaud the intentions and motives of Ms Ateş but question her solution?

    • rickflick
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      We may actually need a half baked mosque like this. Part of the problem with Islamic reform it seems to me is that it takes a lot of courage to stand alone against a sea of intolerance. One half baked mosque may lead to others and gradually the tables could be turned. Remember that modern Christianity is a very dilute version of the original church, but it works to placate the insistence for ritual without the bloody enforcement. The same may come to Islam, but it will take the likes of Ateş willing to start the process.

      • BJ
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        I agree. Nearly all religions started as barbaric. They needede to reform to move with the changing times and social mores. For example, if Christianity was still stuck in the Dark Ages, we wouldn’t be able to have dozens of functioning societies around the world with significant or majority Christian populations. But they did reform over the years as times changed.

        Som brave people need to start this process. They needed to start is long ago.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          I hope that in our modern, communication-enabled world, Islamic reform can happen much more quickly than the centuries required to subdue Christianity.

          • BJ
            Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            Well, the technology is a double-edged sword. It could make it easier to spread information that would promote reform, but it also helps spread information protecting the status quo and even promoting a more extreme version of Islam. And I would say the latter has been much more effective than the former (and various websites, media outlets, and social media platforms are not helping by censoring helpful information and allowing extremist material to get through without problem).

            Oh, and when I talk about media in my parenthetical, I mean not just refusing to report on stories that make Muslims (or any group supported by the regressive left) look anything but virtuous angels, but things like the new Associated Press Style Guide. Check out this article, laying out what the new style guide says are words journalists should and should not use:

            I know that’s a Fox News link, but just concentrate on the lines about the words that they are promoting and those they are trying to strike from use in all media going forward. Truly Orwellian.

            • rickflick
              Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              Orwellian indeed. My guideline, if I had one at all, would be to ban euphemisms. If someone dies, don’t say she “passed away”. The fighter blew himself up in a children’s hospital, should really say “the Islamic terrorist”.

              • BJ
                Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                I still get the weekend edition of the New York Times. This past weekend, the Arts & Leisure section contained a piece on Cersei Lannister/Lena Headey. The article actually used the word “mansplaining” at one point.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Seems like you’re getting to the ex-Muslims (like Sarah Haider) vs the Muslim Reformers (like Maajid Nawaz) question. I think it’s good to have both.

    • Taz
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Don’t underestimate how important it is for some religious people to retain their specific label.

  9. Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’d be interested in learning how the Afflecks of the world are reacting to this.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Surely the NY Times’s Nicholas Kristof soon will be holding forth on it. (Won’t he?)

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if they’ll condemn it as implying there’s something wrong with mainstream Islam.

  10. JohnH
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    No one expects the Islamic Inquisition!

  11. jay
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    The German government had really hyped this as a photo op to counter the public concern over the serious problem of crime amongst the migrants. It backfired badly.

  12. Tom
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Either islam reforms itself peacefully or it faces the same bloody massacres that blighted christianity for centuries, violent pockets of which still remain.
    Until people get fed up with the lies, greed and violence of charismic religions there will never be peace in this world.
    It was and is so easy for glib rabble rousers to pretend communication with a god of some sort and for “scholars” to tailor, to order, a theology.
    This disgusting deception blighted Europe and Asia for centuries even before islam arose from what was at first a dissident christian sect. Fully aware of what nonsense it was preaching it was also convinced that with a few modifications, some lines cribbed from other books and the invention of a founding father; in the stakes for prestige, wealth and lebensraum it could outdo the romanised church.
    Unfortunately, in the 21st century we have been lumbered with Judaic/chrisian/islamic hybrid cults which having purloined each others lies for their own use each now has the brass face to call their momgrel version the true doctrine. (apologies to Celsus)

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      “Until people get fed up with the lies, greed and violence of charismic religions there will never be peace in this world.”

      Once said;

      “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

      – D. Diderot

  13. Taz
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    The fact that the attempted reformation of a religion will probably lead to violence and bloodshed is a sure indicator that the religion needs reform.

  14. Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Talking to the German media, Seyran Ates has also explicitly listed atheists among those who are welcome.

    The mosque is also not far from the Jihadist-supporting one that Berlin’s truck driving terrorist was involved with. (I used to ride my bicycle past it on the way to work and see extremely dangerous looking goons going in and out of it.)

    Also, 60% of Turks living in Germany who can still vote in Turkey voted for Erdogan, and Islamists have often unwittingly been invited to participate in politics and state events.

    That said, there was also a fairly well attended rally by Muslims for Peace here last week, and such folk have been getting better media coverage recently.

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, Goethe was moderately attracted to Islam, although he decried Islam’s denigration of women, and he thought Mohammed definitely mistaken in declaring pre-Koran civilization as a time of darkness.
    But his was deeply impressed by the writing style of the Koran, which he described as “Austere, grand, fearsome and truly sublime”.

    His more positive feelings toward Islam have been picked up by a lot of Arabic publications, while they minimize his more critical statements.

    I post this link to Goethe’s poem “Song for Mohamet” here (German on left, English on right).

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Gotta give props to any house of worship that incorporates the name of the freethinking author of Faust.

  17. Craw
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm. Count me as skeptical of this enterprise. A much hyped German Islam with so little in common with the Islam of actual German muslims. Looks like PR more than real reform.

  18. Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Huge ups for her bravery let alone her endeavour.
    Female apologist aside.
    The fundamentalists’ misogynistic collective amygdala’s must be fair quivering and rattling their… balls, at the mere thought of this brave reformist.

    I hope nothing happens to Seyran Ates.
    Still, no religion is a better solution but heck, this tree (islam) badly needs shaking.

  19. Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Huge ups for her bravery let alone her endeavour.
    Female apologist aside.
    The fundamentalists’ misogynistic collective amygdala’s must be fair quivering and rattling their… balls, at the mere thought of this brave reformist.

    I hope nothing happens to Seyran Ates.
    Still, no religion is a better solution but heck, this tree (islam) badly needs shaking.

  20. Mike
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Good luck to her,she’s a brave woman,I hope she succeeds.

  21. jeffery
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    William James defines fanaticism as, “…only loyalty carried to a convulsive extreme. When an intensely loyal and narrow mind is once grasped by the feeling that a certain superhuman person is worthy of its exclusive devotion, one of the first things that happens is that IT IDEALIZES THE DEVOTION ITSELF (emphasis mine).”
    He goes on to say: ” An immediate consequence of this condition of mind is jealousy for the deity’s honor. How can the devotee show his loyalty better than by sensitiveness in this regard? The slightest affront or neglect must be resented, the deity’s enemies must be put to shame. In exceedingly narrow minds and active wills, such a care may become an engrossing preoccupation; and crusades have been preached and massacres instigated for no other reason than to remove a fancied slight upon the God.”
    It’s only a matter of time before this mosque gets blasted or machine-gunned; the “true-believer’s” devotion gives them what they think is the RIGHT to do this, indeed, the DUTY to respond as such.

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