Row breaks out near Frankfurt over Islam ‘beer mats’

Drinks coasters with questions about Islam have been handed out in Maintal, near Frankfurt, in a bid to promote integration. But is it culturally insensitive given that many Muslims do not drink alcohol?

Row breaks out near Frankfurt over Islam 'beer mats'
Beer mats with questions about Islam in the Hessian dialect on a table. Photo: City of Maintal/DP

The mats feature questions about Islam in the Hessian dialect and are intended to spark discussion about the religion among locals.

But the local Foreigners’ Advisory Council says it was the wrong decision to use beer mats to carry the campaign message – because many Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol as part of their religion.

The city in the Main-Kinzig district has distributed 5000 coasters in restaurants since the end of January as part of its campaign “Islam uff Hessisch” (Islam in the Hessian dialect).

The cardboard mats feature questions about Islam such as “Derfe die Fußballer im Ramadan garni nix esse?” which translates roughly to “Are footballers allowed to eat anything during Ramadan? and “De Mohammed – was war denn des eichendlich für aaner” (Mohammed, who was that guy?).

Some of the mats also include cider jugs, a symbol of the region known for its Apfelwein.

Those who are interested in finding out the answers can use a QR code or link on the mat to get to the web page. On the web page users will find a fictional character who shares the answers and talks about everyday life using a regional dialect.

'Not a good idea'

The Integration Network in Maintal wanted to spark discussion about Islam. And although the Foreigners’ Advisory Council said it backed the content and the idea of promoting inter-religious dialogue, it has raised concerns over the coasters.

“This was not a good idea, they messed it up,” said Salih Tasdireck, chairman of the council, according to German daily FAZ.

Tasdirek, who has been living in Germany for almost 40 years, asked why another medium wasn’t chosen to carry the questions, reported Spiegel.

“One could have made a promotional postcard, or bus advertisement, why does it (the campaign) have to go to the Kneipe (pub)?” he said.

However, Tasdirek added that he thought the idea behind the beer mats was good.

But he also said that answers to the questions could have been included in case people do not take the time to find the answers online. However, the organizers behind the project said there isn't enough space to do that.

Verena Strub, the city's integration commissioner said the inclusion of the cider jug on some of the coasters does not stand for alcohol; it is rather a symbol for the region.

The aim is to bring people together, she said. “I believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice circulating.”

Tens of thousands of coasters

The “Islam in…” project was launched by the Freiburg Orient-Netzwerk association.

They wanted to spark discussion using a humorous approach to answer frequently asked questions in local German dialects, according to Raban Kluger, who is behind the campaign.

Tens of thousands of coasters have been printed since 2016 in states including Hesse, Saxony and Baden-Württemberg. The aim is to roll it out across Germany, including with different religions.

The answers – as well as the questions – were developed by a group of Islamic academics.

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors