Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to open a new central mosque in Cologne. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to open a new central mosque in Cologne. DITIB, a controversial Turkish-Islamic umbrella group, provides the financing and imams. What is DITIB?
Mosque association with strong links to Turkey
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) is the largest umbrella organization of mosques in Germany. DITIB manages about 900 mosques in Germany, including the central mosque in Cologne, and has about 800,000 members throughout Germany. Its ties to Turkey are very strong. According to the official research service for the German Bundestag, which has created a register of Islamic organizations in Germany, its charter states that DITIB is “linked to the Turkish government’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).” The Diyanet sends Turkish imams to DITIB mosques; the imams’ salaries are then paid by the respective Turkish consulate general for the duration of their stay. In other words, the Diyanet determines the theological guidelines behind what is preached in the mosques.
Influential force in Ankara
The Diyanet is a state body for the administration of religious affairs in Turkey and answers directly to President Erdogan. Created in 1924 by state founder Kemal Ataturk, the Diyanet was long known for its moderate interpretation of Islam and widely respected throughout Turkey. However, in recent years the Diyanet has shifted away from its previously rather restrained function: particulary under Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic conservative AKP government, the institution has gained considerably in significance.
Today, the Ankara-based organization has about 120,000 employees who, among other tasks, are responsible for the content of the weekly Friday prayers in Turkey’s 85,000 mosques. With an annual budget of more than €1 billion ($1.17 billion), the Diyanet has more money at its disposal than either Turkey’s interior or foreign ministries.
DITIB has come under repeated criticism in recent years, partly because of the Diyanet’s influence on it. Following the Turkish army’s invasion of northern Syria in January 2018, the head of the Diyanet urged mosque worshippers to pray for Turkey’s victory. DITIB mosques in Germany showed videos of preschoolers in uniform, and events held there in commemoration of World War I seem to have featured re-enacted battles and the praise of “martyrs” as part of proceedings.
Last year, DITIB refused to take part in a protest organized by Muslim associations in Cologne against Islamist terror. Also in 2017, the complete board of the national DITIB youth organization (BDMJ) resigned, accusing the association of suppressing any tendencies toward liberalization.
Authorities wary of DITIB
As early as the summer of 2016, the extent to which the DITIB’s internal structures are aligned with domestic political events in Turkey became clear in the aftermath of the failed coup there. DITIB imams allegedly spied on backers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey holds responsible for the attempted coup, within their German congregations. Germany’s federal public prosecutor investigated 19 imams.
And most recently, German media reported in September that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the domestic intelligence agency, was apparently considering keeping DITIB under observation.