Image: Mosque in Berlin
Sean Gallup  /  Getty Images
Visitors arrive at the Khadija mosque shorlty before its official opening ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 16, in Berlin. The Khadija mosque is the first mosque to open in east Berlin and has provoked protests from nearby residents.
updated 10/16/2008 5:31:06 PM ET 2008-10-16T21:31:06

The first mosque with a minaret and a dome in Germany's formerly communist east opened on Thursday as police corralled protesters behind a roadblock three blocks away.

As police blocked off the street, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community celebrated the construction of the Khadija Mosque, a white, two-story structure capped with a 42-foot silver dome in Berlin's Pankow district.

Several blocks away, some 300 people attended a protest organized by a group that opposes what it considers the Ahmadis' strict religious beliefs and a lack of religious freedom in Muslim countries.

Most of Germany's more than 3 million Muslims come from Turkey and live in the west. Berlin has some 70 mosques, mostly tucked away in old warehouses or other nondescript buildings in western parts of the city.

"This one is special," said Fazlur Rehman Anwar, a member of the Ahmadiyya community in Hamburg, who was in Berlin for the opening. "It is in the capital. It is the first one in (the former) East Germany."

The city's top security official welcomed the new Muslim house of worship and expressed hope it would help in the integration of the city's roughly 220,000 Muslims.

"I find that an open mosque is much better in view of immigration over that which we often see — a mosque that is in the back courtyard of a converted warehouse," Ehrhart Koerting told the Berliner Morgenpost daily.

Residents and members of the far-right National Democratic Party have staged dozens of protests since the plans for the mosque were announced in 2006. Plans to construct mosques with minarets in other German cities have also met with protest.

The protest group, "We Are Pankow," says it is opposed to the Ahmadis' strict division between men and women, who are veiled and not permitted to participate in coed sports, and a lack of religious freedom in Muslim countries.

"I don't find it (the mosque) very good, because we are not allowed to build churches in Turkey," said Gudrun Brese, a retiree who lives near the mosque. "I have a problem with that."

Ahmadis follow the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, but also consider their community's founder — Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in Qadian, India in 1835 — to be the messiah and a "humble servant of Islam" who sought to reform Islamic practice.

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