'Long-term land grab': AfD to protest construction of 1st-ever mosque in Thuringia, Germany

© Wolfgang Rattay
The construction of a small mosque, the first in the German state of Thuringia, created controversy after the Alternative for Germany party labeled it a “land grab project” and announced a massive anti-Islam rally involving the far-right PEGIDA movement.

The mosque is planned for construction by the Ahmadiyyah Muslim community in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, Thürunger Allgemeine newspaper reported.

The new mosque with a small dome and a minaret, “about the size of a two-family house,” will be in the Erfurt industrial zone, neighboring the city fire department and some industry-related public agencies, according to Deutsche Welle.

"We see not only the needs of our community," Ahmadiyyah’s spokesman Mohammad Suleman Malik told the newspaper. “There is also a social demand for a mosque as a place of cultural encounters and dialogue.

"Currently, there is no mosque in Thuringia and that should change. We want to show [our] face," Malik said, adding that the Muslim community used to pray in private flats or other places.

With the exception of Berlin, it would only be the third mosque built in the former East Germany – the others being in Leipzig and Chemnitz.

But Thuringia’s branch of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which gained remarkable public support for its controversial anti-Islam stance, says the mosque has no place in the region. The mosque construction is “part of a long-standing land grab project,” head of the AfD regional faction Björn Höcke said on Tuesday.

He announced that the far-right party will come up with “its own political measures against the construction of the mosque as well as civil initiatives,” including a massive demonstration in Erfurt on Wednesday that would feature both AfD supporters and the PEGIDA movement.

According to the AfD’s Facebook profile, the rally is likely to come up with populist slogans slamming Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy and illegal migration.

Earlier in May, the AfD adopted its new party program that includes an entire section called ‘Islam is not part of Germany’. Among other things, the far-right party wants to ban the construction of mosques nationwide and public wearing of the burqa, the full-cover clothing women wear in some Muslim countries.

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Critics in Germany accuse the AfD of playing the xenophobic card and exploiting people's fears. The Council of Muslims in Germany has recently compared the party's ideas to Nazi ideology. Still, the AfD won elections in three regions recently.

Höcke, one of the party’s key figures, has made headlines with hardline nationalist rhetoric. Some of its slogans, such as ‘Germans! Three thousand years of Europe, 1,000 years of Germany’, have also been compared to Nazi propaganda, resembling Hitler’s ‘thousand-year Reich’ concept.

Ahmadiyyah is one of the oldest Muslim communities in Germany, with its Berlin central mosque built in mid-1920s. It consists mainly of Pakistani immigrants with a small number of native German converts.

According to Ahmadiyyah’s official website, the community rejects ‘false traditions’ such as ‘honor killings’ and forced marriage common to orthodox Islamic societies.