First mosque with electricity-generating wind turbines going up in Germany

David Crossland
BERLIN // A Muslim community in northern Germany plans to build what is believed to be the world's first mosque equipped with wind turbines in its minarets to generate electricity.

The design, the brainchild of a local Turkish-born architect, Selcuk Ünyilmaz, was eagerly accepted by the congregation and has received the go-ahead from the city council in Norderstedt, a town near Hamburg.

The turbines will be placed inside the two 22-metre-high minarets and driven by vertically arranged fins rather than the conventional windmill-style rotor blades.

They will be visible from outside the building and the blades will be made of glass to create patterns of light and shade. The aim is for the turbines to provide 30 per cent of the mosque's energy needs and to recoup their cost within 10 years.

"The function of the minaret in the classic sense is receding in Europe because the muezzins don't climb them to call to prayers," Mr Ünyilmaz said. "Even in Islamic countries a microphone is increasingly used.

"We thought about how we could incorporate this important symbolic element of religious architecture and provide it with a new function. Only by using the minarets in this way was I able to reconcile them with the construction budget. The environment is an important issue at present, so this made sense. Everyone has a duty to protect the environment."

Dr Jameleddine Ben Abdeljelil, an expert on Islam at the University of Münster in western Germany, said that from a religious point of view, having a wind turbine in the minaret of a mosque would only be problematic if the electricity were sold on to a third party for profit.

"If the electricity were used to conduct business and earn a profit, that would be problematic, but if it is solely intended to help cover the mosque's own needs, it should be no problem at all," Dr Ben Abdeljelil said.

Construction will not start until the community has raised the money for the €2.5 million (Dh13.2m) project. No public money will be spent on the mosque. "We have to cover it all through donations. If we manage to raise half, the banks would provide the rest of the funding," Ugur Sütcü, a member of the congregation's board, said.

"Everybody here was delighted with the design," Mr Sütcü said, adding that there had been no objections to the idea of putting the minarets to use as power generators. "We want to go ahead with this because our current mosque is an ordinary-looking 100 year-old-building and people who pass by don't recognise it as a mosque." The community has used the present location since 1990.

The project is a novel contribution to Germany's drive towards renewable power generation, which is being intensified after the government's decision last month to phase out all its nuclear power plants by 2021, much sooner than it had intended.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor, wants to put Germany at the forefront of the green energy revolution by raising the share of electricity provided by wind, solar, water and biomass power to 80 per cent by 2050, from 17 per cent now.

The mosque is also part of a push by Germany's 4 million Muslim inhabitants, the majority of them of Turkish descent, to build new mosques and gain increased recognition for their faith after spending decades worshipping in ramshackle prayer rooms and converted backstreet halls.

There are about 200 mosques under construction or being planned in Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe. Projects often encounter resistance from residents fearing an "Islamisation" of Germany.

The Norderstedt mosque, however, has been roundly welcomed and drawn positive reactions from German commentators. "It's not inconceivable that on windy days the eco-mosque could - Inshallah - produce more than it requires for its own purposes," Die Zeit, a national weekly newspaper, wrote in a light-hearted editorial this month.

"That's integration: an environmentally friendly Islam with a carbon-neutral call to prayers. How can anyone claim this religion doesn't belong to Germany?"

Mr Ünyilmaz, the architect, who has lived in Germany for the past 35 years, said the modern design of the mosque reflected the inevitable integration of Muslims into German society.

"In future everyone will grow together, and in 50 to 100 years it may be that no one in the community speaks Turkish anymore. But the faith will remain forever, even after the origins have faded. We already feel like German Muslims. How will our children and grandchildren feel? It is for them that I presented this concept."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

June 23, 2011 , The National

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