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an Extraordinary Eid Prayer in Cologne

When these immigrants first arrived in Germany, they tried their best to keep their religiosity and national identity intact. This is the story of how they got to pray in the Cologne Cathedral in the winter of 1965 and celebrated Eid al-Fitr together as the immigrant community away from their loved ones. 

Eid is a time to be with our loved ones. Being away from most of my relatives here in Canada, a beautiful story of community and religious coexistence I saw on Twitter has caught my attention. Some background information; in the 60s, Germany requested immigrant workers from countries such as Italy, Turkey, Spain, and Greece because they lacked the labor force to keep their factories working. Due to this reason, a huge population of Turkish workers immigrated to Germany for better pay. Most of them left their families behind, thinking that they would go back to them in a few years after they save some money. When these immigrants first arrived in Germany, they tried their best to keep their religiosity and national identity intact. This is the story of how they got to pray in the Cologne Cathedral in the winter of 1965 and celebrated Eid al-Fitr together as the immigrant community away from their loved ones. 

(Story and photos taken and translated from @diaspora_turk on Twitter – https://twitter.com/diaspora_turk/status/1264507742657679361)

In the beginning of 1965, the Turkish workers in Germany were in a rush to find a large covered area for the Eid prayer. As they were thinking, the historical Dom Cathedral (Cologne Cathedral) which they walk past everyday crossed their minds. They decide that ‘the cathedral is large enough and technically it is a place of worship’. A committee is created by Turkish workers to undertake this task. This committee starts reaching out to people in charge of the Cologne Cathedral which is an important religious center for Catholic Christians. Their request somehow reaches Cardinal Frings Denkmal. Many arguments ensue within the Cathedral administration due to the remarkable nature of this request. Even the Turkish workers in Cologne can’t decide if this is a good idea.

Cologne Cathedral

Surprisingly, the cathedral administration gives permission for the Eid prayer to happen in the Cathedral on the 3rd of February in 1965. Now the Turkish Committee has another difficult task; they need to let the 15,000 Turks in Köln (Cologne) know that the Eid prayer will happen in 2 weeks at the Cologne Cathedral. Yusuf Topcu and Ibrahim Toparslan write the announcements by hand on 60 fliers which they hang on the walls of dorms and factories that are densely populated by Turkish migrants. They hop on their bikes and go around Cologne in a few days to distribute this announcement. 

For the attention of my dear honorable siblings, 


On the 3rd of February we will congregate in the Dom Church* for the Eid prayer at the end of the blessed month of Ramadan. Please bring your prayer mats and some newspaper with you. We ask you to act befittingly to our honorable religion Islam and our nation without committing any excess behavior. We also request that you let your communities know of this plan. 


Sincerely, 
Coordination Committee:
Hikmet Uygun, Yusuf Topcu, and Ibrahim Toparslan

The long-awaited day arrives, it is a beautiful Wednesday morning in Cologne. The Turkish workers all get groomed and wear their best suits for the Eid prayer. As they arrive to the cathedral, they cover the sculptures inside with the newspaper they brought. Approximately 700 worshippers gather inside the Dom Cathedral that day. Other than the worshippers, there are many Germans and journalists around watching this historical moment. The prayer ends, everyone exchanges greetings, candy is given out.

In a few days, Kölnische Rundschau publishes this news on their front page: “it was a historical day” as the headline. Die Zeit writes: “Adhan (Muslim call to prayer) in Dom Cathedral, where we once sent off the crusaders.” and they continue: “Turkish workers congregated for their Eid prayer inside the Dom Cathedral and left some money in our donation boxes before they left.”

*Turkish name for the Cologne Cathedral

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