The Minaret Man

Ahmet Akbaba had a good idea at exactly the right moment. Originally a carpenter, he began specializing in building minarets and is now the top man in Germany for the field. Abdul-Ahmad Rashid introduces him

Sehitlik mosque in Berlin; (photo: AP)
The ideal minaret has to look like a sharpened pencil, says Ahmet Akbaba

​​More than three million Muslims live in Germany today, the majority of them are of Turkish background. For many, representative mosques with minarets are a reminder of home and also symbolize social recognition for their religion.

Until a few years ago, "real" mosques were rare in Germany; most Muslims made do with improvised prayer spaces, so called "backyard mosques."

Often prayers were performed in simple halls located in old warehouses. But today more and more mosques are being built in Germany in the classical Oriental style.

In German cities such as Cologne, the muezzin calls devout Muslims to prayer five times a day. At least, that is, in those neighborhoods where the people don't feel bothered by the loudspeakers, where the call to prayer is just another noise among the din, or often in more remote industrial areas.

More representative mosques

But more and more representative mosques with a dome and minaret are being seen today. Particularly for Muslims in diaspora, they are a symbol of their faith visible from a far and lending social recognition for Islam.

In Germany, over seventy "real" mosques can be found today. And one man has made the minarets for many of them: Ahmet Akbaba, a clever Turkish businessman who lives in Germany. A few years ago he recognized an untapped market and founded a company in the western German town of Essen specializing in building minarets.

It was the lack of knowledge among Germany construction companies that led Ahmet Akbaba to this novel business idea: "I saw a few minarets built by German companies. They either had a ladder in there, or they made a winding stair out of steel that doesn't really work. When we put up the outer minaret walls, the winding stair is already in place. For example, our mayor in Gladbeck, I would say he's about one meter ninety, and his shoulders are pretty wide. But he can get up the stairs. With others minarets, that wouldn’t be the case. Or they make everything so wide that the thing ends up looking too fat."

After Ahmet Akbaba was offered a contract from the Turkish Cultural Association in Gladbeck, Westphalia, to build the minaret for the new local mosque, he put together a team. He found a minaret builder in Turkey and brought him over to Germany.

Minaret construction has a long tradition in Turkey. But there is no particular course of training for this area of specialization. The know-how is simply passed on from generation to generation. And that's enough to make a beautiful minaret. But unfortunately, it's not enough to satisfy the very detailed construction regulations in Germany. The list of rules is almost never ending.

Akbaba primarily builds his minarets for Turkish mosque communities. There are no explicit religious dictates on how to make a minaret. However, the entryway at the foot of the minaret and the obligatory half moon at the top must both be facing Mecca. But otherwise the designer has free reign, the minaret man says with a grin.

Ideal minarets look like sharpened pencils

He describes what he envisions as the ideal minaret. It must have a certain height, and it must appear round yet also straight-edged—elegant and sophisticated. And the gallery, known to experts as a "sherife," from which the muezzin calls to prayer, must be a particularly beautiful work of art. It is lit up for holidays, Akbaba explains, so that the believers will know, "Aha, it's tonight!" Then he sums it all up: the ideal minaret has to look "like a sharpened pencil."

With the growing number of Muslims in Germany, there is more and more demand among Muslim communities for mosques. Ahmet Akbaba has been busy lately. He has already finished several mosques in northern and southern Germany, and more projects are lined up.

He sees the mosques as a form of PR for Islam. But he also wants to give Muslims living in Germany the feeling of being at home.

"We can't go back to our home, so we have brought a piece of home over here. We realize that we now live in Germany, and so we want to have a special social gathering place and a beautiful prayer house. So that we can show others: This is what a mosque is. And that's why every part of the mosque must be beautiful. That's why the minaret is so important."

Abdul-Ahmad Rashid


Translated from the German from Christina White

"Oriental Garden" in Berlin
Visitors Flock to Garden of Paradise
In Berlin's local recreation area known as "Gardens of the World," traditional Islamic garden art is drawing visitors in record numbers. Already shortly after opening, the "Oriental Garden" is a magnet for tens of thousands of curious guests. Ariana Mirza spoke with the architect Kamel Louafi and mingled with the visitors

Portait Hassan Fathy
"Architecture for the Poor"
Hasan Fathy, the most eminent Egyptian architect of the 20th century, was always controversial in his native country and little known beyond its borders. A portrait of the artist by Ingeborg Flagge