Turkish government-controlled mosques in Germany have long incited Muslims against Germany and the West in general. Since Oct. 7, they have openly praised the Hamas massacre of 1,200 Israelis to enflame hatred against Jews and Israel. This in turn has spurred calls on the German government to intervene.
The Turkish government’s Directorate for Religious Affairs (known in Turkish as Diyanet) comes under the direct control of Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He operates more than 900 mosques in Germany through the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (Türkisch-Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion, DITIB), one of the largest Islamist organizations in Germany. Every week, Diyanet circulates recommended Friday-prayer sermons for DITIB mosques.
The chances of local mosques not broadcasting the texts in one form or another is low given their reliance on Turkish funds to operate. DITIB pays the salaries of around 1,000 Turkish imams in Germany. Those clerics have been trained at state-run theological seminaries in Türkiye and the government sends them to Germany for five-year stints. The imams answer directly to religious attachés (Religionsattachés) at Turkish consulates across Germany.
Frequently referred to as an “extended arm” of the Turkish state, DITIB serves Erdoğan to influence the three-million-strong Turkish diaspora in Germany. (Erdoğan also uses Diyanet to influence the Turkish diaspora in Austria, Belgium, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.) An investigative report by the German newspaper Die Welt found that Turkish imams in Germany — many of whom do not speak German — are effectively Turkish civil servants who do the bidding of the Turkish government and ensure that Diyanet exerts political and theological influence over German mosques.
Oct. 7 has exacerbated this long-standing problem. On Oct. 13, the first Friday after Hamas’s bloodbath, the Diyanet sermon described Israel as a “rusty dagger stuck in the heart of Islamic geography.” It went on to justify the massacre by accusing Israel of “damaging the reputation of Jerusalem” and “violating the sanctity” of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Diyanet sermon for Oct. 20 claimed Israel had perpetrated “one of the greatest atrocities in human history” in Gaza, where it allegedly was “brutally murdering innocent people, including babies, children, women and the elderly.”
The Oct. 27 sermon branded Israelis as “unscrupulous murderers” committing an “unprecedented genocide” in Gaza. It found that Jews “draw their courage” from “the silence and disunity of the Ummah [the global Muslim community] of the Prophet Mohammed.” It called on individual Muslims to respond: “If people see the injustice of a tyrant but do not act against it, Allah will inevitably punish them. Help us against the infidels.”
The Nov. 24 sermon accused Israel of committing “great evil” and inflicting “all kinds of violence on our Palestinian brothers.” It called Jews “criminals without conscience” who are “committing a great genocide in Gaza, without distinguishing between women, children and the elderly.” The Dec. 1 sermon accused “Zionist oppressors” of “committing a total genocide against our Palestinian brothers, women, children, elderly and disabled.” It stated that “preventing this oppression is the common duty of all humanity” and called for “Allah” to “bring victory” to “our Palestinian brothers.”
Diyanet chief Ali Erbaş, an Erdoğan acolyte who serves as DITIB’s de facto religious leader, has spearheaded this antisemitism. For example, he called Oct. 7 a “milestone” and said that Diyanet has endeavored in all Friday sermons since then to “support our brothers in Palestine, to condemn the massacres of the oppressor occupier Israel, to announce them to the whole world and to invite humanity to stop this massacre.”
The hostility broadcast by Turkish mosques closely echoes the rhetoric of Erdoğan, who since Oct. 7 has defended Hamas as a “liberation group,” branded Israel as a “terror state,” and described retaliatory strikes by the Jewish state as “war crimes.” During an official visit to Germany on Nov. 17, Erdoğan condemned Berlin’s support for Israeli “massacres” in Gaza and insinuated that Germany is unable to criticize the Jewish state because of the Holocaust. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended Israel’s right to self-defense and dismissed Erdoğan’s accusations as “absurd.” Scholz, however, has refused to clamp down on Erdoğan’s subversive activities in Germany — especially his antisemitic incitement in German mosques.
Others are calling for just such a clampdown. Volker Beck, a former German member of parliament and now president of the German-Israel Society (Deutsch-Israelische Gesellschaft, DIG), called on the German government to revoke the residence permits of all Diyanet imams in Germany. “Diyanet incites hatred of Israel,” he said in a statement. “The false accusation of genocide legitimizes all violent actions against the alleged Israeli oppressors. This is nothing other than inciting violence and terror.” Beck added that even if local imams tone down Diyanet’s rhetoric, “Ali Erbaş’s attitude is carried into German society by his employees.”
German member of parliament Jens Spahn (CDU) demanded that Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser stop issuing visas to Turkish imams. “It is no longer acceptable that most mosques in Germany are financed from abroad and that imams are Turkish state employees,” he said in an interview with Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. “We need German mosque communities, not Turkish ones. It is high time to end Turkish state financing of German mosques.”
Eren Güvercin, a specialist on Turkish Islam in Germany, told Focus on Western Islamism (FWI) that the German government is reluctant to confront the problem for fear of provoking Erdoğan into reopening the floodgates of mass migration to Europe. He noted that Berlin’s relations with Türkiye “repeat the same mistake” of appeasement that it made with Russia. “By failing to confront Erdoğan, Germany, ultimately, undermines its own interests as well as those of Turkish Muslims who are integrated into German society and oppose Erdoğan’s efforts to control them.”
Güvercin, co-founder of the Berlin-based Alhambra Society, an association of liberal Muslims, told FWI that Erdoğan would strongly resist any attempts to reduce his influence in German mosques because Turkish-Germans represent an important voter block. “In tight elections, such as the ones held in May 2023, the 1.4 million voting-age Turks living in Germany could determine the outcome.”
Maintaining control over German mosques is also key to Erdoğan’s effort to keep Germany’s Turks seeing themselves as Turks first. “Germany is home to the largest Turkish diaspora in the world and Erdoğan uses the mosques to thwart the integration of Turks, especially among the younger generation, into German society,” Güvercin said.
Since Oct. 7, it has been “clearer than ever” that Germany’s “previous strategy of ‘change through proximity’ in dealing with DITIB has failed” and that “DITIB must break away from the Turkish state in terms of personnel, structure and finances,” Güvercin said. He concluded: “It cannot be that Diyanet, and thus the Turkish state, shape Muslim life in Germany more than we German Muslims and our federal government.”
Murat Kayman, a former legal counsel for DITIB asked: “Will the DITIB in Cologne ever be able to publish a Friday sermon, and have it read in its mosques, that reaffirms Israel’s right to exist, outlaws Hamas as a terrorist organization and shows solidarity with the Jews in Germany? We will most likely never experience that.”
Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.