Turkish community in Cologne held the Eid Al-Fitr prayer of 1965 in Cologne Cathedral, an event that could have never been imagined in today’s Germany especially in light of recent Islamophobic surge. Despite being one of the most remarkable events in the history of both Islam and Christianity, it is also one of the least known outside of Turkish community.
“When I first proposed it, even the members of our community rejected the idea of praying at a church,” said 83 years old Yusuf Topcu who arrived in Germany in 1962. Turkey and Germany signed a labour treaty in 1961 and in the ensuing years, tens of thousands of Turks flocked to Germany, searching for better financial conditions. As more and more arrived in Germany, Turks had to deal with many problems but the biggest one of them was the lack of a mosque as Ramadan was nearing. “We had language problem, family reunion problem but most important of all we had no place to hold our prayers,” said Topcu.
Yusuf Topcu at the Cologne Cathedral
Topcu and a couple of members of Turkish community visited the cathedral after having agreed that the Eid prayer could be held there if permission would be granted. They were told that although the administration was ok with the idea, the ultimate decision belonged to Vatican. When Topcu was penning a letter to Vatican to ask for a permission to hold Eid prayer of 1965 in Cologne cathedral, he thought that it was very unlikely to get an approval. But in a couple weeks, he received a response from Vatican approving the request.
Picture of a hand-written announcement to notice Turkish community about the Eid prayer in Cologne cathedral
Most likely being unaware that he was about to organize an historic event, Yusuf Topcu prepared hundreds hand-written announcements and distributed them to Turkish community everyday after work. He still keeps one of the original copies today. On the announcement, he asked Turks to bring praying mat or rugs and also behave appropriately during prayer.
Around 700 people showed up on February 5th 1965 at the Cologne cathedral. Besides 30 centimeter snow outside, there were also onlooking curious Germans who had no idea what was happening. Sculptures inside the cathedral were covered with newspapers as they are forbidden in praying rooms in Islam. It was a remarkable day for both Muslim Turks and Catholic Christians. However, the event is one of the least known in Germany and also through out the world.
“The priests at the cathedral was shocked. They said they never witnessed a such big crowd in the cathedral before,” recalled Yusuf Topcu who kept the newspaper clips of the event in the following years.
Newspaper clip saying the archbishop who granted the permission was fired
According to the newspapers reports, Few months after the prayer, the archbishop in Vatican who granted the permission for the prayer was removed from his post. Some high ranking police officers in Cologne also faced a similar fate.
It was the first time the newly arrived “guest workers” held a community prayer in Germany. However, initially being granted temporary residence, Turks would never return to homeland as German economy flourished on their hard labour. And almost 6 decades later, Turks and other Muslim communities have hundreds of mosques through out Germany.