How Ramadan is muscling out Easter all over Europe: 30,000 Ramadan lights festooned across London. A Muslim crescent flag flying atop Westminster Abbey. Jam-packed mosques while church pews are fast emptying

How Ramadan is muscling out Easter all over Europe: 30,000 Ramadan lights festooned across London. A Muslim crescent flag flying atop Westminster Abbey. Jam-packed mosques while church pews are fast emptying

There are few more joyous places for a Christian at Easter than northern Europe’s tallest and largest Gothic cathedral in the city of Cologne.

This morning, thousands of worshippers from Germany and across the globe gather for the most important day in the Christian calendar to mark their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Inside the ancient cathedral, they will sing to the heavens as Catholic priests light Easter candles and the smoke of their swinging incense burners wafts through the glorious nave to the tourist-filled square outside.

But Cologne is also staging a very different kind of religious event this Holy Week. Last night, at a football stadium five miles from the cathedral, hundreds of Muslims attended the city’s first communal Iftar, a sunset dinner of Islamic delicacies that marks the end of daily fasting during the sacred month of Ramadan. 

And there is another eye-catching new addition in this ancient city.

In London, 30,000 lights arranged along a stretch of Oxford Street from near Hyde Park to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square have been switched on for Ramadan

Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan switched on this year's light display in central London for Ramadan

Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan switched on this year’s light display in central London for Ramadan

German law student Saliha Bekta helped facilitate Ramdan lights in Cologne, Germany, after witnessing the switch on in London last year

German law student Saliha Bekta helped facilitate Ramdan lights in Cologne, Germany, after witnessing the switch on in London last year

A stretch of Venloer Strasse, a large and busy street near the Central Mosque of Cologne, is sporting decorative Islamic street lighting with large ‘Happy Ramadan’ signs, Eastern-style ‘Aladdin’ lanterns and half-crescent moons that are turned on at dusk each day.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. In Britain, Windsor Castle hosted its first Iftar last week, with permission from King Charles, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Guests feasted on coconut milk and dates in the grounds before a private tour of the State apartments.

Westminster Abbey, meanwhile – a Christian site for over 1,000 years – flew the national flag of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with the Muslim crescent and star, to mark ‘Pakistan Day’.

Feathers were further ruffled when the official departures noticeboard at London’s King’s Cross station featured Islamic prayer times during Ramadan and a quote from the Prophet Mohammed referring to ‘sinners’.

One organisation that objected to the message – which was eventually removed – was the UK’s Humanist Society, which said: ‘This broadcast of religious scriptures is profoundly misjudged. Public train stations should not be urging sinners to repent.’

Yet London, where almost one in seven residents are Muslim, was the inspiration for the ‘Happy Ramadan’ display in Cologne.

It is the brainchild of German law student Saliha Bektas who, while studying in London last year, watched Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan switch on the UK’s first Ramadan lights. 

Khan – a practising Muslim who observes strict Ramadan fasting and regularly attends the Al-Muzzammil mosque in Tooting, south London – turned on this year’s display, too, featuring 30,000 lights arranged along a stretch of Oxford Street from near Hyde Park to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. 

The display had been funded by the Aziz Foundation, a charity begun by billionaire ­property developer Asif Aziz, who owns so many properties in the area that he is known as ‘Mr West End’. 

Prominent in his company’s portfolio is the Trocadero, a Piccadilly landmark and former entertainment centre, part of which is soon to become an Islamic place of worship and community centre.

Saliha was helped by her four sisters with the Cologne display and says: ‘We believe if the wider population know that Ramadan is taking place, we can get people talking about it.

‘We don’t want to cause a fuss or Islamise anything.’

Ramadan lights have also appeared for the first time in another German city, Frankfurt, courtesy of the local Green mayor. 

In Oslo, Norway, a £75,000 publicly funded display is sparkling near the city hall for the 30 days of Islamic fasting. 

‘The Ramadan lights show that we stand for ­community, inclusion and diversity,’ said council chief Lae ­Solberg at the Oslo opening ceremony.

Maybe so. But the proliferation of Ramadan lights at Easter-time is causing some concern in a number of European countries.

Some already feel that Easter has been undermined by the authorities downplaying historic Christian traditions in the name of ‘diversity’.

Feathers were further ruffled when the official departures noticeboard at London's King's Cross station featured Islamic prayer times during Ramadan and a quote from the Prophet Mohammed referring to 'sinners'

Feathers were further ruffled when the official departures noticeboard at London’s King’s Cross station featured Islamic prayer times during Ramadan and a quote from the Prophet Mohammed referring to ‘sinners’

The Oslo ceremony, for instance, was interrupted by ‘Stop the Islamisation of Norway’ protesters controversially burning a Koran. 

Meanwhile, Max Roland, the founder of Apollo, a popular German news site, expressed reservations about the displays: ‘Many are outraged. While we give more space to foreign customs, we deny our own. There are plenty of examples all over Europe.’

He added: ‘Criticising this has nothing to do with Islamophobia. But we, in Germany, have been renaming Christmas markets as ‘winter markets’ for years. 

‘In Luneburg [a northern German medieval town] last year, a school Christmas party was postponed until the afternoon because a Muslim pupil complained that singing carols during school hours was incompatible with Islam. 

‘In Italy, a school had references to Christmas renamed as the ‘Great Festival of Happy Holidays’, and a Christmas tree was removed from a town hall so as not to offend the feelings of Muslims.

‘This bothers many people,’ Roland added: ‘Last year, 47 per cent of Germany said their country was not confident enough about its Christian heritage.’

Hard talk or the ring of truth?

Last week, a Paris headmaster quit his job following online death-threats after he asked a teenage pupil to remove her Islamic head-covering, which, under French law, is not permitted in schools.

It also emerged that 24 children at a Frankfurt secondary school were told by teachers they could not drink water because three other ten-year-old pupils in the class were Muslims observing the Ramadan fast. 

At the beginning of last week, the liberal-democrat Swiss news magazine Neue Zurcher, which has a pan-Europe readership, offered its own unbridled views: ‘The political establishment is in the grip of Ramadan fever. Islamisation is taking place. Islam is not becoming more German, but Germany is becoming more Islamic.

‘At the Cologne mega-mosque with its 55ft-high minarets, instead of preaching in German as agreed with the government, the sermon is now in Turkish, and the call to prayer is made by mullahs three times a week.’

The commentary went on: ‘The Ramadan celebrations take place in a Germany where Christian crosses cause offence, and daycare centres no longer serve pork in case it is offensive to Muslims.

‘Crucially, the promotion of Islam is diametrically opposed to the emancipation of women,’ warned the magazine.

Since 2015, when the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her country’s doors to Syrian migrants fleeing war, there has been a surge of uncontrolled migration into Europe, principally from strict Islamic countries. 

Last year, according to official Brussels figures, one million such people entered the bloc, many illegally. 

Data site Statista has said Germany’s share of Muslims in the population could rise from around 6.6 per cent today to 19.7 per cent by 2050, projections roughly equivalent to the UK (6.7 per cent and 17.2 per cent, respectively).

To serve the religious needs of the new Muslims, who under Islamic rules must pray five times a day, there are now 6,000 mosques in Europe, with more under construction.

In Britain, there are 1,700, some tiny and based in terraced houses, but others dominating the skyline of cities, with imams making sometimes inflammatory and anti-Semitic speeches.

Last week, a Paris headmaster quit his job following online death-threats after he asked a teenage pupil to remove her Islamic head-covering, which, under French law, is not permitted in schools. Pictured: The Maurice Ravel high school in Paris

Last week, a Paris headmaster quit his job following online death-threats after he asked a teenage pupil to remove her Islamic head-covering, which, under French law, is not permitted in schools. Pictured: The Maurice Ravel high school in Paris

It is true that the number of UK churches, if all denominations are counted, remains higher but in contrast with thriving Islam, attendances are falling dramatically. 

In January, the latest Church of England figures showed that Sunday church attendance has nearly halved since the turn of the millennium, from a total congregation of 950,000 to 549,000 in 2022. 

And a survey by YouGov this Easter showed less than one in three Britons will go to a Christian service.

No country has felt Western Europe’s swing towards Islam more acutely than Sweden. The liberal and once devoutly Christian country with a population of just ten million invited in 160,000 war-fleeing Syrian and Iraqi refugees in just two months in 2015. More followed since.

That year, Louise Meijer, MP for Sweden’s centrist Moderate party and part of the governing coalition, welcomed the newcomers with no limits on numbers. 

Last week, though, she apologised for doing so in a strongly worded article for Stockholm’s mass-circulation newspaper, Expressen.

In Sweden’s case, she added: ‘Large parts of the immigrant group are not self-sufficient. People of foreign origin commit serious organised crime.’

Ms Meijer, leader of the parliament’s justice committee, said that both Islamism and the Muslim ‘honour culture’ – under which women can be punished or even killed if they refuse forced weddings or commit adultery – is both ‘dangerous and limiting’.

She concluded: ‘Those who do not want to adapt or integrate should not stay in Sweden. Minimal immigration is now needed for our country to hold together.’

Unlike neighbouring Norway, the Swedish government has pointedly failed to publicly welcome Ramadan lights. 

Even the Left-wing Swedish Democrat party (which also hailed refugees with enthusiasm less than a decade ago) is now calling for tougher immigration rules.

Back in Cologne, outside the cathedral – which was closed last Christmas after threats of a car bomb attack by a Tajik group, now thought to be linked to the Islamic State massacre of concert-goers in Moscow earlier this month – I talked to Ahmet, a 35-year-old German of Turkish heritage, about his views on Easter. 

He is a successful travel consultant brought up in the city and speaks German fluently.

His grandfather emigrated to Germany in 1954, but he travels ‘home’ to Turkey twice a year, and it is clear that he feels his allegiance to Germany is temporary.

‘I will go back in ten years,’ he says, adding that Germans are ‘quietly hostile’ to Muslims like him. ‘They are polite to our face, but not behind our backs.’

Ahmet hoped to go to last night’s football stadium Iftar, if he could get a ticket.

When we moved on to more sensitive subjects, he asserted that ‘genocide’ has been committed in Gaza by Israel, showing me graphic pictures purporting to be of maimed Palestinian children.

He went further, saying that cartoonists at the Paris-based Charlie Hebdo magazine, ­slaughtered by Muslim terrorists in 2015, deserved to be murdered for caricaturing images of the Prophet Mohammed.

The cartoonists, I pointed out, had also satirised Catholic priests in what can only be described as revolting homophobic images. But I would not call for murder to follow. 

He said: ‘Many Muslims here in Europe feel the same as me. I am not alone, I promise you.’

I believe him. Islam is a proselytising and ever-growing religion, but its hoped-for harmonious co-existence with Christianity in the West is being tested this Easter, and will be over many years to come.

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