The terrorist attack on Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 has changed the world to a great extent in terms of relations among people, nations and cultures. Rivalry, enmity and hatred among different religious communities have arisen. Islamophobia is gradually devouring the Western world where Muslim communities are being steadily put under pressure. Against this backdrop, the House of One is a unique initiative in Berlin. It is the world’s first common house for prayers and learning for the followers of three Abrahamic religions -- Jews, Christians and Muslims. Here, the synagogue, church and mosque are all under one roof.
On the banks of the river Spree in Petriplatz of Berlin Mitte in 2007, remnants of an almost 800-year-old church were discovered during archaeological excavations. Subsequently, the remnants of four more churches were found after extensive digging, which means many churches were built one after another on the same site as previous ones were destroyed in natural catastrophes. Then the government spoke to the church authorities about the use of the site. The church authorities replied that there were many churches around that area, and thus no new church was required. Meanwhile, minister Gregor Hohberg, as the representative of the Protestant church, recommended that a religious building be erected in the area, where all Abrahamic believers, which means Muslims, Christians and Jews, could pray under the same roof. The proposed building, later, got the auspicious name of ‘House of One.’
The House of One is the product of a grassroots group of three religious communities, although the initial idea came from the protestant church community St. Petri-St. Marien, which later was enhanced and supported by joined forces with the Jewish community of Berlin, together with the rabbinical seminary Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg, and the Muslim initiative for dialogue Forum Dialog. EV Rabbi Andres Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci as the representatives of the Jewish and Muslim community also supported the idea.
In 2011 a foundation, named as Bet-Und Lehrhaus Petriplatz Berlin EV, was established in order to forge good relations among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and this became a partner of the scheme.
As the first step to complete the initiative in 2012, architects from around the world were invited to participate in an architectural competition to design the structure of the proposed House of One. The challenge was to come up with a new type of structure for something that no one had ever attempted before. Some famous architects from across the world participated in the competition and the winner of the competition was Kuehn Malvezzi, a Berlin-based firm of architects and its design was ultimately selected as the design for the structure.
The structure is divided into four parts. In the centre, there will be a domed community hall where all people (Muslims, Christians, Jews and non-believers alike) can sit for communication.
The dome above this communal room should bear the characteristics of all three monolithic religions. Three service rooms of the three religions will be on three sides of the communal hall. The first one will be the synagogue for Jewish services, the second one will be for Christian worshipers and the third one will be the salat (prayer) room for the Muslims.
While designing the service rooms of the three religions, the order of the emergence of them has been considered. The Church will be somewhat higher than synagogue and the mosque will be higher than that of Church. However, the capacity of all three rooms will be the same: approximately 1,300 cubic metres. Each community will offer prayers in their respective cells.
All prayer rooms will be connected through the central hall room and the worshipers will have to go through the passage of this domed hall to enter their respective prayer rooms. The objective of this design is to create the best opportunity to come together and learn more about the religions and each other.
But the founders of the House of One are well aware so that no new religion is established on the admixture of the three religions.
After the approval of the design, implementation of the plan has started with the launching of a global fundraising campaign in 2014. A wooden structure has been set up with a tin roof where the central hall of the House of One will be built. Places allocated to the synagogue, church and mosque have been demarcated by poles. Fundraising is underway. The campaign, based on crowd-funding, was one of the milestones of this project. It is a matter of hope and inspiration that people from over 50 countries already have donated for this project, even non-believers. The total estimated expenditure is 43.5 million euro. Work will begin once 12 million euro is collected. The authorities are planning to lay the cornerstone next year as they have already collected 8.6 million euro.
When the House of One will be formally inaugurated, it will be considered as a milestone in the world history. This coordination hall will provide the opportunity for interaction and dialogue among the three main creeds of Berlin, which will add new feathers of glory to this multinational city, the capital of Germany. It seems that Berlins Muslim community will be the most benefitted from the House of One. As mentioned earlier, there are many churches around the site and the number of Jews is significantly low in Berlin. On the other hand, the number of Muslims is rising in Berlin and there is no mosque or prayer hall nearby. Moreover, as a consequence of the 9/11 incident and subsequent propaganda, European Muslims are in fear of alienation. There has also been a sense of fear and misconception in the minds of the majority or citizens about Muslims and Islam, manifest in Islamophobia. It is hoped that the Muslim community of Berlin will take the opportunity of interaction, discussion and coming together, that will be brought about by the House of One, and strive to eliminate Islamophobia from the majority of the people. We eagerly await the scheme to materialise.
*The writer is an associate professor of the Department of Arabic at Dhaka University