German wants to read Satanic Verses in Islam centre

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BERLIN, Oct 2 (Reuters) A top German journalist aims to foster understanding between Muslims and Christians by using an Islamic centre for readings of a book that sparked riots and book-burnings in the Muslim world and sent its author into hiding.

Germany's largest network of mosques has rejected Guenter Wallraff's proposals for readings of Salman Rushdie's ''The Satanic Verses'', which many Muslims see as an affront to the Prophet Mohammad. But Wallraff is undeterred and says he will seek backing for his plan in Muslim Turkey.

''It's intended to break taboos in order to get to know each other and overcome prejudices,'' Wallraff told Reuters. ''It's not intended to be a spectacle but a serious discussion.'' Wallraff, close to Turks since working under cover as Turkish labourer ''Ali'' for a 1985 book exposing prejudice against ''guest workers'' here, supported Rushdie through his years of hiding. A reading of ''The Satanic Verses'', he argues, need not offend but could stir dialogue between Islam and mainstream German society Muslims find difficult to penetrate.

''I'm well known in my neighbourhood and they regard me as a contructive person,'' he said.

Wallraff, 65, has been denounced on radical Islamist websites for his proposal. He now only leaves home in disguise and with a police escort; an experience not unfamiliar to the man whose book he defends.

Rushdie was forced to live in hiding for years after Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a religious edict or fatwa amounting to a death warrant for writing the novel.

Wallraff had wanted the reading in a mosque near his home in Cologne run by the Turkish Islamic Union (DITIB), but it rejected the proposal. He then suggested using the mosque's culture centre but that idea was turned down last week.

''We have concluded that such an event would not facilitate the integration of Muslims in Germany,'' said the group, a branch of Turkey's Directorate General for Religious Affairs which pays imams in DITIB mosques as well as the head of the organisation.

Germany is home to an estimated 3.5 million Muslims, more than half of whom are of Turkish origin.

Wallraff plans to appeal to DITIB's superiors in Turkey for help to stage the reading.

''Just because the current moment is a difficult one doesn't mean we should stop speaking to one another,'' he told Reuters.

''I will travel to Ankara in October to try to convince the head of the government's religion office.'' DITIB, which promotes integration of Muslims, offered to organise a lecture series on Islam and democracy -- including the Satanic Verses reading -- but not on any DITIB premises.

DITIB said in a statement that Wallraff's ''unwillingness to compromise and his lack of understanding for the feelings and needs of the Muslim community'' prompted it to reject his offer.

''I've tried discussing Rushdie's book with several of my Muslim neighbours at my house, and it's really great,'' Wallraff said. ''They see nuances we don't see...Sometimes they even laugh.'' REUTERS ARB AS1638

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