Muslim Leaders Launch Tour Of UK Communities

LONDON – The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is embarking on a nationwide tour of England next week to listen to the views of local communities among the country’s 1.8 million Muslim population. The five-week tour, starting on July 25, is being led by the recently elected Secretary General of the MCB Muhammad Abdul Bari, Deputy Secretary General Dr Daud Abdullah, and Bari’s predecessor, Sir Iqbal Sacranie. It comes as Britain’s mainstream Muslim umbrella organization, comprising over 400 affiliated groups, is being challenged by the media and ministers on whether it is truly reflective of Britain’s diverse Muslim communities. Bari said that he was looking forward to speaking with a diverse range of British Muslims right across the country and to hear their views on the issues that are of most concern to them during the tour, entitled ‘Connecting with the Communities’. “This tour represents an ideal opportunity to introduce the work of the MCB to others and to listen to suggestions about how we can facilitate greater cooperation among Muslims and non-Muslims to promote the common good,” he said. The British government on Wednesday promoted the launch of a new organization, calling itself the Sufi Muslim Council, with the aim of speaking for the ‘silent majority’. Last year, the creation of a new secular group calling itself Progressive British Muslims (PBM), was sponsored by Britain’s ruling Labor Party as an ‘articulate’ voice for progressively minded Muslims. The initiatives come as the UK government have been seeking Muslim organizations to join its campaign to tackle ‘radical extremism’ in what is being blamed as a root cause of terrorism.

Switzerland: A Quoi Sert Un Minaret? Le Débat Sémantique Vire À La Polémique

By Catherine Cossy SUISSE. Confin_es dans des halles industrielles, deux communaut_s musulmanes, _ Wangen et _ Langenthal, souhaitent plus de visibilit_ pour leur lieu de culte. Mais les oppositions se multiplier. La premi_re mosqu_e de Suisse a _t_ inaugur_e en 1963 sur les hauts de la ville de Zurich, en pr_sence du maire de l’_poque. Et depuis plus de quarante ans, sa coupole blanche et son minaret de 15 m_tres surmont_ d’un croissant de lune font partie de l’image de ce quartier d’habitation tranquille. La gracile tourelle a une fonction symbolique, comme celle de Gen_ve, les deux seuls minarets existant actuellement en Suisse pour une communaut_ de musulmans estim_e _ quelque 350000 personnes. A Wangen, commune soleuroise de 4700 habitants _ la sortie d’Olten, et _ Langenthal, gros bourg bernois de 14000 habitants, les autorit_s n’en sont pas encore _ d_rouler le tapis rouge. Pr_sent_s presque simultan_ment, les projets d’_riger un minaret de 6 m_tres _chauffent les esprits. Dans les deux cas, on est loin de la mosqu_e pimpante de la Forchstrasse _ Zurich. A Wangen, l’association culturelle turque d’Olten _Olten T_rk K_lt_r Ocagi_ se retrouve dans une ancienne halle de fabrique, juste en face de la gare. Le b_timent d’un _tage, situ_ dans une zone r_serv_e _ l’artisanat, sert de lieu de r_union et de pri_re. Les responsables parlent du minaret comme _signe visible de notre religion_. La commune a refus_ l’autorisation de construire, le D_partement des constructions du canton, premi_re instance de recours, vient de casser la d_cision. L’opposition est emmen_e par le vice-pr_sident de la section locale de l’UDC, Roland Kissling, qui a notamment r_colt_ pr_s de 400 signatures. _Nous sommes chr_tiens. Un minaret est une menace pour la paix religieuse. Et qui nous dit que les musulmans vont s’arr_ter l_ et ne vont pas installer un haut-parleur?_, argumente-t-il. Fin juin, le Parlement soleurois a rejet_ clairement une motion de l’UDC qui voulait interdire _la construction de b_timents religieux g_nants_. Opposants de tous bords A Langenthal, la proc_dure n’est pas encore aussi avanc_e, mais une coalition h_t_roclite d’opposants est d_j_ mobilis_e. On y retrouve l’UDC, mais aussi le Pnos -Parti nationaliste suisse d’extr_me droite, qui compte un repr_sentant au parlement de la cit_- et des milieux _vang_liques. La commune n’a pas encore pris de d_cision. Le centre de la communaut_ musulmane, compos_e majoritairement d’Albanais, se trouve depuis quatorze ans dans une sorte de pavillon d’un _tage, situ_ dans une zone mixte d’habitation et d’artisanat. L_ aussi, il est pr_vu d’installer un minaret, ainsi qu’une coupole translucide de un m_tre de diam_tre. Pas un hasard Le nouveau Conseil suisse des religions, fond_ en mai dernier, a _t_ pris de vitesse par la pol_mique. Il a pr_vu de consacrer sa premi_re s_ance, au mois d’ao_t, _ la question des minarets. Pour Hisham Maizar, si_geant comme pr_sident de la F_d_ration d’organisations islamiques en Suisse (FOIS), ce n’est pas un hasard si deux communaut_s projettent de construire un minaret. _La premi_re g_n_ration des _migrants musulmans ma_trisait _ peine la langue du pays. Leurs organisations se contentaient d’exprimer des besoins tr_s modestes. Maintenant, leur nombre a augment_, la deuxi_me, voire la troisi_me g_n_ration est install_e, elle est devenue plus courageuse. Ils parlent l’allemand, connaissent mieux le cadre l_gislatif. Ce ne sont d’ailleurs pas des demandes qui sortent du n_ant: il y a tout une _volution invisible jusque-l_ qui a eu lieu. D’autres demandes vont certainement suivre._ Hisham Maizar se veut rassurant: _Le minaret n’est pas le signe d’une radicalisation. C’est tout au plus le signe d’un attachement _ la tradition. Les extr_mistes ont d’autres besoins. Et chaque centre islamique ne va pas se doter d’un minaret. Pour les fid_les, ce symbole exprime un besoin de visibilit_. C’est d’autant plus important que la plupart des lieux de culte sont des b_timents en fait indignes de cette fonction, garage, ancienne fabrique, entrep_t en pleine zone industrielle. C’est un paradoxe: les touristes suisses vont admirer au sud de l’Espagne les merveilles architecturales laiss_es par les musulmans. Le mieux serait en fait de pouvoir _difier en Suisse une mosqu_e digne de ce nom, un b_timent d’une grande valeur artistique… Mais ce n’est pas r_aliste._ Refus d’int_gration Sa_da Keller Messahli, pr_sidente du Forum pour un islam progressiste, fait part de son scepticisme: _Nous postulons que la religion doit _tre quelque chose de priv_. Si le minaret n’est qu’un symbole, on peut tout aussi bien y renoncer. Une salle de pri_re n’en a pas besoin._ Selon elle, les projets de minaret _manent de cercles conservateurs: _Ils veulent rester entre eux et imposer leur diff_rence. Ils demandent toujours plus _ la soci_t_, et ne sont pas pr_ts _ donner eux aussi quelque chose et _ ouvrir la voie _ une confrontation des arguments. La population suisse ressent ce refus de faire un pas vers elle, et je comprends que certains aient peur. Je ne parle pas bien s_r des partis qui exploitent ces craintes._ _Ce N’est Pas Un Coup De Force, Juste Un _l_ment D’architecture_ La mosqu_e du Petit-Saconnex _ Gen_ve a, d_s sa construction en 1978, _t_ dot_e d’un minaret. Le porte-parole du Centre islamique genevois, Hafid Ouardiri, revient sur ce symbole de l’islam. Propos recueillis par Philippe Miauton A Wangen, l’_rection d’un minaret suscite la crainte. Selon vous, est-ce la symbolique de l’islam ou la possibilit_ donn_e _ un muezzin d’y faire son appel quotidien _ la pri_re qui g_n_re cette lev_e de boucliers? Hafid Ouardiri: Tout d’abord je tiens _ pr_ciser que le minaret, comme une _glise poss_de son clocher, est une partie int_grante de l’architecture d’une mosqu_e. Dans la zone industrielle de Wangen, il s’inscrit surtout comme signe distinctif et de rassemblement. A propos des craintes, elles _manent avant tout de minorit_s qui r_agissent par ignorance. Dans la mesure o_ en Suisse, il n’y a pas de restriction _ exprimer sa foi et que ce symbole de l’islam n’est pas un coup de force mais un _l_ment architectural, il n’y a pas de crainte _ avoir. – La construction de cette tour est-elle assortie en Suisse d’une interdiction d’appel _ la pri_re par l’entremise d’un muezzin ou de haut-parleurs? – Dans le cas de Gen_ve, la mosqu_e, inaugur_e par le pr_sident de la Conf_d_ration de l’_poque, n’a connu aucune restriction. La seule condition formul_e alors concernait plut_t des soucis d’urbanisme. Le minaret ne devait pas d_passer les immeubles avoisinants. Par ailleurs, au Petit-Saconnex, l’appel _ la pri_re ne se fait que dans le patio de l’_difice. – Comptez-vous dans un avenir proche effectuer cet appel du haut du minaret? – Rien ne nous l’interdirait, quand bien m_me nous allons maintenir pour le moment ce rituel dans le patio de la mosqu_e. En cas de changement d’habitude, le muezzin pourrait faire son appel _ voix humaine, sans microphone. Pour nous, le respect du voisin est primordial. Nous n’avons pour l’instant eu aucune plainte. Notre int_gration _ Gen_ve est en tous points remarquable. – A vos yeux, un tel proc_d_ ne pourrait-il pas heurter la population? – Une nouvelle fois, dans la mesure o_ la tranquillit_ du voisinage n’est pas atteinte, cet aspect traditionnel ne doit pas offusquer les gens. Cela ne repr_sente qu’un _l_ment de l’islam parmi tant d’autres. Il n’y a aucune revendication dans cet acte. – Comment juger la situation interconfessionnelle en Suisse? – Nous sommes _ Gen_ve, comme dans toute la Suisse, bien lotis au vu de la situation internationale. La pluralit_ confessionnelle domine. Il faut continuer _ cultiver cette ouverture. Les m_mes r_gles et les m_mes lois sont valables pour tous. Dans ce cadre, la construction d’un minaret ne devrait pas susciter autant de r_actions.

Muslims Feel Rejected By The CDA

CDA MP Nihat Eski fears that his party hasn’t done enough to distance itself from Rita Verdonk, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders. Other CDA members and activists agree that Muslims at both the national and local levels are increasingly alienated from the governing Christian Democratic Appeal. {(continues below in Dutch)} ,De emotie, de commotie is groot, zegt hij in een interview met Trouw. ,,Moslims zouden geen incasseringsvermogen hebben, islam en democratie zouden onverenigbaar zijn en het islamitisch geloof zou een achterlijke cultuur zijn. Deze uitspraken hebben moslims diep gekwetst. Het zijn onzinnige en vooral polariserende uitspraken. Uit de moslimgemeenschappen kreeg ik sterke signalen dat ze vonden dat het CDA stelling moest nemen tegen deze uitspraken. Dat is onvoldoende gebeurd en de rekening daarvan kregen we bij de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen.” Eski staat met zijn kritiek niet alleen, wel is het bijzonder dat hij als CDA-kamerlid en moslim nu, vier maanden voor de kamerverkiezingen, zijn kritiek uit. CDA-voorzitter Marja van Bijsterveldt verwoordde in mei tijdens het partijcongres haar zorgen over de kloof tussen het CDA en de moslimkiezer. ,,Er is sprake van pijn en gevoel van miskenning.” Ze riep op tot een andere toon en houding van haar partij. De oud-voorzitter van het CDJA (de jongerenorganisatie), Ronald van Bruchem, zei eerder in een interview dat zijn partij een ‘mega-probleem’ heeft in de grote steden, omdat het contact met allochtonen verloren lijkt.

Linz School Scandal Continues Unabated

LINZ – In the latest twist in the Linz primary school scandal Dietmar Keck, SP_ MP for Linz, called for a parliamentary inquiry and the resignation of Fritz Enzenhofer, Head of the State Education Department, for his role in the controversy started by three Muslim fathers, recent immigrants from Chechnya and Bosnia, who wrote a public letter demanding that the school head mistress and all female teachers at the school wear the hijab, be informally addressed, and that their children may not participate in performances (which would be “prostitution”) or take swimming lessons. {(continued in German)} Parlamentarische Anfragen, Drohung mit dem Staatsanwalt und R_cktrittsaufforderungen auf der einen, Wurschtigkeit auf der anderen Seite. Tief fliegen derzeit die Hackln zwischen Linzer SP und Landesschulratspr_sident Fritz Enzenhofer. Aber – zumindest vordergr_ndig – nicht etwa wegen der geplanten und dann geplatzten Schulschlie_ungen, die die SP nicht durchsetzen konnte. Es ist der “Kopftuchstreit” vom J_nner an der Linzer Otto-Gl_ckel-Schule, der Nachwehen zeigt. Der Pr_sident habe erstens Moslems verleumdet, zweitens falsch informiert und drittens die Aufkl_rung der Vorkommnisse behindern wollen, schie_t die SP in Richtung Enzenhofer. Sie ortet eine durchchoreografierte Anti-Ausl_nder-Kampagne der Linzer VP. Und belegen will sie die Anschuldigungen mit den Aussagen von zwei VP-Ministerinnen. Die Fakten: Moslemische V_ter sollen Kopftuchpflicht f_r Lehrerinnen gefordert haben (die O_N berichteten). Was die Moslems sp_ter von sich wiesen – aber geh_rig Staub aufwirbelte. Wof_r, so die SP, auch Aussagen Enzenhofers, einer der V_ter sei dem Verfassungsschutz bekannt und dem extremistischen Lager zuzuordnen, gesorgt h_tten. Das soll ihm im Rahmen einer “Amtshilfe” durch die Sicherheitsdirektion gemeldet worden sein, wie er Bildungsministerin Elisabeth Gehrer (VP) auf die parlamentarische Anfrage des Nationalratsabgeordneten Dietmar Keck (SP) mitteilt. Doch durch Innenministerin Liese Prokop (VP), deren Polizei die Auskunft _ber die Moslem-V_ter gegeben haben soll, h_tten sich die Widerspr_che offenbart, so die SP. Laut Ministerin sind keine Daten bekannt gegeben worden. “Irgendwer l_gt”, sagt Dietmar Keck und fordert Enzenhofers R_cktritt. Skandal_s und aufkl_rungsw_rdig findet auch der Linzer Schulstadtrat Johann Mayr (SP) die Vorg_nge und die Rolle Enzenhofers. “Die SP soll uns nicht immer vom Arbeiten abhalten”, sagt dieser dazu im Gespr_ch mit den O_N. Er habe schlie_lich die Situation an der Schule beruhigt, seine Taten w_rden f_r ihn sprechen. Mehr wolle er zu diesem Thema nicht sagen. “Das ist mir einfach zu bl_d.” Die Drohung mit dem Staatsanwalt? “Schreckt mich nicht.” Und die R_cktrittsforderung? “Ist mir wirklich wurscht.”

Chirac, Sarkozy And Séguin Agree On Appointing Immigrant Prefect

By B_atrice Gurrey PARIS – Nacer Meddah, the son of Algerian immigrants, was named Prefect of Aube, following public anger at Mr. Sarkozy’s incongruous televised promise of appointing “a Muslim prefect” and in the light of the politically turbulant pr_fecture of A_ssa Dermouche. The French statesmen lauded Mr. Meddah’s appoitnment as the result of a meritocratic process, devoid of ethnic or religious overtones, but a model for immigrants’ upward social mobility. {(continued below in French)} Le ministre de l’int_rieur, qui avait suscit_ la pol_mique et la col_re du pr_sident en assurant _ la t_l_vision, le 30 novembre 2003, qu’il allait nommer “un pr_fet musulman”, s’est f_licit_, en conseil des ministres, que le premier pr_sident de la Cour des comptes ait accept_, “dans l’int_r_t de M. Meddah”, de laisser partir son secr_taire g_n_ral adjoint, un collaborateur pr_cieux. M. Chirac a rench_ri sur les qualit_s de ce fonctionnaire, n_ en France de parents alg_riens, qui rejoint, _ 46 ans, le d_partement d’un fid_le chiraquien, Fran_ois Baroin. M. S_guin lui-m_me, apr_s s’_tre fait prier plusieurs mois, se r_jouit de la promotion de M. Meddah, “un homme remarquable et un tr_s grand fonctionnaire”. La querelle philosophique et s_mantique sur le “pr_fet musulman” serait donc _teinte. M. Sarkozy, qui s’_tait nagu_re vant_ d’avoir employ_ cette expression et d’_tre le seul _ braver les tabous, s’est bien gard_ d’y recourir _ nouveau. En janvier 2004, lors d’une conversation informelle _ l’occasion des voeux _ la presse, le chef de l’Etat avait s_chement mis les choses au point : “J’ai dit en conseil des ministres, et je l’ai dit au ministre de l’int_rieur, que je n’accepterais plus de mouvement pr_fectoral o_ il n’y aurait pas de Fran_ais issu de l’immigration.” Quant _ l’expression “pr_fet musulman”, “je ne l’ai jamais utilis_e”, avait-il pr_cis_. Car la religion musulmane n’a rien _ voir dans la nomination de M. Meddah, produit de la m_ritocratie _ la fran_aise. Ses parents ont quitt_ l’Alg_rie dans les ann_es 1950 pour le nord de la France, o_ le p_re est devenu ouvrier. A sa mort, la m_re a _lev_ seule ses trois enfants qui sont aujourd’hui pr_fet, proviseure de lyc_e et ing_nieure en informatique, gr_ce _ leurs _tudes. Cette nomination consensuelle est aussi destin_e _ faire oublier l’exp_rience malheureuse qui avait suivi la nomination d’A_ssa Dermouche, nomm_ pr_fet du Jura en janvier 2004, _ la suite de la querelle entre le ministre de l’int_rieur et le chef de l’Etat. Il avait _t_ victime de deux attentats qui ne l’avaient pas atteint physiquement, puis touch_ par de graves soucis de sant_. L’enqu_te n’a toujours pas abouti.

Minister Backs New Muslim Group

{The government has backed a new body for Muslims which says not enough has been done to tackle extremism}. By Dominic Casciani LONDON – Politicians from the main parties welcomed the launch of the Sufi Muslim Council at Westminster in London. The group’s leaders say that it represents a silent majority frustrated with slow progress since the London bombings in July last year. The move is being seen as a direct challenge to the leadership of Muslim communities in the UK. The new organisation seeks to represent Sufi Muslims, a form of Islam which claims to cut across nationalities and ethnicities by focusing on purity of thought and deed. Its leaders say this approach differs from a politicised presentation of Islam that presents Muslims as separate to other people, something considered to be a key element in radicalisation and extremism. It is one of two major groups to have emerged since the London bombings offering different views to the dominant Muslim Council of Britain. Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for communities, attended the launch, saying that her department welcomed the new body saying she wanted to work with a broad range of groups. “We need to always ask ourselves whether we are working with the right groups in the right way,” she said. “Organisations such as the Sufi Muslim Council are an important part of that work … I welcome the council’s core principles condemning terrorism in all its forms and its partnership approach to taking forward joint initiatives and activities.” Radicalization Crucially, the Westminster launch also included Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians, along with Anglicans and members of the Jewish community. Haras Rafiq, co-founder of the council, said the SMC had already formed a partnership with the British Muslim Forum (BMF), an organisation emerging as the representative of 300 mosques in the Midlands and northern England. The BMF was recently at the centre of a deal that brought competing Muslim bodies together to develop a watchdog for standards in mosques. ‘Silent majority’ Mr Rafiq said: “The prime minister and others have on many occasions rightly called for moderate Muslims to stand up and be counted. “In response to this call, and following extensive consultations within the Muslim community, we have decided to establish the Sufi Muslim Council.” He added: “Sufis count among the vast silent majority of Britain’s two million strong Muslim community. “Up to now they have lacked an externally visible voice and the intent of forming this council is to provide just such a strong voice.” Mr Rafiq said the council would immediately seek to build alliances both inside and outside of the community “to combat the evil political ideology” caused by a vacuum of leadership. He said: “There is an urgent need for the British Muslim community to engage in an internal debate to isolate the ideologies who falsely claim to represent Islam, to develop a strong field of moderate, intellectually astute, forward-thinking leaders and scholars who can promote the moderate values of civic society, engagement and diversity which characterize classical Islam.” ‘Groundwork needed’ The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) remains the largest community body in the UK, saying its dealings with ministers speak on behalf of hundreds of affiliated groups. But some Muslim figures, particularly among younger people in the large communities outside of London, believe that the MCB has not done enough to both combat extremism or to help tackle critical issues such as education and deprivation. But Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that he doubted a new body could be launched with a press release and some political support in Parliament. “The key factor is the support in the wider Muslim community,” said Mr Bunglawala. “When we launched the MCB in 1997, it was only after three years of groundwork and careful consultations. The Muslim community is extremely diverse and we have worked hard to reflect that diversity, rather than seeking to represent just one strand of opinion. “It’s true that the MCB has had its critics, particularly the Board of Deputies of British Jews. But that is because we do not hide the concern of Muslims [over Israel and the Palestinians]. “The signals from the SMC talk of a so-called politicised Islam – well young Muslims are living an Islam which is quest for justice.”

July 7 Attacks Could Happen Again, Warns Banned Group’s Spokesman

By Philip Johnston LONDON – A leading figure in a militant Islamic group banned by the Government yesterday warned of further attacks like the July 7 bombings in London last year. Anjem Choudary said Al-Ghurabaa (AG) was a purely ”political organisation” campaigning against British foreign policy. Along with a group called the Saved Sect, it was proscribed under new laws against glorifying terrorism. Both are off-shoots of Al Muhajiroun, the organisation founded by Omar Bakri Mohamed, the exiled extremist now in Lebanon. Mr Choudary, who describes himself as a spokesman for AG, accused the Home Office of militarising Muslims and driving them underground. “If it reaches a situation when the life and the wealth of the people is violated then what happened on 7/7 could very well reoccur,” he said. “People like us are trying to prevent another 7/7, but it seems to me the Government are fuelling more of a frenzy within the Muslim community. Ultimately they are fermenting more of the same of what took place on 7/7. There is no evidence to suggest we are anything other than an ideological and political movement.” It will be a criminal offence for a person to belong to or encourage support for the two banned groups, to arrange meetings in their support or to wear clothes or carry articles in public indicating support or membership. Their financial assets can be frozen or seized. Al-Muhajiroun was wound up two years ago but spawned the two banned groups whose members were involved in protests earlier this year against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. They brandished placards with slogans including “butcher those who mock Islam”, “massacre those who insult Islam” and “behead the one who insults the Prophet”. Six people were later arrested and charged with offences including soliciting to murder, inciting racial hatred, disorderly behaviour and organising a procession without notifying police. The Home Office said that AG “courts publicity and makes deliberately provocative and controversial statements expressing extremist views”. The Saved Sect website “disseminates extremist material which it is considered falls within section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006”. It added: ”It is believed that SS and AG websites are working in tandem to disseminate an Islamist message under the umbrella of Ahl Us-Sunnah Wal-Jammaa’ah, described as a sect within Islam.” However, this umbrella group has not been proscribed. The Government has also added two foreign extremist groups, the Baluchistan Liberation Army and Teyrebaz Azadiye Kurdistan, to the list of banned organisations.

Bishops’ Conference On Islam In Europe

EUROPE/IRELAND – Presence of Islam in Europe, freedom of press and respect for religions, ecumenical matters, focus of annual meeting for media officers and spokespersons of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe Maynooth (Agenzia Fides) – The Media Officers and Spokespersons of Europe’s Bishops’ Conferences are set to meet in Maynooth (Ireland) from 20-23 July 2006. The 35 participants will come from 23 countries: Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Czech Republic, England and Wales, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. The meeting is organised by CCEE and is taking place at the invitation of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Director of their Communications Office, Martin Long. The Bishops’ Conferences’ media officers will discuss the following themes :the presence of Islam in Europe: the current trends in Islam and the pastoral challenges facing the Churches in the sphere of communications, too; the Catholic perspective on the freedom of the press and respect for religions; ecumenical matters, and in particular the development of the process of the Third European Ecumenical Assembly (Sibiu, Romania, 4-9 September 2007) and reconciliation among the Churches of Northern Ireland; the agenda of the European Union, and in particular the work of the EU Information Society and Media Commission. In addition, part of the meeting will also be dedicated to the exchange of information about current issues within the work of the Bishops’ Conferences. The schedule in Maynooth will include opportunities for prayer and the celebration of Mass. On Saturday 22 July, the participants will visit the ancient monastic site of Glendalough and in the evening will be received by the Archbishop of Dublin and ComECE Vice-president, Diarmuid Martin. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 18/7/2006, righe 17, parole 212)

Greece: Athens Muslims To Get A Mosque

By Andrew Burroughs Plans for the first mosque in Athens since Turkish rule under the Ottoman empire have been given the go-ahead by the Greek parliament. Over recent years immigration has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the Greek capital. But while freedom of worship is guaranteed by Greece’s constitution as a member of the European Union, proposals for a new mosque have proved controversial in a country whose population is 96% Greek Orthodox. There are mosques dating from Ottoman times in the old part of Athens known as Plaka. The Fethiye or victory mosque dates back to 1458. But today these buildings are for tourists not for Muslim prayers. One is now a museum of Greek folk art. Athens is the only EU capital without a purpose-built place of worship for its Muslim population. The city’s 200,000 or so Muslims have been meeting in disused basements and whatever space the community can find. Technically these buildings lack proper legal permission to function as places of worship, though the city authorities, aware of the problem, have allowed meetings to continue while a solution is sought. Demonstrations In the run-up to the Olympics, and under pressure to portray Greece as internationalist and conciliatory, the then socialist government chose a site for a Saudi-sponsored mosque and Islamic centre east of Athens to be visible from the international airport. That provoked demonstrations by nearby residents of the staunchly conservative town of Peannia. Today there’s a small Greek Orthodox chapel on site, built to commemorate the protests which thwarted the mosque proposal. On special occasions a bell is rung, and on the hilltop a cross now defiantly looks towards the airport. “We are Orthodox Christians here,” says Angelo Kouias, a Peannia resident, involved in the protests. “We believe that when you arrive at the frontier of Greece it would be better to see a church to symbolise our country rather than a mosque.” “We don’t want another Kosovo here close to Athens,” says Dr Athanasius Papagiorgiou, a surgeon and president of the group which opposed the plan, the religiously conservative Association of St John. “Kosovo used to be a centre for the orthodox faith, and today it’s nothing.” Lost privilege Professor George Moustakis represents a different face of orthodoxy – a campaigner for interfaith understanding who joined a petition in favour of a mosque 17 years ago. “I’ve always opposed the connection of church and state here in Greece, which has meant the church took the decision about other denominations and other faiths and their buildings for worship,” he says. “Parliament has now voted and the church lost that privilege. So there is no problem about the mosque, the government supports it, so does the Orthodox Church.” With the church veto gone and support from the current centre-right government, Naim El Ghandour – who in daily life imports high fashion fabric designs – is the man coordinating plans for a new mosque to be built in the north of Athens. “The Muslims of Athens are Greek tax-payers and we have a right to pray in a respectful building,” he says “We’re asking the government for financial help. We’re not looking for foreign sponsors, this will be a Greek mosque for Greek Muslims.” The saga of the Athens mosque finds echoes elsewhere in Europe. The city of Grenada in Spain has just witnessed the opening of its first new mosque since the 15th Century when the Spanish re-conquered the Iberian peninsula from the Moorish Islamic rulers who built the historic mosques and palaces of Andalusia. The new mosque opened for worship only after two decades of objections from the local authorities on planning grounds. And in Italy a mosque planned for seven years in Colle di Val d’Elsa in a picturesque corner of Tuscany has divided the local community. There the local authority supports the need for a mosque but there have been objections from residents. It is a scenario likely to be repeated around the EU as the need for immigrant labour draws into the community those of a different faith, who then naturally wish to take up their equal right to a place of worship.