Helsinki Grand Mosque’s rocky road

When it comes to building mosques, Finland is not any different from other European countries in terms of opposition that such projects receive either from the side of the officials or the public. The Helsinki Grand Mosque project has been on-going since 2015 and now once again, debates over funding have put a spanner in the works.

The mosque project has been previously endorsed by the deputy mayor of Helsinki and it is led jointly by the Forum for Culture and Religion “FOCUS”, local Muslim associations and the recently established “Oasis” foundation. Trying to fill a desideratum in facilities and services that would bring the Muslims together and away from the undersized prayer rooms, the objective of the central mosque project is to construct a building complex of 20.000 m2 in size, including prayer halls and a community center that would organize activities and events for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and thus contribute and promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

The concerns over funding have been directed especially at the involvement of Kingdom of Bahrain as the financial coordinator. In December, an event with international guests were organized in Helsinki to celebrate the Independence Day of Bahrain. In connection to the festivities, one of the nation-wide daily newspapers Helsingin Sanomat reported in January about the current concerns of the city representatives over possible extremist background of Bahrain and those instances that have shown interest to provide support in collecting the needed funds. Security officials insist now on an investigation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on fears of extremist readings of Islam spreading to the country through the cooperation with Bahrain. This despite continuous assurances from one of the project coordinators Pia Jardi that the help from Bahrain has no strings attached in any every-day matters of the mosque/community center and the fact that the board members in the Oasis-foundation which was established for the administrative purposes of the project are all based in Finland.

Concerns about the mosque’s ability to welcome Muslim worshipers from different backgrounds were also expressed in a radio show Horisontti broadcasted by YLE. The youth civil activist Anter Yasa, argued that the imams for the mosque should be educated in Finland, receiving an academic degree and thus following the example of the country’s practice in educating priests. With his statement, he was opposing the possibility of the future imams receiving their qualifications from Bahrain which would in his understanding cause segregation instead of integration. Moreover, he maintained that the Muslim communities should rather turn to bank loans in financial matters than help from abroad. However, any ability of the small Finnish Muslim community comprising of somewhat 60 000 individuals to meet such financial obligations for a project of over 100 million euros was not addressed.

The chairwoman of the Young Muslims’ Union Helsinki chapter (Nuoret Muslimit ry), Nahla Hewidy was in turn pinpointing in the discussion the aspect of such mosque and especially its services as a community center being a necessity that would put Muslims and the youth in particular to equal footing with other major religious communities who already have such facilities. She maintained, that the project would enhance the welfare and spiritual development of those generations that struggle with identities between cultures and offer a them safe space where they would find recognition and acceptance.

Finland: Helsinki welcomes minarets

After the Swiss ban on minaret construction, many other European countries wonder how they would decide in case of a referendum, and they claim almost unanimously that they would choose to ban the ban.

In the Finnish capital of Helsinki, mosques and their minarets seem to be welcome. This is the view of Helsinki’s city planners and of the Finnish Lutheran Church. Helsinki’s freethinkers also seem to be in favor of a free public space for the towers from which calls to prayer are announced to those practicing Islam.

Even the most hard-boiled of Helsinki residents do not support a Swiss-style ban on the building of minarets. A quick interview round carried out by Helsingin Sanomat in downtown Helsinki showed that almost without exception the city’s residents adopt a positive view towards the Muslims’ wish to have a traditional Mosque in the Finnish capital. The plan, however, is still very much in its initial stages.

Finland’s only proper mosque is in the small town of Järvenpää Helsingin Sanomat

So far there is only the one purpose-built mosque in Finland, the Järvenpää Mosque, which was erected in the 1940s. The timber-framed building also includes a small minaret, but as in most non-Muslim countries, the call for prayer from the minaret is not permitted.

The Järvenpää Mosque belongs to the Islamic congregation of Finland’s Tatars, established in 1925. “Apart from the one actual mosque, we can only speak of prayer-houses here in Finland. The majority of the country’s just under forty houses of prayer are in the capital area”, says the Finnish Islamic Association spokesperson Isra Lehtinen.

In the Helsinki region there are seven sizeable Muslim mosques. Prayer-houses have been set up, for example, in converted bank branches and in old cinemas. Finland is home to an estimated population of 40,000 Muslims — the same size as the total population of the town of Järvenpää.

Greece: Minority Report: rights for Turks in Greece

{Greek nationals, whose mother-tongue is Turkish, are not allowed to identify themselves as Turks. Despite Greek reforms, Turkish-speakers still look to Turkey for relief.} By John Brady Kiesling Greek courts have refused since the 1980s to allow Greek citizens whose mother tongue is Turkish to identify themselves as Turks in official contexts. Legally and morally this is an untenable position. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne specified minimum human rights for Greece’s Muslim community, not maximum rights. A grand, half-forgotten bargain was sealed in Helsinki in 1975. The Soviet Union, the United States and their partners and satellites renounced armed conflict and acknowledged the existing borders of Europe. Nationalists unreconciled to those borders were appeased by guarantees for the rights of their “national minorities” stranded on the wrong side of them. The Helsinki Final Act was crafted to weaken the glue holding the Soviet system together. Even so, the US legal team at Helsinki had serious reservations about enshrining “national minorities” in international law. The American nation is every US citizen. The founding fathers insisted that civic and human rights belonged equally to each individual by virtue of membership in the human race. Each person is a minority of one. Minority rights are acceptable as the extension of the exercise of individual rights, but preferential treatment handed out by the state to some groups but not to others on the basis of language, religion or “blood” is incompatible with the fundamental principle of equality before the law.