Recently, the Turkish community of one Munich district had to bury their plans for a new mosque. The conservative party CSU had blocked the construction for reasons of “wrong place, wrong architecture” and the lack of involvement of local neighbors. Furthermore, the initiative was proposed by an organization which has close ties to the Turkish government.
But now it is the turn of a different initiative. The imam of Penzberg, a small town near Munich, Benjamin Idriz, proposed his plans of a “Centre for Islam in Europe – Munich.” Born in Macedonia, Idriz has long worked for this project which will involve a mosque and community services such as a kindergarten, a space for senior citizens, a library and an Islamic museum. The center strives to convey a liberal, European Islam.
For the first time, there is now a political consensus in the city council. All parties, including the CSU, have expressed their support for the new mosque project. The administration will therefore search for suitable premises at a central location.
Islam is Europe’s second largest religion. But in recent years, some members of Europe’s 20 million strong Muslim community have met strong resistance as they seek to build mosques and minarets, the basic tangible foundation of their faith. Paris suburb of Montreuil offers a colorful study of immigration in France. There are Asian supermarkets and Arab kebab restaurants. Women in headscarves and colorful African boubous mix with French residents wearing western clothes.
A slice of this diversity can be seen in Montreuil’s 12,000-strong Muslim community. Its members, who hail from North and sub-Saharan Africa, represent about 20 percent of the town’s population.
Mohammed Abdoulbaki is vice-president of the Cultural Federation of Muslims of Montreuil, an umbrella group formed to build a central mosque for the city. He shows a visitor the building site for the future, $2.7 million prayer hall, which is now little more than a dusty patch of weeds and litter.
But construction is finally set to begin this fall, ending a years’ long fight to build a main mosque for Montreuil. In 2003, a city hall councillor from a right-wing political party filed a legal complaint arguing that a city lease for the site, for a token amount of about $1.30, violated France’s 1905 law separating church and state. Only last year did an appeals court allow building to go ahead. Mohammed Abdoulbaki. Abdoulbaki says many Muslims were afraid of investing in the mosque because they had heard about the court case. Now, he said, the community has raised about a quarter of the building costs. Lisa Bryant reports.