Following a controversial Swiss referendum to ban mosques with minarets, Christian Democratic state interior ministers in Germany on Thursday recommended Muslims show restraint when building houses of worship. “Naturally the Muslims in Germany have a right to build mosques. But they should make sure not to overwhelm the German population with them,” Hessian Interior Minister and conservative Christian Democrat Volker Bouffier told daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
Large mosque minarets or domes that dominate the skyline will only create fears of Islamisation and fuel protests, Bouffier told the paper, explaining that the country’s state interior ministers would address the topic during their regularly scheduled conference on Thursday. Afterwards the ministers plan to make an appeal to Muslim associations to avoid such structures, even if they are legal according to building regulations, in addition to “further intensifying the dialogue with Muslims in Germany,” he told the paper.
Attempts to prevent the construction of mosques in Germany have made national headlines in recent years. This November workers in Cologne broke ground on a large, futuristic mosque with 55-metre minarets after it drew protestors from across the continent – including right-wing extremists.
A BVA poll for Canal + suggests that had a similar referendum taken place in France, 54 percent of the people in France would vote against it. Those who were for a referendum would have voted against minarets. A poll by Ifop for Le Figaro suggests that 46 percent of the French are hostile to the construction of minarets.
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.
This article in Le Monde suggests that mosque construction – that of minarets in particular – is largely impaired in France because of financial constraints, and less to public opinion. Of the country’s 2000 mosques, only a minority have minarets. The Grand Mosque of Marseille, currently under construction, includes plans for a 25 meter-high minaret. The addition is more difficulty when mosques are being financed by the communities themselves.
A Libération article points to how construction details is generally formed based on consensus with the local community.
Construction of the largest mosque in France is set to begin in Marseille. UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin delivered the building permit; Marseille has approximately 200,000 Muslims, approximately one quarter of the population. The 8600 m2 lot was formerly an abattoir and will house the prayer hall, theological school, library, restaurant, bookstore and amphitheatre. The prayer hall should hold 7000 and will feature a minaret 25 meters tall.
Banning the construction of minarets is more likely to serve the cause of religious fanatics than to halt extremism, the Swiss justice minister said on Thursday. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in Bern that banning minarets would infringe basic human rights and endanger religious peace. A nationwide vote on the issue is to be held on November 29.
“Such a ban would clearly run counter to the basic values of the Swiss state, and would be incompatible with the fundamental rights and principles laid down in the constitution,” Widmer-Schlumpf said. She added that the ban would be discriminatory against Muslims, since other religious communities would not be affected. “We demand that the Muslims of Switzerland should respect our system of law and society,” she said. “If we expect this of Muslims, we must also treat them in the same way as everyone else living in the country as regards religious freedom.”
This comes shortly after the city of Zurich has approved the display of a controversial anti-Islamic poster of a far right party, showing a menacing looking woman in a burqa, next to minarets that closely resemble missiles standing on the Swiss flag. The party have been given the go-ahead by Zurich city council, which argues that they are a necessary component of free speech.
Jack Straw, Britain’s Justice Secretary, wrote a letter of introduction for his friend and political ally, Lord Patel of Blackburn, who persuaded the emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, to spend £1.5m, half the total needed to build the five-story mosque.
Liberal Democrats in Blackburn, Mr. Straw’s constituency, claimed the Labour party had used the donation to the Bicknell Street mosque in order to garner votes from local Muslims.
Haras Rafiq, co-founder of the Sufi Muslim council, said large foreign donors expected mosques to reflect their beliefs, and this was squeezing out moderate Muslims. “This has been a huge problem for the last decade. Some of the biggest mosques and institutions in the UK have been funded by foreign money and have been proven to be portraying extremist viewpoints.
The Emir of Qatar has an image as a pro-western reformist and modernizer and his country is the base for a significant US military presence. However, Qatar has also provided aid to Hamas and offered support to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood and to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who has been indicted for war crimes in Darfur.
The construction of minarets is controversial not just in Switzerland – where a vote on the issue takes place in November – but also in neighboring Austria. Yet Austria is unique in western Europe in that Islam has been a recognized religion in the country for more than 100 years, since the time when the Habsburg empire was also home to Bosnians.
But there were few Muslims living in what is now Austria. The first mosque, in Vienna, dates back only to 1979 and owes its existence to Muslim immigration following the Second World War. Since then the Muslim population has almost trebled, and the demand for more mosques has grown – along with resistance from rightwing parties.
Whenever a mosque is to be built in a European country, the construction is subject to a years-long legal battle. There is a larger hostility across Europe as the continent’s 20 million Muslims seek to anchor the most tangible foundations of their faith — mosques and minarets — on ground that has traditionally nurtured spires and church bells.
In Britain, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Greece and Italy, local residents and far-right groups have launched protests, petitioned courts and submitted legislation to prevent mosque construction. The reasons range from fears of religious extremism to arguments that minarets have no place in historically Christian — albeit increasingly secular — Europe.
But in other cases, efforts to build mosques have helped unify local communities and better integrate their largely immigrant Muslim populations. Indeed, mosques are becoming a barometer of sorts for whether Europe’s second-largest faith can shape a democratic and multicultural brand of Islam.
For years, Muslims in Seville have been trying to build a mosque in the southern Spanish city. Although the mosque construction has strong community support, funding remains a major issue. “We need no less than 6 million euros,” said Malik Roueth, a local Muslim community leader. Finding, and subsequently paying for a 6,000-meter piece of land for a mosque that can accommodate 10,000 worshippers has caused the dream to run into several snags. The plan to build such a mosque in Seville has met fierce opposition from some locals; slaughtered pigs heads have been left at the location, and protests have erupted against the dream.
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