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.

Salafist mosque contests its closure before France’s State Council

The Yvelines prefecture has accused the Ecquevilly Mosque of calling for “discrimination and hate and violence.” The association in charge of running the mosque responded by denouncing amalgamations between salafism and jihadism. On November 2, the prefecture had called for its closing under the State of Emergency. There are no known ties to foreign networks, but the prefecture opposed the discourse of its imam, Yassine B.

On Monday, the Ecquevilly Mosque contested its closure before the State Council. The prefecture had accused the mosque of being “an influential place of worship in the salafist movement…calling for discrimination and hate and violence against women, Jews, and Christians,” adding that the imam “legitimated in a sermon,” the 2015 Paris attacks. The prefecture justified its closure by stating that “younger and younger individuals have begun to frequent salafist mosques,” which pose a security risk.

The mosque’s lawyers spoke before the State Council, stating: “We don’t see how the fight against terrorism would attempt to silence all forms of Islam in France for the sole reason that they don’t adhere to all the pillars of a Republican Islam.”

The imam denounced what he saw as a “State trap,” and contested any accusations that he had encouraged terrorism. The administrative court confirmed the mosque’s closing, as well as the prefecture’s accusations against the imam, whose statements regarding Islam and women were said to, “incite hate, discrimination, and disrespect for the laws of the Republic.”

The discourse “has already had negative effects on social cohesion in Ecquevilly for reasons of religious pressure, notably felt by women, who are ‘insufficiently’ veiled or not veiled at all. [This pressure] is in turn absorbed by children,” the magistrate stated.

The Interior Ministry representative described an “insidious message, which instilled idea in the community that, in the end, the [Paris] attacks were tolerable.”

In its retort, the association stated that the mosque adheres to quietist and apolitical salafism, rather than “revolutionary salafism,” which constitutes the “jihadist movement.” The association said it has “always condemned” terrorism and violence. It insisted that “none” of its worshipers, to its knowledge, were on the terror watch list or under house arrest.

Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France: Education, Employment, and Social Cohesion Initiatives [PDF download]

Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France: Education, Employment, and Social Cohesion Initiatives [PDF download]

Report: Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France

A recent comparative research project organized by the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and the University of Oxford and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, details the complicated history and current situation of immigrant integration in France. Currently, the government’s immigration initiatives cease after an immigrant has been in France for five years. French law does not allow for statistics to be gathered concerning a person’s ethnicity or religion, and because many children of immigrants are French citizens, it is difficult to assess the efficacy of the current government initiatives.

President Francois Hollande is considering reforms to the country’s integration policies. This comprehensive report discusses immigration trends, and the youth as a key population in integration policies, as well as educational, employment and social cohesion policies.