The Council of Moroccan Mosques of the Netherlands (RMMN) has responded with shock to the occupation of a mosque in construction in the Dutch city of Leiden. Five members of the Dutch extreme right group “Identitair Verzet” (English: Identitary Resistance, named after the French group “Géneration Identitaire”) occupied the mosque in the morning of 7 February showing banners with slogans like “In Leiden victory starts” and “Stop Islam.”
According to the council fear is growing among Dutch Muslim citizens for an increase of agressive attacks on Muslims and mosques. The RMMN has called upon the government to ante up the protection of Muslims and their institutions. In the past ten years one out of three mosques has been the target of the besmearing of blood, pig’s heads on the front portal, and even arson.
“The past months we have witnessed a horrific increase of violent and discriminatory acts against mosques and individual Muslims and Muslimas,” According to the RMMN. In January the council already wrote a pressing letter to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Dutch Vice Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher in a response has said about the act that it is “A malicious act to frighten people in such a way.” Additionally he stated that the Dutch government “would never allow that mosques, churches, synagogues, or any other house of worship become a target of threat, occupation, or destruction. If necessary houses of worship can count on additional protection measures.”
Laila Alawa, Associate Editor at Islamic Monthly, views the controversial documentary film Unmosqued and offers some observations on the mosque and its function and future in America. Situating her argument in a larger view of faith in America, Alawa writes, “There are buildings scattered across America, empty of purpose and congregations, simply because people left – and never turned back. For the future of mosques in America, Muslim Americans who have been unmosqued must make a decision. Alongside this sense of urgency, however, is a sense of freshness: the community, innovations and conversations taking place in third spaces is unlike any that happened within mosques – and for now, that’s okay. The future of faith in America might just not take place within a conventional center of worship. For many, that’s just how it’s going to be.”
It is an uphill struggle for the Muslim community to build a place of worship in Milan, many hoped it would ready for Expo 2015, instead the building has been delayed. According to Paolo Branca, advocate and Associate Professor at the Catholic University of Milan, the real problem, rather than the opposition of some in the Conservative Party, is the divisions within the Muslim community, split into two major areas of thought: Caim (Coordination of Islamic associations in Milan) which has never made a secret of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Coreis (Islamic Religious Community), which is more secular and supported by the Diocese. “Many have advanced their concerns, not the mosque, but on its future management in the case that it incorporates close ties to the Brotherhood” explains Branca “ This could complicate the creation of a place open to all Muslims as well as Milanese.”
No Islamic cultural center and mosque is complete without a minaret muezzin calling to worshippers to prayer. A Mosque would take many Venetian Muslims into the sunlight, out of garages and stairs that have been their places of worship for all this time. A cultural center could be in the future for the City of Venice. An unnamed Saudi prince has agreed to fund the center, according to the local newspapers. Now begins a battle for a place of worship.
Osama Qasim, head of the Young Muslims, launched a Facebook initiative “A mosque in Sassuolo, why not?” The initiative started about a month ago, and relies on public support for an Islamic place of worship in Sassuolo. Each person who supports the cause takes a picture with a sign that says “In Sassuolo I’d like a place of worship for all.”
Italian and foreign lenders are ready to put the money needed to build a new Mosque in Milan; this new plan is instead of the use of the Palasharp building. The City continues to conceal these plans, at least until there is something concrete.
A slow negotiation is taking place between the deputy mayor Ada Lucia De Cesaris, some Italian and foreign entrepreneurs, and of course representatives of Muslim communities. While most continue to be tight-lipped about the new place of worship, a rough draft for a new place of worship to be built on the former Palasharp was officially presented.
De Cesaris, confirms that the committee is working on various ideas, but opposes a clear selection by stating “no comment.” His office has denied that there has been any selection in anticipation of meetings with the leaders of Islamic organizations in Milan. Davide Picarddo, a spokesman for CAIM (il Coordinamento delle associazioni islamiche di Milano), agrees: “I can only say that there is a dialogue going on with this administration, and that there is full awareness, even on their part, that the new mosque can no longer be postponed.”
Picarddo admits that there is a project already in discussion: “It is obvious that CAIM has advanced a project, but for now we do not want to make it public due to the high possibility of many changes.”
Regarding the funds needed to construct the building , Picarddo’s words are very clear: “the Italian taxpayer will not spend a dime. We have asked Italian entrepreneurs and foreign foundations in the Persian Gulf, to provide the necessary funding. Milan is an international city, we have businessmen who come to visit from Arab countries. And it is here that there is widespread interest in a place worthy of prayer. Garages, basements and sheds, should not be a long-term plan.”
“For years we have denounced unauthorized mosques like those reported and discovered by residents of the Esquiline Bixio street. Unfortunately, there are not enough controls on unauthorized Islamic centers of worship in Italy.”
In a statement, the president of the ACMID (Association of Moroccan Women in Italy), Souad Sbai continued “I do not think that a Muslim should feel discriminated against by the lack of suitable places to worship. In Rome, there is the largest mosque in Europe, able to host more than 25 thousand people, and today, less than 400 faithful go there for Friday Prayer.”
According to the Association president, “surely it is important to protect those who profess their faith in a peaceful manner. However, clandestine mosques can hide centers of Islamist recruitment, especially at present, in which we are witnessing an advance of jihadist groups. Italy must remain vigilant and work to close unauthorized mosques.”
The places of worship are a source of wisdom , serenity and peace in which man realizes his infinite smallness. The places of worship are also spaces of encounter and confrontation between different cultures and faiths, as shown by the girls and boys in the Italian Association of Young Muslims, who organized moments of depth and knowledge on cultural and religious elements of Islam , also opening the doors of mosques in Turin to citizens through the initiative “Open Mosque.” “After the visit, the dozens of people who have followed us have looked at the world with a different position” says Ayoub Cherkawoui, coordinator of the Association of Piedmont. Periodically, we perform the same guided tour and reception with the primary schools in the territory, to explain the similarities and differences between religions and debunk many clichés. At first the children are quiet and a bit ‘intimidated,’ but then curiosity takes over and they ask many questions.”
Seminars and workshops The fourth edition of the annual gathering of the Young Muslims of the Northwest of Italy has dealt with important issues from a new perspective. The one who is torn between two cultures but feels as if they belong inseparably to their country of origin: Italy. An important meeting focused on the status of second generation immigrants (those born in Italy or those who were brought as children), orientation to the university and educational choices, the new world of work and university courses offered by the territory of Turin and Piedmont. “The family is the country of the heart” Giuseppe Mazzini wrote in his book The Duties of Man. The festival has dedicated an evening to review the knowledge and dialogue about the meaning of family and hospitality in other countries.
Open Mosque Turin has assumed the role of a city of exchange, a multi-ethnic place where cultures and religions come together and blend to a sometimes difficult but often constructive coexistence. Through dialogue and discussion, the true spirit of certain neighborhoods such as San Salvario is interfaith. The neighborhood is the reference point for historical and religious minorities and now includes new faiths brought to Turin by migrants. With curiosity and desire to discuss, young Muslims have accompanied the people of Turin to discover other places of worship.
Young, Muslim and Italian “Our thoughts tend to seek a balance between realism and faith to give young Muslims every reason to believe in a better future, to avoid extremism and to demonstrate to our society the true face of the majority of Muslims, a friendly face that is not the enemy” says Ayoub Cherkawoui “And ‘essential,’ therefore, for us young Muslims in Italy feel that they have a dual identity, that of their family and their origins, and that they have gained by living and growing up in Italy . This can be seen as wealth, but it can also be the cause of deep divides.”
In Catalonia, mosques continue to be pushed further away from the city centers and placed into industrial spaces.
From the 200 existing mosques in Catalonia, between 15 and 20 of them are located at industrial spaces, according to sociologist expert Jordi Moreras. Moreover, an investigation by the Mossos d’ Esquadra (local police) warned about the radical expansion of Salafism in these small mosques. Of the five places of worship which cultivate salafism, four of them are located in industrial spaces: Tarragona, Reus, Roda de Bara, and Torredembarra.
On the occasion of the XII Ecumenical Day of the Christian-Islamic dialogue, celebrated throughout Italy on October 27, the national organizing committee wrote an appeal to all of Italy. The committee consists of a series of pacifist and nonviolent associations, which are representative of the Christian and Muslim world. The appeal this year is entitled: “Religious freedom, the basis of civil society. One God, one humanity, human rights for all and all.”
To define this issue, the Committee started with a reflection on the “endless war,” which started on 11 September 2001 and is still in progress. The text of the stresses that “the war, with the related issue of unclean production of armaments, is the dramatic emergency of our time, as seen by the recent events in Syria. Religions still provide cultural – religious motivations in an event, especially war, which can not be defined as solely political and economic.”
For the promoters of the Day there is no doubt that peace is a valuable asset and must be safeguarded at all costs. Many who celebrate the day participated in a day of prayer and fasting for peace, which was supported on September 7 by Pope Francis.
Also urgent is the issue of religious freedom on which little attention is given, and despite the provisions of our Constitution it is still largely unimplemented. “Freedom of religion” says the appeal “is the subject of conflict in many regions of our country, especially in the north, and not just for Muslims who are systematically denied permission to erect their own places of worship. Missing is a law implementing the constitutional rules.
Hence the need to reflect on these urgent issues. The hope is that this appeal can be widely distributed so that October 27, 2013 may continue, as has already happened in the last eleven years, a positive encounter between Christians and Muslims but also with other religions and with civil society more generally.