Sarajevo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Slovenian authorities continue to procrastinate over authorizing the construction of the first mosque in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, despite that the Muslim community of Slovenia, which consists of 100,000 people, has been pushing for a mosque to be built for over 40 years.
The Catholic Church called for a referendum on this issue, which was carried out early 2008 and the majority of participants voted that the construction of the mosque should go ahead as planned. However the authorities, so far, have failed to issue the necessary permits required for the construction of the mosque.
In addition, Slovenian fanatics also sent a threatening letter to Slovenian officials warning them of the consequences should they grant Muslims permission to build the mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. This letter was sent by an anonymous group calling itself ‘Slovenski Orli’ meaning Slovenian Eagles.
Although Muslims in Slovenia have waited many years for the dream of a mosque to be realized, they have not yet lost hope, especially since Muslims all over the world feel that the interfaith talks conducted between Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant leaders on a global scale seem to be bearing fruit.
The Muslim community of Slovenia covers several Slovenian cities including the capital Ljubljana, and Maribor, Koper, Jessenice, and others.
Leader of the Muslim community in Slovenia, Mufti Nedzad Grabus told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We have not lost hope, and we continue to demand our cultural rights, which are guaranteed under the Slovenian constitution, a number of European laws, and by the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.” He added, “Since the door has not been shut completely, and with God’s help it will not be, we will continue to remind them of our demands. It is better for the Slovenian government, and other European governments, to allow Muslim religious and cultural institutions to operate overtly, and not be forced underground.”
The Slovenian Mufti also highlighted the level of sympathy that the Muslim community has received “from the majority of the Slovenian people, and some political and intellectual figures, who are not blinded by bigotry and Islamophobia.” He added, “The referendum proves that the medieval mindset remains amongst a minority, in spite of its influence and grip.” There are over 3000 churches in Slovenia.
“Their reasons [for rejecting the mosque] are weak and founded on hatred. As I said before, it is better for Muslims and for the countries in which there are Muslim citizens, to allow us to practice our religion in the light of day, and not be forced to practice in unknown places, which is what occurred in France, for example.”
He stressed that “Slovenian Muslims are moderate. There are no militants among us, and this has been confirmed by the authorities themselves. But those who want to deprive others of their freedom will have no difficulty findings justifications and unfounded fears.”
In response to some fears harboured by Slovenians that the mosque would pose a threat to security and that it would be odd to Slovenian cultural civilization, Mufti Grabus said, “There is no specific architectural characteristic of civilization; civilization combines a variety of architectural styles to which all peoples and cultures have contributed. We see that the continuation of innovation and creativity in architecture enriches civilization, which cannot be anything other than diverse and humanitarian having embraced all areas of cultural diversity.”
The Mufti did not rule out that this matter could eventually be taken to the European Courts, although firstly the matter will be petitioned to the European Union for it to put pressure on the Slovenian authorities to speed up the licensing of the necessary permits to build the Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center in Slovenia.
A number of Muslim figures in the Balkan region, especially in Bosnia, have called for a boycott of Slovenian goods until the government approves the legitimate demand of Slovenian Muslims to build the mosque. Slovenian shopping malls are spread throughout the Balkan states, including Bosnia, and any possible boycott would result in severe financial losses to the Slovenian economy.
The construction of this mosque is not the only challenge facing Muslims [in Slovenia] who are being increasingly restricted in various fields.
Mufti Grabus said, “The crimes that the Serbs committed in Bosnia and Kosovo are far greater than what Muslim terrorists, as they are described, have perpetrated in one hundred years.”
The Mufti has placed his hopes for a mosque on the consciences of the Slovenian people, even though some official parties are demanding that the area allocated for the mosque be decreased, and that plans for the construction of its minaret be scrapped. “Our hopes lie with those who are free of obsolete ideas [about Islam] and Islamophobia, which some have found can be used to inflame the media in general.”
The Islamic Centre is expected to be built near the highway linking Eastern and Western Europe, which according to the Mufti of Slovenia is the reason “why the Islamic Centre, God willing, will be very important to Muslims who use this route, whether they are labourers, traders, or businessmen or anything else. In the Centre, they will find an appropriate place for prayer, relaxation, recreation, food, and whatever else they need to continue their trip. This will allow for approximately three million Muslims to benefit from the Islamic Centre while travelling…Even non-Muslims can make use of the centre’s facilitates, for example the restaurant, cafeteria, etc.”
Regarding the area designated for the mosque and the Cultural Centre, the Mufti said, “The entire area is around 20 thousand square metres, enough to build a mosque and Cultural Centre for Muslims to perform their worship in a spiritual, cultural, and civilized environment, promoting comfort, tranquillity, and a sense of belonging to a more welcoming world.”