2008-01-25 John Beauchamp
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Are there enough Muslims in Krakow to warrant an Islamic centre?

Model of islamic centre, that could be built in KrakowModel of islamic centre, that could be built in Krakow
It’s hard to get an accurate figure of how many Muslims there are in Europe. France has the most—5 or 6 million people, who make up nearly 9% of the population. In the UK, they’re about 3%. But some countries, like Poland, have barely enough to make a blip on the radar. In the southern city of Krakow, some question the need for an Islamic Cultural centre because the community is so small.

A Muslim prayer opened the proceedings in Krakow to present a model of the proposed “Al-Fan” Islamic Cultural Centre. The figure who stands behind the project is a young artist, Rahim Blak: “I have been looking at the issues surrounding the Muslim community here in Krakow. It turns out that there are around 300 families, and as an artist I have taken the initiative to start a debate over the possibility and functional running of an Islamic centre in Krakow.”

The conference evoked mixed reactions from the crowd. Among those were residents of Zwierzyniec, the area of Krakow where the site is proposed.

Invitation to a discusion about the centre, lead by Rahim BlakInvitation to a discusion about the centre, lead by Rahim Blak
The Imam of the Małopolska province, of which Krakow is the capital, spoke sincerely about his hopes for the proposal: “This conference for us is the first stage of the realisation of our dreams. Not for us, but for our children, and for the future.”

Doctor Stanisław Deńko is the architect who drew up the plans for the cultural centre, designed to have a prayer room, gallery areas, and conference facilities to be accessible to the general public and especially to the Muslims who live in and around Krakow.

“The choice of Krakow is quite right,” he says, “because we enrich the existing architecture and culture. I think that Krakow is very well known all over the world because of its history, and because of its monuments and culture.”

Doctor Stanisław Deńko, architect who drew up the plans of the centreDoctor Stanisław Deńko, architect who drew up the plans of the centre
Many in Krakow are for the Islamic cultural centre, backing up the idea of multiculturalism in the city. The idea of such a centre is not too appealing to all minds though. Søren Gauger is a publicist in Krakow: “You have the paradox of building this enormous Muslim cultural centre in a city in which there are simply no Muslims and so what you’re asking is essentially a big empty building with no cultural activity and nobody simply to activate this cultural activity within the city.”

Dr. Anna Maria Orla-Bukowska, a social anthropologist at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow disagrees: “I was very surprised when somebody here said, ‘well how many Muslims live here in Krakow’, because maybe that should be a deciding factor as to whether there should be a centre for Islamic culture here. It shouldn’t be a factor, if 200 people, or even 100 or 70 people or if it’s 10 people and they want to put up a cultural centre that draws people and draws people’s attention to multiculturalism then it’s a good thing.”

Rahim Blak, the young artist who has come under fire for his project, is concerned that the public is ill-informed about the construction of the “Al-Fan” centre: “I’m getting mixed messages here. People who have seen the proposal understand that it is a conceptual project. All kinds of media in Krakow have taken up the story but there is a problem with newspapers that have made the affair totally banal: they headline articles warning of Mosque building at the foot of Wawel Hill. These over-simplified pieces do not help the idea and have a bad influence on the atmosphere in the discussions.”

Apart from the obvious shock headlines, there is a genuine worry that a centre such as this may become a hotbed of unwanted activity. Post 9/11 syndrome aside, there are far more political hurdles to cross than one might imagine.

Rahim Blak is only too aware that the proposal will not go unscathed. Yet he still has hope that the project will, eventually, become reality.

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