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.
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.”
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.Listen to the report:
With Europe quickly becoming a melting pot, cities and towns are starting to see mosques being built alongside churches. They generate fierce debate. And it’s not about building codes and architecture—though the talk is usually focused around that. It’s not really about the buildings themselves at all, but about the people who worship in them. We bring you stories this week about mosque building projects across the continent, and reactions to them. The programme is presented in Marseille, in the south of France, where almost a quarter of the population is Muslim, and which should soon see a grand mosque built.
A project in London has been forced to scale down its plans following bitter protests lead by a local councillor. It was originally billed as “the biggest mosque in Europe”. Now, even though the plans have changed—and it may not quite live up to the name—opposition remains strong. The Tablighi Jamaat, the conservative Muslim missionary group that’s behind the proposal is seen by Western intelligence agencies as providing a recruiting ground for extremists.
The Netherlands has nearly a million Muslims, mostly Turkish and Moroccan. There’s tension there between them and the native Dutch population. This has held up two huge mosque projects in the country--one in Rotterdam and one in the capital Amsterdam.
Critics of mosque projects often bring up the spectre of minarets eclipsing church steeples. In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel made a comment that mosque “cupolas” shouldn’t be built “demonstratively higher than church steeples”. Work on a mosque in Cologne, whose most famous landmark is its cathedral, is set to start this spring. The plans have made people question the role of Islam and the success of integration in Germany. Most of Germany’s Muslims are Turkish who came as “guest workers” starting in the 1960s. Many stayed and settled. Peter Phillips says the reason there is resistance to mosques in Germany is because Germans don’t know much about Islam and the Muslims who live among them.
Another country with a small Muslim population is Slovenia, though Islam is the second largest religion there, after Orthodox Christianity. And yet, there’s no mosque. And the story of trying to get one built in Ljubljana, the capitol, has been long and fraught with delays.
Many communities in Europe are in conflict over mosque projects. But after a while, once they’ve been around, they tend to be welcomed. In Stockholm, despite growing Islamophobia, locals seem to have accepted and even welcomed their mosque.
For the past three weeks we’ve been giving you clues for you to come up with the name of a French composer whose birth 100 years ago is being celebrated this year. The answer is Olivier Messiaen, who was born in Avignon on December 10, 1908, and died in Paris in 1992. The man who gave you the clues all month is journalist and music critic Claude Samuel, who is organizing events around the centennial celebration this year. We announce the winner of the quiz on the air. If you want to know more about the centennial of Olivier Messiaen’s birth, visit http://www.messiaen2008.com/en/index.php
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