The Slovenia Times

Mufti Hopes Muslim Centre to Promote Dialogue with All Groups


Having overcome years of opposition to a mosque and cultural centre in Ljubljana, which has forced them to hold religious ceremonies in sports arenas and apartments, Slovenia's Muslims are now eagerly awaiting the start of works on the building in down town Ljubljana.

The foundation stone is scheduled to be laid at a ceremony on Saturday featuring Slovenian Muslims and dignitaries from around the world, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

In an interview with the STA ahead of the ceremony, Grabus said that the centre's activities will strengthen the bonds of the Islamic community in Slovenia and help promote the identity of European Muslims. It will also serve as a site for promoting dialogue with other groups.

The activities at the centre will include education about the Islamic world and about arts and literature. A library will be one of the main features. Grabus expects that the mosque will eventually also become a destination for tourists and a sign of the openness of the Slovenian capital.

One of his main hopes is that its construction will help promote understanding of Islam, including among the groups which had so vehemently opposed the mosque. In this respect, he highlighted politicians as the biggest obstacle.

"For decades we didn't have a problem with the law-governed state, nor with bureaucracy, nor with human rights, but rather with politics." The mufti said that Muslims in Europe were surprised "how this debate could be dragging on for so long, given that we have laws which let us build".

"Our goal is not to deal with politics as such, but when politics started targeting us, we had to find a way to find a solution," the mufti said. He believes the understanding that Slovenia is a democratic state prevailed in the end.

People living by the plot of land which the community bought from the city in 2008 to build the centre have never complained, even when the community has organised events at the site, the mufti told the STA.

The idea to build a mosque in Slovenia has been around ever since the community was officially registered in Slovenia in 1976. While officially the second-largest religious community in the predominantly Catholic Slovenia, with some 50,000 followers, they have had to overcome numerous obstacles to realise this goal.

Tangible progress has been achieved only in recent years, after the Muslim community was sold a plot of land for the centre by the Ljubljana city council. While that stirred up anti-Muslim sentiment and even a referendum challenge, the country's top court quashed this, paving the way for the community to launch the project.

In a key step to realising its goal, the community selected a design by Slovenian architecture studio Bevk Perovič Arhitekti for the centre among 44 proposals in an international call for bids in 2011. The community now hopes to take the next step by launching construction works.

Responding to fears from opponents that the centre could serve as a point of congregation for extremists, Grabus said that Islam and other faiths were abused in societies which lacked proper education and work. "We are working to fight such abuses of Islam."

He said that he had not heard of extremist ideas in Slovenia and highlighted that a distinction needed to be made between the actions of individuals and the teachings of a faith.

Grabus hopes that the centre, located on what is currently a derelict industrial site in down town Ljubljana, could be built in just over three years, although this will also depend on the financial means of the community.

He said that the community did not expect the cost of land, development documentation and municipal fees to be as high. With the building works not expected to cost less than EUR 12m, the community currently has around 70% of the required funds.

The funds have been raised with the help of Slovenian Muslims, while the community has also received donations from Qatar, Grabus told the STA.

A public call for contractors is expected to be published in October, but before that the community expects to receive a building permit. Construction works could begin as early as November.

Meanwhile, Grabus spoke out against the proposal that the new real estate tax would also be levied on religious buildings. "We are not a trading company. We have an important role to play from a social, humanitarian and educational standpoints. The state should understand this."


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