Finnish Muslims broadly back Helsinki mosque – but question funding sources

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SHAFAQNA – The city of Helsinki has not yet agreed on a site for the new building – an issue that has already aroused controversy among city residents. Muslim leaders hope that can be resolved by year’s end.

Plans for a major new mosque in Helsinki are broadly supported by the country’s various Muslim communities. Most leaders interviewed by Yle believe it will help immigrants to integrate while preventing radicalisation. However some are concerned about the source of the funding. Under the current plan, the mosque is to be partly funded by the Gulf state of Bahrain.

“I’d be worried if financing comes from countries Saudi Arabia or Qatar, where there’s an extremely hard-line form of Islam. We’d like to avoid those kinds of problems here,” says Abbas Bahmanpour, imam of the Resalat Shia mosque in Mellunmäki, eastern Helsinki.

“Five more mosques needed”

However Anas Hajar, imam of another mosque located on Helsinki’s Lönnrotinkatu, says he’s not worried as long as the mosque will be run by Finnish Muslims.

He says there is a desperate need for more space for Muslims to worship in the capital region, estimating that it needs five new mosques.

“There are already 10,000 Muslims who pray at our mosques in the capital region, men, women and children. Now we have to rent spaces for holiday prayers. One large mosque would hold a maximum of about 1500 worshippers at a time. That’s simply not enough,” says Hajar.

Ongoing location debate

All the Muslims interviewed by Yle take a positive view of the envisaged new mosque. Finland’s oldest Muslim group, the Finnish Tatar Community, stresses that Muslims themselves should take part in paying for the mosque – though foreign money is not seen as a problem in itself.

“I’d still see it as positive that some of the funding would be gathered from Muslims living in Finland. I thought it would in a way commit them to it and advance this integration process,” says the president of the Tatar Community, Atik Ali.

There will apparently be plenty of time to consider the financing of the large mosque, as the city of Helsinki has not yet agreed on a site for the new building – an issue that has already aroused controversy among city residents. Muslim leaders hope that can be resolved by the end of this year. A proposal for the mosque to be built on the site of the former Hanasaari power plant in the Sörnäinen neighbourhood was rejected by the city power utility Helen.

According to the daily Helsingin Sanomat, two other locations have been suggested by city officials: Verkkosaari, just north of Sörnäinen, or in next to the Mäkelänrinne swimming hall in East Pasila.

Once the location is set, there are plans to arrange an international architectural competition for the mosque and a neighbouring conference centre.

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