Muslims Struggle to Erect Minarets Next to Steeples

May 14, 2009

Author: Elizabeth Bryant

Source: Religion News Service

The dusty patch of weeds and litter may not look like much now, but the site nonetheless carries the hopes and a sense of sweet victory for Muslims in this hardscrabble Paris suburb.

The short story of the construction site is of a years-long legal battle for a mosque that will be the spiritual center for this city’s 12,000-strong Muslim community. But it also reflects a larger hostility across Europe as the continent’s 20 million Muslims seek to anchor the most tangible foundations of their faith—mosques and minarets—on ground that has traditionally nurtured spires and church bells.

In Britain, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Greece and Italy, local residents and far-right groups have launched protests, petitioned courts and submitted legislation to prevent mosque construction.

The reasons range from fears of religious extremism to arguments that minarets have no place in historically Christian—albeit increasingly secular—Europe.

But in other cases, efforts to build mosques have helped unify local communities and better integrate their largely immigrant Muslim populations. Indeed, mosques are becoming a barometer of sorts for whether Europe’s second-largest faith can shape a democratic and multicultural brand of Islam.

“Opposition has been there ever since Muslims came and tried to have mosque prayer halls in neighborhoods all across Europe,” said Saqeb Mueen, an Islamic expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. “Has it waned? It depends on the area and the sense of cohesion between communities.”