A Month of Islam in Europe: June 2014
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of stirring up trouble on June 19, when he urged thousands of cheering supporters in Vienna to reject “assimilation.”
Erdogan was rallying support for his candidacy ahead of Turkish presidential elections in August, and expatriate Turks have become a
significant bloc of voters after changes to the electoral system now allow them to cast votes abroad.
Around 268,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, according to government figures, of whom nearly 115,000 are Turkish citizens.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who had expressly warned Erdogan not to undermine efforts to integrate Turks into Austrian
society, criticized the latest comments:
“These show very clearly that the Turkish premier has brought the election campaign to our country and created unrest with this. We reject this. And I can only say that respect for a host country looks clearly different.”
In Graz, the second-largest city in Austria, police on June 5 arrested a 41-year-old Islamic preacher from Chechnya who is believed to be
involved in efforts to send Austrians to war in the Middle East.
State prosecutor Hansjoerg Bacher said that the imam is thought to be behind the radicalization and recruitment of eight Chechens resident in Austria, four of whom have died in fighting in Syria.
In Bulgaria, the Kardjali District Court on June 16 rejected a property claim lodged by the office of the Chief Mufti, the spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, to be awarded ownership of the building housing the Regional Historical Museum. The court found that there was no basis for the claim, and ordered the representatives of the Muslim community to pay 91,062 leva ($63,000) in costs to the state.
This case was the latest in a series of lawsuits by the Chief Mufti’s office, filed under the Religious Denominations Act, which allows applications by recognized religious denominations to be awarded property believed to be historically theirs.
The building was originally intended to serve as a Muslim religious school, and it was funded in part by donations from the local Muslim community in 1920s and 1930s. However, the building was never used as a madrassa. Instead, it was nationalized during Bulgaria’s communist era and became a museum.
Lawyers for the Kardjali district administration argued that the Chief Mufti’s office is not the heir to the local Muslim community
because at the time there was no such registered legal entity.
In the southern Bulgarian town of Peshtera, residents are angry over the local mosque’s powerful loudspeakers, which are blasting the Islamic call to prayer, the adhan, several times a day.
According to Radio FOCUS, the town is a model of multicultural tolerance, but residents are increasingly irritated by the adhan; the “silent discontent may escalate to petitions and protests,” the radio said.
In Britain, a new television channel aimed exclusively at British Muslims, British Muslim TV (BMTV), was launched in early June. The channel, operating under the
slogan “Confidently Muslim, Comfortably British,” is airing on the British Sky digital platform; the programming content is being
exclusively funded and made in the UK.
BMTV will compete with other channels, such as Islam Channel, one of the UK’s most prominent and popular English language Muslim satellite channels; Noor TV, Peace TV and Iqra TV, all of which have a South Asian focus and are usually broadcast in Urdu
or Bangladeshi; and to Shia Muslim focused channels such as Hidayat TV and Ahlebait TV.
Speaking to Al Arabiya news, the marketing director for BMTV, Wasim Akhtar, said that BMTV aims to be different from the other Muslim channels by being “inclusive of all different views and open to all different types of
Muslims. So the channel isn’t just about issues of faith, it’s about practical Muslim life here in Britain.”
In a trial at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales [Old Bailey], a jury heard how police found 38-year-old Tahira Ahmed after she was decapitated in her west London home, allegedly by her husband, 41-year-old Naveed Ahmed. Tahira had been stabbed, had both her arms broken, and her head cut off. The couple, who have two children aged six and 12, had been married for 14 years.
Also in London, police launched an investigation into the origins of a sign telling dog owners to stay
out of a park because it is “an Islamic area now” and “Muslims don’t like dogs.”
Meanwhile, it emerged that taxpayer money could be used to help fund a new mosque for the Muslim community in Belfast, according to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. The move came after a local pastor named James McConnell denounced Islam as “Satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell.”
McGuinness said he and First Minister Peter Robinson, who visited the Islamic Centre in south Belfast in June, “absolutely accepted” that the 4,000-strong Muslim community “is entitled to a mosque, if a proper site can be found which is suitable for them.”
McGuinness said McConnell’s remarks were “shameful” and could affect investments in Belfast. “This will impact, if not handled correctly by us, on our prospects of attracting foreign direct investment,” McGuinness said. “The story travelled all round the world, and I think that it was very damaging.”
In a bid to reverse negative stereotypes of Muslims in the UK, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Devon and Cornwall in southwestern
England launched an advertising campaign in June to promote “positive awareness of Islam.”
The campaign involved banners displaying Muslim messages of peace on a fleet of more than 100 city buses. Under the slogan of “loyalty, freedom, equality, respect, peace” the community also launched a website: LoveForAllHatredForNone.org.
A regional president of the group, Muhammad Noman, said: “A true Muslim can never raise his voice in hatred against his fellow
citizens, nor against the ruling authority or government of the time. He should remain loyal and fully abide by the laws of the land of which he is a subject.”
More news about Islam in Britain during June 2014 can be found here.
In Cyprus on June 3, Turkish Cypriot mufti Talip Atalay recited a prayer at the reopening ceremony of the Taht-el kale mosque in Nicosia, which had been closed for more than 50 years. Atalay visited the mosque after an invitation from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II as part of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process promoted by the Swedish government.
In the Czech Republic, President Miloš Zeman refused to apologize for comments he made during a speech at the Israeli Embassy in
Prague on May 26 at a reception to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
Quoting several verses from the Koran that call on Muslims to kill Jews, Zeman said that Islam was to blame for the attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels that killed four people. He also said:
“There is a term, political correctness. This term I consider to be a euphemism for political cowardice. Therefore, let me not be cowardly.”
The new Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC], Iyad Ameen Madani, condemned Zeman’s speech, saying, “It is only appropriate that President Miloš Zeman apologizes to the millions of Muslims worldwide for his deeply offensive and hateful anti-Islam statements.”
An OIC statement said:
“The Secretary General reiterated that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and that terrorism should not be equated to any race or religion; a stance upheld by all major UN texts on the subject of countering terrorism. He added that the OIC countries share a profound respect for all religions and condemn any message of hatred and intolerance.”
On June 10, a spokesman for the Czech government said Zeman would not be apologizing for his statements. “President Zeman definitely does not intend to apologize. For the president would consider it blasphemy to apologize for the quotation of a sacred Islamic text.”
The Gates of Vienna blog summed
it up this way: “As far as I am aware, Miloš Zeman is the first Western head of state ever to tell the OIC to go jump in a lake. So this is an historic occasion.”
In Denmark, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) revealed that at least 100 Danish jihadists (both male and female) have left Denmark to fight in Syria, and that at least 15 of them have been killed.
The information was made public during a June 23 seminar entitled, “Syria and the Danish Prevention Model,” organized by the PET’s Center for Terror Analysis (CTA). Some 100 representatives from the Danish police, civil society and the media attended the event.
According to the CTA, the majority of Danish jihadists are young Sunni Muslims (aged 16-25), including Danish converts to Islam. The CTA said most of the jihadists have links to Islamic communities in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense.
“Those returning from the conflict have been trained in military skills that can be used to carry out a terrorist attack in Denmark or
against Danish interests abroad,” CTA said. “They can also use their status to recruit new members to the group and new warriors to the conflict.”
On June 14, Danish police raided a mosque in the Vibevej district of Copenhagen after a passerby allegedly saw weapons being carried into the complex. Four men were arrested during the operation.
On June 5, Denmark issued an international arrest warrant for four jihadists who were filmed shooting at effigies of six prominent Danish critics of Islam.
In the video, which was recorded in Syria and first surfaced in August 2013, the men fired their guns at effigies of former PET secret
agent Morten Storm, free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard, former MP Naser Khader, the imam Ahmed Akkari, former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
Danish authorities said that under Danish anti-terror laws the shootings are illegal; they also conceded that some of the jihadists may
already be dead.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s largest mosque opened on June 19 in the Rovsingsgade district of Copenhagen after receiving a 150 million kroner (€20.1 million, $27.2 million) endowment from Qatar.
Not a single Danish politician of note attended the inauguration ceremony of the 6,700-square-meter (72,000-square-foot) complex, which houses a mosque, a cultural center, a television studio and a fitness center.
In Finland, the Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) on June 19 said it was investigating a suspected Finnish female jihadist who posed with weapons and published threats against Shia Muslims on Facebook.
The photo uploaded to Facebook shows a burqa-clad figure posing with an assault rifle, and brandishing what is claimed to be a suicide bomb. A comment on the page—written in Finnish—says the woman has come to Syria because “there are lots of Shias to kill.”
On June 12, a spokesman for SUPO revealed that around 40 people have travelled from Finland to Syria to join Islamist groups there. He also said that around 200 individuals in Finland are believed to be at risk of radicalization.
On June 9, Finnish media reported the death of a 23-year-old jihadist from Espoo, the second-largest city in Finland, who had been fighting in Syria since December 2012. The man, of Somali background, had moved to Finland at the age of two. If the death is confirmed, he would be the third Finnish citizen to die in the fighting in Syria.
In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls on June 3 increased the government’s estimate of the number of French nationals fighting in Syria to 800, including about 30 who have died in the conflict.
Valls told BFMTV that these jihadists pose an unprecedented threat to France. “We have never before faced a challenge of this kind,” Valls said. “It is
without any doubt the most serious threat we face. We have to ensure the surveillance of hundreds and hundreds of French or European individuals who are today fighting in Syria.”
In Iceland, the head of the Muslim Association of Iceland, Ibrahim Sverrir Agnarsson, on June 2 said that final preparations are being made for the design of the country’s first mosque, set to be built on a plot of land in the Sogamýri district of Reykjavík.
The future of mosque has been in doubt since May 23, when the leader of the Progressive Party in Reykjavík, Sveinbjörg Birna
Sveinbjörnsdóttir, said she wanted to reverse the city council’s controversial decision to grant the plot of land to the Muslims free of charge. She now says the issue should be voted on in a public referendum. After her remarks, support for the Progressive Party in Reykjavík increased and the party secured two seats in municipal elections that were held on May 31.
The founder of the Muslim Association, Salman Tamimi, said he would file a lawsuit against individuals who left anti-mosque comments on an online article about the mosque controversy published by the newspaper Visir on June 1. Tamimi’s lawyer, Helga Vala Helgadóttir, said it was important to take a stand against hate speech.
In Italy, authorities on June 17 said the Italian Navy had rescued almost 600 migrants from boats in the Strait of Sicily between Italy and Africa as part of the Mare Nostrum [“Our Sea”] search and rescue operation, launched in October 2013.
On June 9, roughly 1,300 migrants were ushered to safety at the merchant port of Taranto after being rescued at sea off the coast of
More than 50,000 migrants crossed to Italy during the first six months of 2014, more than the total for the whole of 2013.
A jihadist from Luxembourg who died in Syria in December 2013 was claimed as a martyr for ISIS on June 17. A tweet from ISIS described a man identified as “Luxembourg national Abu Huthaifa” as the “first martyr for ISIS from the second richest country in the world.”
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn confirmed in May 2014 that two people from the Grand Duchy had joined militants in Syria. One of them was originally from Kosovo, and another was of
North African origin. Both were killed, including Abu Huthaifa. Why ISIS was just now claiming his martyrdom remains unclear.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch intelligence service AIVD on June 30 released a new report entitled, “Transformation of Jihadism in the Netherlands,”
which states that about 130 Dutch jihadists have travelled to Syria, and that nearly 30 have since returned. Approximately 14 Dutch jihadists have died on the battlefield. Most of the Dutch jihadists have joined up with ISIS.
|The Dutch-Turkish jihadist known as Yilmaz is one of about 130 Dutch jihadists who have traveled to Syria.|
On June 21, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, accused the government of being “asleep” and “naïve” for failing to understand the size of the threat posed by Muslim radicals in the Netherlands. “The threat to the Netherlands is now greater than ever, even more than ten years ago with the Hofstad Group [an Islamist terrorist organization of mostly young Dutch Muslims of mainly North African ancestry], Wilders said. “We now have hundreds of jihadists and thousands of sympathizers. This naïve Cabinet’s inaction is inviting an attack in the Netherlands.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans on June 16 told the Dutch Parliament that the government was taking “various measures,” both in terms of criminal law and administrative law, to prevent Dutch nationals joining up with groups such as ISIS.
Also on June 16, the newspaper Volkskrant reported that AIVD had given the Turkish government the names of more than 100 young men and women who Dutch authorities believe may be planning on going to Syria. The paper said Turkey has agreed to detain and deport them if they attempt to cross the Turkish border en route to Syria.
On June 19, Abdoe Khoulani, a member of the Party of Unity (PvdE), a fundamentalist Muslim political party based in The Hague, expressed support for ISIS on his Facebook page. He wrote: “Long Live ISIS. And insha’Allah [Allah willing] on to Baghdad to fight the riff-raff there.”
Khoulani’s message was spread on Twitter by Arnoud van Doorn, a former member of the Dutch Freedom Party who converted to Islam and is now a member of the PvdE. Van Doorn said Khoulani was—like John the Baptist quoting the words of Isaiah—a “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” [to prepare the way for the Messiah].
In response to the backlash, Khoulani said his words were simply a call to justice. He added that ISIS is not a terrorist group, but a resistance organization.
Meanwhile, a Dutch company selling halal sex products on June 4 announced an alliance with Europe’s largest erotic retailer in an effort to tap into the lucrative Muslim market, potentially worth billions of euros.
The founder of Amsterdam-based El Asira, Abdelaziz Aouragh, said the deal with Frankfurt-listed Beate Uhse came four years after his company first launched a range of erotic products that do not contravene Sharia law.
El Asira, which means “Society” in Arabic, launched its range of products in 2010 to massive acclaim from the local Muslim community.
Beate Uhse, based in Flensburg, Germany, approached El Asira in 2012 with a business proposal to sell products jointly in Muslim markets.
“We will take 18 of our Islamic branded products to the market through Beate Uhse,” Aouragh told Agence France-Presse. “Considering
we’re targeting a global market of around 1.8 billion people, the potential is huge.”
The two companies are also looking into the possibility of opening a store for halal sex products in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, Aouragh said.
In Norway, the country’s first-ever Shia Muslim mosque was inaugurated in Oslo on June 1. One of the main purposes of the Tauheed Islamic Center is “to provide an opportunity to non-Muslims to learn about the universal teachings of Islam.” The first official event held at the mosque was a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution.
Separately, Nemat Ali Shah, the Pakistani imam of the Central Jamaat Ahle-Sunnat mosque, the main Sunni Muslim mosque in Oslo, was recuperating in the hospital after a masked assailant repeatedly hacked him with a small axe or knife in the center of the Norwegian capital on the evening
of June 16. Muslims were quick to condemn the attack as an Islamophobic hate crime, but on June 30, Oslo police arrested a fellow Pakistani who allegedly attacked the imam due to a power struggle within the mosque, which has more than 5,000 members mainly of Pakistani origin.
In Slovenia, the local Islamic Community on June 4 announced that construction work on the first Slovenian mosque was about to begin in the capital of city of Ljubljana, nearly ten months after the symbolic ground-breaking ceremony took place in September 2013.
Mufti Nedžad Grabus confirmed that Qatar would cover 70% of the cost of the project. “Without Qatar, the Islamic community [of Slovenia] would not be able to continue with the project,” Grabus said.
The mosque and Muslim cultural center, 44 years in the making, will be built north of the city center, on a plot of land that the Muslim community bought from the City of Ljubljana, at a projected cost of €21 million ($28.5 million).
In Spain, the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIE), a Madrid-based Muslim umbrella group, and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Education (ISESCO), a Morocco-based arm of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), held a four-day conference in Madrid aimed at promoting the development of Koran institutes in non-Muslim countries. The event, which was held from June 18-21, was attended by Muslim leaders from Europe and North Africa.
On June 17, the Halal Institute of the Junta Islámica de España, a competing Muslim umbrella group based in Córdoba, held a conference aimed at promoting the “normalization of halal” in European countries.
The official conference title was: “Possible Similarities and Differences between European Standards Compared with Halal Standards
Demanded by the Arab Countries.”
Conference attendees called on the Spanish government to sponsor an official study aimed at finding ways to bring European food standards into compliance with Islamic Sharia law.
Meanwhile, municipal officials in Barcelona denied reports that Qatar had offered to pay €2.2 billion ($3 billion) to
convert the city’s La Monumental bullring into a forty thousand capacity mosque. The building would include a 300-meter (985-foot) minaret. The mosque would be the third largest in the world, after those in Mecca and Medina.
On June 16, Spanish police in Madrid arrested ten individuals (eight Moroccans, one Argentine and one Bulgarian) on allegations that they were members of an international network that
recruited jihadists for ISIS.
The ringleader was a 47-year-old Moroccan national named Lahcen Ikassrien, who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and released after
three-and-a-half years in Guantánamo. In July 2005, the U.S. government handed him over to Spain, where he faced charges of cooperating with al-Qaeda. In October 2006, the Spanish High Court acquitted him on the grounds that no firm evidence existed of his ties to the terrorist group.
Ikassrien, who lives in Madrid, was part of a cell led by Abu Dahdah, a Syrian-born Spaniard who was sentenced to a 27-year prison term in Spain for his part in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and for being one of the founders of al-Qaeda in Spain. In February 2006, the Spanish Supreme Court reduced the Abu Dahdah’s penalty to 12 years because it considered that his participation in the 9/11 conspiracy was not proven. He was released in May 2013.
In Sweden, government health inspectors said they found some 60 cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Norrköping in eastern Sweden since March, with all 30 girls in one school class found to have undergone the procedure.
FGM has been illegal in Sweden since 1982 and can be punished with up to ten years in prison. Since 1999 it is also a criminal offense under Swedish law if the procedure is performed in a different country.
Most girls who undergo the procedure are between the ages of 4-14 years, but the operation is also carried out on infants. There are no official statistics detailing the extent of FGM in Sweden, or of how many girls are taken to have the procedure conducted abroad.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Parliament on June 17 approved
changes to the country’s immigration law to “facilitate moving to and from Sweden.” The changes reduce the requirements for obtaining
permanent residence for students and workers. In addition, individuals whose application for asylum has been rejected now need to wait only four months to become eligible for a work permit. Moreover, immigrants who have already obtained permanent residence in Sweden can retain that status for up to two years after they leave the country.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) rejected the proposal. “We should have mobility, but these suggestions give evidence that the government has dropped all reason when it comes to immigration policy,” David Lång (SD) wrote in the party’s motion.
In Switzerland, the Islamic Cultural Center in Lausanne received a $140,000 donation from the Government of Kuwait to fund the
construction of a center for raising awareness about Islam. On June 20, the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported that the Kuwaiti Ambassador to Switzerland, Bader Al-Tunaib, presented the donation to head of the Complex Culturel des Musulmans de Lausanne (CCML), Dr. Mohammad Karmous. A Tunisian with a French passport, Karmous has multiple ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Vatican failed in an attempt to cover up the contents of a prayer by a Muslim cleric at an interfaith “Prayer for Peace” service held in the Vatican garden on June 8. Departing from a pre-approved script, the imam recited verses 284-286 of Sura 2 from the Koran, the latter part of which calls on
Allah to grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims.
Most non-Muslims non-Arabic speakers did not understand what the imam had said, but that changed when a former Muslim who speaks Arabic translated the full prayer on the indispensable blog, Gates of Vienna. The Vatican initially denied that the imam had said what he said, but then it doctored the video to edit out last part of Verse 2:286.
Gates of Vienna posted a complete video of the imam’s prayer, which does indeed (3m54s into the video) ask Allah to “make us victorious over the tribe of the unbelievers.” In an interview with Radio Vatican, a German-speaking Jesuit priest named Felix Körner remained unbowed.
Körner defended the imam, saying Verse 2:286 fully accords with Roman Catholic doctrine and is wholly peaceful in intent. “If one hears something in a skewed manner, one is going to have a mistaken understanding of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Vatican partnered with the Emir of Sharjah (one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates) to present an “unprecedented” art exhibition entitled, “So That You Might Know Each Other,” a verse from the Koran. The four month exhibit, which ended on June 14, was designed to serve as a “sign of openness and cooperation between religions.”
The 70 exhibits on display at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization included textiles, musical instruments, jewelry, rudimentary weapons, books and manuscripts, many of which were on loan from the Ethnological Museum of the Vatican.
The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle summed it up this way: “The fact that Rome is lending its works for the first time is an act of diplomacy in line with Pope Francis’s current policies. While Pope Benedict XVI had distanced himself from other religions, his successor is pursuing a different policy.”