The building of Mosques in Europe:
The visibility of religion in the European public space requires dialogue and consultation
The second meeting of the series of Dialogue Seminars devoted to Islam, Christianity and Europe organised by CEC, COMECE and the Adenauer Foundation took place on 29 May 2008 in the European Parliament. The Seminar dealt with the issue of religion’s visibility in the European public space, and more specifically with the question of places of worship and religious symbols in clothing. One hundred participants, including MEPs and civil servants of the EU institutions, as well as members of religious organisations and communities, took part in the seminar and in the ensuing debate.
With the increasing presence of citizens and residents of Muslim religion in many European countries, the question of religious symbols in clothing has stirred a debate in our societies. More recently, the construction of Muslim worship places has become a matter of public interest, even provoking some opposition in many cities all over Europe. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed by law in Europe, and this includes freedom of worship, the question concerning the visibility of religion in the European public sphere is more controversial.
With regard to the attempts to ban religious symbols from the public space, the Hungarian MEP László Surján (EPP-ED) warned against a return to ‘the catacombs’ for Christians and other believers in Europe, an experience Christians from Eastern Europe had to endure during the 40 years of Communist Dictatorship.
According to Ms Chantal Saint-Blancat, Professor of Sociology at the University of Padua (Italy), the building of new places of worship disrupts the urban space we are familiar with. This generates debates and even tensions between Muslims on one side and local authorities and residents on the other, even though in certain areas of Europe, like in Scandinavia, the construction of Mosques can include consultation of all concerned. Nevertheless, Ms Saint-Blancat underlined that opportunities can emerge from this kind of tensions: mutual recognition between communities, a better understanding of the secularized context of Europe on the part of Muslims, and the possibility for our multicultural societies to transform the urban space into “an experimentation field for pluralism”.
Rev. Ms Berit Schelde Christensen, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, recalled the contribution of Religions to the cohesion of society. In this respect, the building of places of worship is essential as such spaces welcome citizens in their search for meaning. “It is necessary to recognize the spiritual quest of each human being” she affirmed, regretting at the same time that religious language is not understood anymore by our contemporaries because of the strong secularisation of society. She also called European citizens who are believers to reflect on how to use the principle of transcendence for the sake of the common good.
Rejecting both religious and laicist extremisms, Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini, Vice-President of the Islamic Religious Community in Italy, called for the development of a culture of religious pluralism. He recalled the fact that most of the larger Mosques built in European capital cities were financed by Saudi Arabia, and expressed the wish that Mosques remain primarily places of worship and not places of political influence.
Finally, Mr Joël Privot, architect and co-founder of Expert-is, a consultation agency specialised in the construction of Mosques, presented his approach to building such places of worship. According to Mr Privot, the key is to team up residents, local authorities and members of the religious community in order to conceive and embed Mosques in a European context. Mr. Privot also added that an intercultural approach requires that Mosques are built according to high architectural and environmental requirements and that they should be open and welcoming for the residents of the neighbourhood where they have been built.
The next seminar will be held on July 3 15:00-17:00 in the European Parliament on the theme:
‘Christian Europe’ and Islam in Europe
As a part of their contribution for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), the Church and Society Commission (CSC) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), in association with Muslim partners, organise a series of seminars under the overall theme of “Islam, Christianity and Europe”.
The main rationale is to expose the complexity of issues linked to Islam, Christianity and Europe and by doing that to question stereotypes.
Each seminar is to be arranged in the form of a panel discussion with a moderator, an academic expert, a Muslim speaker, a Christian speaker and a Member of the European Parliament in charge of the synthesis.
The seminars are hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels.
For registration, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information, please contact:
Ms Elina Eloranta email@example.com
Mr Vincent Legrand firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms Ingrid Bous email@example.com
Full event report of the 29 May Seminar will be shortly be available on the website of CEC
http://www.cec-kek.org/content/intercultural.shtml and on the website of COMECE www.comece.org