Denmark’s first real mosque opens, funded by Qatar

A man is pictured on June 19, 2014 during the official opening of Denmark's first mosque with a dome and minaret in Rovsingsgade, in Copenhagen's gritty northwest after receiving a 150 million kroner (20,1 million Euros, $27,2 million) endowment from Qatar. AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / THOMAS LEKFELDT

COPENHAGEN: Denmark’s largest purpose-built mosque, including the country’s first minaret, opens Thursday in Copenhagen’s gritty northwest district after receiving a 150 million kroner ($27.2 million) endowment from Qatar.

The long-standing political influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, as well as the row over the prophet cartoons have strained relations between Denmark’s largest religious minority and the majority population.

After years of political wrangling and “not in my backyard” protests, Copenhagen’s Muslim community is cheering the opening of the 6,700-square-meter complex that will house a mosque, a cultural center, a TV studio and a fitness center.

But sandwiched between a car dealership and a self-storage firm in a low-income district, it is not quite the symbol of mainstream acceptance that many of Denmark’s 200,000 Muslims had hoped for.

The absence of any Danish politician of note at Thursday’s inauguration will also highlight the skepticism with which many Danes view the project, not least after it was announced that the funding came from gas-rich Qatar, which has a patchy record on human rights and has lately been embroiled in a corruption scandal over its winning bid for the 2022 World Cup.

While most politicians have merely said they are otherwise engaged, a few have been more forthright.

The leader of the Liberal Alliance party, Anders Samuelsen, said he couldn’t “quite figure out the financing ... and I will not risk endorsing something that is foolish to endorse.”

The DPP’s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, said he believed Qatar’s conservative government “will very likely expect to have a direct or indirect influence on the mosque,” hampering the integration of Muslims in Danish society.

“We’re not involved in Qatari politics and we have nothing to do with the domestic situation there,” said Mohammad al-Maimouni, spokesman for the Danish Islamic Council, which owns the mosque.

The organization initially tried to raise money in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia before an appearance on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV caught the attention of the country’s former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The group told Gulf financiers it wanted to create a platform for dialogue between Danish Muslims and other groups in Danish society.

To that end, representatives from the Church of Denmark as well as from the Jewish community have been invited to Thursday’s inauguration.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 20, 2014, on page 11.




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