The planned grand mosque in Helsinki was used as a major trump card during recent municipal elections in the Finnish capital. The 140-million-euro development includes a grand mosque and a multi-functional center, also called a center for dialogue. The Kingdom of Bahrain is the main source of funding for the project. However, skeptics and other groups opposing the project have raised questions about claimed human rights violations that took place in Bahrain during the Arab Spring; thus suggesting that a mosque built with money from the Arabian Peninsula would increase fundamentalism and tensions between Sunni and Shia.
Based on these reasons, opposition to the project was proclaimed widely during the elections by politicians aspiring for votes. Even though statements by those leading the project confirmed that Bahrain would not be the only source of funding, therefore the Kingdom would not have influence of the teachings within the mosque. In fact, the project is led by three organisations, two of which are Muslim organisations and one organisation working for cultural cohesion and is led by a former Finnish ambassador Ilari Rantakari. The three organizations are FOKUS (Forum for Culture and Religion), the Finnish Muslim Union and the Association for the Muslim Women in Finland.
Nevertheless, the double standards for halting the project is almost grotesque, since the Finnish government had approved arms sales deals to Bahrain worth of at least 3.5-million-euro. Armament sold to Bahrain included fully equipped assault snipers and was conducted right before the series of uprising later called the Arab Spring. Some politicians have said that building a grand mosque would increase radicalization, a claim that has no factual base. Instead it has been shown through research that radical thoughts are spread through the internet and social media to youth with weak knowledge of their faith and its principles. Yet, based on the amount of commotion within the Finnish media and politicians, grand mosque is being presented as a Pandora’s box, while direct arms sale is overlooked and foreign funds for other religious groups are accepted.
The notion of building a sizable mosque has overtly dominated public discussion and news reports, even though the multi-functional center would in fact be larger than the mosque itself, containing sports facilities, auditorium and a swimming pool, all of which are said to serve not only the growing Muslim community in Helsinki metropolitan area, but would also welcome all members of the Finnish society at large.
“The complex surrounding the mosque providing key services would be as important part of the project if not even more important.” –Pia Jardi, a native Finnish Muslim woman leading the project.
There are estimated 65,000 Muslims in Finland mostly living in Helsinki and its neighboring cities. The only purpose built mosque in the country is a small wooden house built in 1940 and is now serving as a culture house and a mosque mainly for the Tatar community. Thus, the need for a purpose built mosque and the services it would provide is evident.
Yet, not everyone in the Muslim community is for the project. Some key figures within the community seem to be lobbying against it. Not that they are against building a mosque per se, but it appears that the reason for their opposition lies in the fact that they are not the ones calling the shots. Feuds amidst the relatively small Muslim community in Finland are not unknown and similar projects have failed due to disagreements before. The ones eventually paying the price for these mistakes are the Muslim youth. Many of whom are second generation immigrants from Muslim majority countries, striving to mediate between their Islamic identity and Finnish nationality. Failure in supporting these aspiring youth in this aspect could eventually be the cause of a negative multiplier effect.
Picture: The proposed building site in Helsinki [Sami Keinänen/Creative Commons]