Brno mosque expansion faces obstacles

The Brno Mosque

Muslims in Brno are faring well - at least their growing numbers make it seem so. When it comes to creating more room for their flock however problems are cropping up, with some members of the non-Muslim community opposed.

The Brno Mosque was the first in the Czech Republic, and has served the fledgling Islamic community there since 1998. At the time it was being planned there was no shortage of controversy. Petitions against the plan were signed, a minaret was deemed out of the question entirely, but the building was built and the issue not only disappeared, but the local residents have seemed to get along quite well with their new neighbours. Now however the mosque wants to expand, and public response is back to square one. Lukáš Lhoťan is vice-president of the agency Libertas, which consists of and represents Muslims in Brno.

“We want to build a larger mosque that would better correspond to our current demand; more space for prayer, sanitary facilities, cultural spaces and a library, possibly a lecture room. The current mosque was only planned for use on Fridays and for roughly 50 people. Currently around 120 people, and sometimes more, meet there for various events, but now we need to be able run the mosque every day, which current conditions do not allow.”

Each sign of the mosque’s development has been duly noted by the country’s small neo-fascist groups which have been responsible for minor but nonetheless vile acts of antagonism. The force of opposition that really carries practical influence however is the Christian Democratic Party. Vice-chairman, David Macek, explained recently that Christian Democrats are all for open society and religious tolerance, but that one mosque in Brno is enough.

“We think our society should ask itself whether it wants to stand more on Christian values or other, for example Muslim values. Trends indicate that European countries that do not ask themselves that question could have Muslim majorities within only a few decades. We certainly don’t want to say that those countries would be the worse for it. We only want to make sure that Christian values predominate in issues like human rights, the position of women in society, and the separation between church and state. These are all benefits that Christianity has brought to Europe, and we want to see them maintained.”

With the hypothetical construction of a mosque there is no problem under Czech law. The Brno community’s first experience with building their place of worship however showed that practice was much different, with paperwork required for everything from the shape of the building to the water boiler used. Nonetheless, even this time around the community seems optimistic, and Mr Lhoťan for one, believes the law is on their side.

“We feel sure that in the current situation, if the current laws remain in place, there shouldn’t be many problems with building the mosque. There will naturally be individuals or initiatives against it, but the current laws forbid any kind of discrimination against anyone. So if Muslims meet the official requirements laid down by law, no one has the right to impede them.”

Mosques for the 14 thousand-some-odd Muslims in the Czech Republic already exist in Prague and Brno. Planned structures in the towns of Teplice and Orlová however did not survive the red-taping they received, and the Brno expansion, whatever its outcome, will doubtless be some time in the making.