Muslims in Europe are ill-advised to convert churches into mosques

The trend of buying churches and turning them into mosques is giving the extreme right in Europe one more card to consolidate its dominance over Europe by inciting hostility against Muslims.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Building distrust. Towers of the Cologne Cathedral are seen behind a dome of a mosque in Germany. (Reuters)
Building distrust. Towers of the Cologne Cathedral are seen behind a dome of a mosque in Germany. (Reuters)

Irresponsible acts, with no thought given to their consequences, by members of Europe’s Muslim communities are fuelling hatred and violence. The trend of buying churches and turning them into mosques is giving the extreme right in Europe one more card to consolidate its dominance over Europe by inciting hostility against Muslims.

The controversy sparked in Germany about Muslim communities buying churches to convert them into mosques revealed the communities’ lack of understanding of the turbulent situation of European society and the rise of Islamophobia.

A Christian association called Friends of the Protestant Church in Berlin published a report on the conversion of ten churches this year in Germany into mosques. It said the phenomenon was not new but it was repeated and deliberate.

At the end of 2018, the Nur Mosque was inaugurated in Hamburg after a Muslim investor bought a church and donated it to the Islamic centre of the city. Similar actions were carried out in the Netherlands, Britain and France. The most prominent examples of the actions were the openings of Al Fateh Mosque in Amsterdam, the Sultan Ayoub Mosque and the Osman Ghazi Mosque in the Netherlands. In France, the Dominican Church in Lille and the Saint Joseph Church in Paris have been turned into mosques.

The association said: “What the Muslims are doing is not wise behaviour.”

This controversy serves to highlight the great crisis experienced by Muslim communities in Europe as they were joined by recent waves of immigrants. More and more, the communities are coming under the fire of angry populist right-wing politicians in Europe.

The controversy raised by the behaviour of some members of the Muslim communities, which some see as a provocative gift that stimulates the birth of more extreme right-wing, anti-Muslim discourse, comes at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric based on the concept of Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe in conjunction with an increase of anti-immigration discourse by populist political parties.

These parties target Muslim immigrants in particular under the thin pretext of taking anti-terrorism prevention measures and stopping the threat of terrorism from extremist Islamic groups.

Observers said the biggest problem for Muslims in Europe is that they cannot properly integrate in Western societies. This simple reality opens opportunities for radical Islamist groups to spread extremist ideologies among the Muslim communities and transform citizens dissatisfied with the West into time bombs.

Security reports reveal that many Islamic centres in Europe, controlled by radical Islamist groups, consider buying a church and turning it into a mosque as one form of jihad for the sake of Allah, no less valued than self-sacrifice.

Militant Islamist groups are finding dozens of churches for sale across Europe and encouraging Muslim businessmen to buy them so they can be converted into mosques. They follow a provocative style in announcing the conversions and reinforce feelings of anger and resentment by publishing pictures of the removal of the cross and replacing it with a crescent, to mark “a tribute to the Islamic religion.”

Europe is going through an identity crisis, not only at the political and economic levels but also at the religious and ideological levels. This has led to a decline in the construction of churches and the closure of about 250 churches annually because of declining numbers of worshippers.

The issue of transforming churches into mosques has been a sensitive one between the Orient and the West for more than 1,000 years. Some may think that, as the European citizen’s attachment to his Christian faith has declined, the time has become ripe for Muslims to expand. However, historical conflicts between Islam and Christianity have long been linked to issues of dignity and victory.

Amrou Farouk, an expert on political Islam groups, said the issue of transforming the identity of one building from one religion to another has been complex for hundreds of years and continues to cast a shadow.

“Christians still keep the memory of the church of the Byzantine Empire in Turkey, Hagia Sophia, that the Muslims had transformed into a mosque, alive even after nearly 200 years and Muslims continue to dream about resuscitating their mosques in Granada, Cordoba, Malaga and Seville, all of which were transformed into churches,” said Farouk.

Farouk said that turning churches into mosques is a foolish act, even if the law permits it and it is approved by residents because that behaviour reflects a lack of maturity on the part of the Muslim community. “It is a card that will be used at one point in time against Europe’s Muslims,” said Farouk.

It is not possible to separate between the isolation of the Muslim communities in European societies and the growing anti-Muslim hatred that is strongly supported by the extreme right that is inching closer to power in many European countries.

Some Muslims deliberately or unwittingly contribute to the propagation of right-wing ideas through reckless behaviour that paves the way for a wider spread of Islamophobia.

The decisions and actions of some members of the Muslim communities in the West reflect the ironically common ground between radical Islamist groups and the far right in Europe. They are sides of the same coin, pushing each other towards more radicalism in the service of certain ideological and intellectual goals that further fracture the European society.