Qatar sparks concern with control of Copenhagen Grand Mosque

Doha’s appetite for expanding influence in Denmark does not stop at the mosque.
Tuesday 30/06/2020
Worshippers sit in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen. (Reuters)
Worshippers sit in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen. (Reuters)

COPENHAGEN –Media reports said that Danish political circles and Muslim immigrant communities in Denmark are worried about Qatar taking control of one of the most important Islamic institutions in the country.

Sources added that Qatar was able to lay its hands on the Grand Mosque in the Danish capital after it pumped nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in donations that helped it change the team managing the mosque by buying loyalties.

The board of directors of the Copenhagen Grand Mosque, which bears the official name of the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Centre, on Rovsingsgade Street, in the outer Norrebro borough of Copenhagen, has changed and Qatar has an absolute majority on the new board, thus completing its full control of the mosque.

Worshippers participate in the Friday prayer in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen. (Reuters)
Worshippers participate in the Friday prayer in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen. (Reuters)

The widely circulated Danish newspaper Berlingske reported that one of the five new board members is Shaheen al-Ghanem, a former director at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Qatar. Moreover, one Islamist source in Copenhagen revealed that three of the former board members had criticised the way the mosque affairs were managed, and were duly excluded from the board.

Islamic circles in Copenhagen said that Qatar, which had pumped a lot of money to control the Grand Mosque, was betting on the direct support of elements known to belong to associations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

These circles indicated that, in order to impose its influence on the Muslim community in Denmark, Qatar has taken advantage of the notorious Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s connections to the network of Brotherhood associations in Scandinavia. This network has become even stronger with the wave of new refugees that has recently arrived in Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden.

Doha-affiliated organisations, led by the Qatar Charity Society, donated no less than 227 million Danish kroner ($41.8 million) to a charitable fund that runs the mosque in Rovsingsgade.

The newspaper pointed out that at the time when the information regarding the major donations made by Qatar to the mosque in February was disclosed, two of the board members associated with Doha were residing in Qatar and not in Denmark, which means that the management of the mosque’s affairs was being carried out remotely and linked to the agendas of the Doha-sponsored political Islam. Doha was also the host of the headquarters of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars, which was established by Qaradawi, and is the supreme public international leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“If you are a member of the board of directors of a mosque in Denmark but you live in Qatar, then the interests you are trying to protect will become clear, and they’re not, of course, the interests of Denmark,” said Pia Kaersgaard, spokeswoman for the Danish People’s Party. “I get goosebumps all over my body when I hear about Qatar’s donations to the Grand Mosque,” she added.

But Doha’s appetite for control of Islamic institutions in Denmark does not stop at the Grand Mosque. Shortly thereafter, it became clear that the Qatar Charity Society, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, had donated funds to a free school in Aarhus, which prompted the Danish Ministry of Education and Aarhus mayor Jens Henrik Thulsendale to address an inquiry on the matter to Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye.

Tesfaye said that the Danish government considers it very dangerous “when forces holding visions hostile to democracy, freedom and equality, and through financial donations, try to gain influence in Denmark.”

The minister stressed that “such an influence may contribute to undermining democracy, fundamental freedoms and human rights.” The Danish government announced that it would propose a bill specifying ways to receive donations.

Berlingske newspaper considered that the new and enhanced influence of Qatar in the Rovsingsgade mosque as the culmination of the struggle to gain control on the Danish Charity Fund.

Lenny Cole, a researcher in religious affairs, said that the chaos reigning in the mosque’s meeting room has nothing to do with religious issues, but is all about the Qataris trying to cash in on their investments. She was referring, of course, to the fact that decisions inside the mosque were being taken according to an agenda set by Doha and its representatives, and not according to the visions and choices of the Danish government.

Various currents characterised by extremism and radical views are doing battle at the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Centre. For example, a known extremist imam, Abu Bilal, whose notoriety is based on his call to wipe out the Jews, has been invited several times to give sermons at the mosque. When this information surfaced in February, mosque representatives said that Abu Bilal was not classified as an extremist.

Many of Qatar’s charities and financial institutions, such as the Qatar Charity Society, Al-Rayyan Bank and Qatar Bank are facing increasing investigations and inquiries about their ties to financing the Muslim Brotherhood and other militant movements abroad.