Slovenia starts work on first mosque after wait of over 40 years

Slovenia starts work on first mosque after wait of over 40 years

Slovenia starts work on first mosque after wait of over 40 years

(FromL) Member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic, Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek, Qatar's Minister of Awqaf (Endowments) and Islamic Affairs Ghaith bin Mubarak al-Kuwari, Slovenian Mufti Nedzad Grabus and the Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Jankovic lay the first stone of what will be the first mosque in Slovenia during a ceremony in Ljubljana on Sept. 14. AFP photo

The foundation stone of Slovenia's first mosque was laid at a former industrial site in the capital Ljubljana on Sept. 14, more than four decades since the first official petition was submitted by Muslims seeking their own place of worship.

The initiative has been beset by administrative hurdles and a lack of political will in the mainly Catholic country of two million people, of which some 50,000 are Muslims.

Several thousand people attended the ceremony, including Slovenia's centre-left prime minister, Alenka Bratusek, and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic, who helped lay the first stone.

A handful of women in the crowd wore headscarves - an unusual sight in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav republic, a member of the European Union squeezed between Croatia, Italy and Austria.

"This means the world to me," said Sahra Kacar, 44, who was born the same year as the first official petition to build a mosque in Ljubljana was filed. "We will have a proper place to pray, rather than using various public halls."

The most prosperous of Yugoslavia's six republics, Slovenia saw an influx of people from across the region - including Muslims - seeking work over the past 50 years, particularly with the collapse of their joint state in the early 1990s. 

Slovenia broke away in 1991 and its economy boomed, while the likes of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo descended into war.

The proposal for a mosque had been held up by reluctant local officials, some of whom tried to force a referendum on the matter in 2004. 

Some 12,000 people signed a petition calling for a plebiscite, but Slovenia's Constitutional Court ruled it would be unconstitutional on the grounds of religious freedom.

"We are happy to be starting this civic project in Ljubljana, which will thus become a better-known and a more pluralistic city," Mufti Nedzad Grabus, the highest representative of Slovenia's Islamic community, told the ceremony. 

Construction of the mosque is expected to begin in earnest in November and is projected to take three years at a cost of some 12 million euros ($15.9 million). The Islamic community will foot most of the cost, thanks to a large donation it expects from Qatar.

While the plan for a mosque had stirred debate, the concerns have been overshadowed by financial turmoil facing the country.

The project comes during Slovenia's worst financial crisis since independence in 1991, which threatens to make the country the latest member of the 17-nation euro zone to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund.