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Slovenia’s first mosque opens after 50 years of opposition

28th Feb 2020
Slovenia’s first mosque opens after 50 years of opposition

The Ljubljana Mosque & Islamic Cultural Center (Credit: Ales Beno/Anadolu Agency)

Nadine Osman

Slovenia’s first mosque, the Islamic Cultural Centre, opened in the capital Ljubljana on February 3, despite strong 50 years far-right opposition.

Opponents of the project – including those who criticised its Qatari financing – have repeatedly tried to halt it, and pig heads and blood have also been left on the foundation which was laid in 2013.

Slovenia’s highest Islamic authority Mufti Nedžad Grabus said the mosque’s opening was “a turning point” for the nation and Slovenian Muslims.
“Slovenia is the last former Yugoslav state to get a mosque, making Ljubljana a capital rather than a provincial town on the edge of the world,” said Grabus.

Muslims in the predominantly Catholic Alpine country first filed a request to build a mosque in 1969, while Slovenia was still part of the former Communist Yugoslavia.

The effort was revived during the 1990s. The 1990s proposal produced a nationalist backlash, with considerable public opposition to the mosque.

The City Council attempted to call a municipal referendum to prohibit the construction of the mosque in late 2003. Opposed by Ljubljana Mayor Danica Simšič as a “constitutionally forbidden encroachment on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of a religious minority”, the referendum was rejected by the Constitutional Court in July 2004.

In December 2008, city councillor Mihael Jarc began gathering signatures for a second referendum, this time to delete the mosque’s proposed 40-metre high minaret minaret. Ljubljana’s current Mayor Zoran Janković has supported the project.

Construction, which began in 2013, cost some €34 million (£28 million), €28 million of which were Qatari donations. Situated in a semi-industrial area of Ljubljana, the mosque, which can hold up to 1,400 people, constitutes the core of the six-building Islamic centre.

The centre also comprises the community’s offices; an education centre, which includes a library; a restaurant; a basketball court; housing for the imam; and a minaret.

All the buildings are made from white concrete combined with steel, glass and wood. A large blue textile-made dome dominates the mosque’s interior, referring to heaven and reminiscent of famous mosques like Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

“We wanted to link traditional Islamic architecture values with contemporary architecture,” said architect Matěj Bevk adding the centre’s glass facades were meant to show its transparency and openness.

Until now, the country’s Muslims who are mostly Bosniaks and other Slavic have been worshipping and holding ceremonies in rented sports halls or buildings. According to the latest figures, there were 80,000 Muslims in the country, making up about 2.4 per cent of the total population.

Pig heads and blood were also tossed on the site in two incidents in 2016. Azra Leković, a Slovenian Muslim in her late 40s, described the mosque as “crucial,” and says her children, 22 and 24, had distanced themselves from the religion over the years.

“I hope it will allow my children to get in touch with the Muslim community again, to meet progressive people and find friends that share their religion,” said the entrepreneur from Sežana in western Slovenia.

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