Authorities in Helsinki have denied a Muslim foundation permission to secure land for a grand mosque in the city, expressing concern about the funding of the project – which would have come from the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain.
The Oasis Center, which was to be located in an old industrial area, would have had room for 1,200 worshipers, as well as a Moorish-themed garden, sports facilities and a community center open to the public. But the Urban Environment Division of the City of Helsinki unanimously voted to reject the proposal on Tuesday, declining permission for a patch of land to be set aside in the Hanasaari area for the complex.
The main reason behind the city’s refusal was the source of money for the project, which had earlier been pledged by the Bahraini royal family.
“The scope of the project under consideration and the open questions and uncertainties surrounding it – namely, the origin of the funding and the possible effects of the sources of funding – do not form a sustainable basis for carrying out the proposal,” the UED said in a statement quoted by the Helsinki Times.
Although Finnish authorities were not opposed to the mosque in principle, the news that it would be built with Bahraini money unsettled officials, including Tarja Mankkinen, the head of the Ministry of the Interior’s anti-radicalization program, and Helsinki’s Mayor Jan Vapaavuori. Bahrain, a Shia-majority kingdom in the Persian Gulf, is ruled by a Sunni royal family with close ties to the other Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia, which follow a strict version of Sunni Islam. Bahrain’s harsh clampdowns on Shia protesters and dissidents have drawn severe criticism from human rights groups.
“The role of the actors who fund the mosque and its activities might consist a [security] risk if it decreases the feeling of belonging to the Finnish society among the Muslim population,” Mankkinen told the Middle East Eye back in May.
“I am delighted that we managed to unanimously block the so-called Grand Mosque project. Together we showed that Helsinki is not anti-Islamic or against Muslims, but on the other hand, neither is the city blue-eyed in its naivety,” Atte Kaleva, a local politician, wrote on Facebook after the vote.
As elsewhere in Europe, recent years have seen growing concern about radicalization and extremism. Earlier this year, two women were stabbed to death in Turku, in what is considered to have been the first terrorist attack on Finnish soil. Finland, an otherwise safe country, has produced a higher percentage of foreign fighters for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) per population than anywhere else in the world.
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The same issues have been voiced by members of Finland’s Shia community.
Pia Jardi, the chairwoman of the Finnish Muslim Union and the project manager of the Oasis Foundation, has denied that the mosque would propagate an extremist ideology and has vowed to keep the project going, building the site elsewhere if needed.
“If Helsinki doesn’t have the willingness, why should we help [it] with this kind of a project,” she told the Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday.