Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Churches and Mosques are Dragged into Racism

Churches and Mosques are Dragged into Racism

Wednesday, 28 August, 2019 - 07:00

Many mosques were constructed in Spain during the Muslim rule of al-Adalus. Many of of these mosques were transformed into churches during the re-conquest of Iberia in the late 15th century.

During the 1453 conquest of Constantinople, churches were also transformed into mosques, with the Hagia Sophia being the greatest example of all. It has now been transformed into a museum.

In both of these cases and others, invasion took precedence over religion. Securing the line of succession was more important than creed. The world at the time, however, viewed itself from a religious lens. It was through religion that other was tamed. The transformation of the places of worship was therefore, a natural reflection of the religion of the conquering invader and of its expanding power against the other.

Some powers want to return us to those times.

This issue was brought up by an Iraqi colleague, Mohammed Khalaf, who in an article published on the “Daraj” website, spoke about Muslim expatriates in Europe, Germany in specific, purchasing churches and Christian centers to transform them into mosques. We first heard about this issue back in 2015 when an Islamic center in Germany bought the Capernaum Church to transform it into a mosque. The move sparked uproar at the time.

This is a very complicated issue.

On the one hand, it is only normal for Muslims in Europe, similar to any other religious group, to have the right to build places of worship. This point is not up for debate. However, the recent terrorist and racist attacks against Muslims and mosques in New Zealand, Birmingham, California and Norway and the unconfirmed reports of the demolition of mosques in China reveal that they are targets of terrorism and extremist groups and official parties.

On the other, the secular European may believe that the excessive building of mosques is going to an extreme, not necessarily due to a negative view of Islam, but because the Christian Europe is no more. Many people are abandoning religion and churches, which is the main reason why many are shutting down or are being sold. Therefore, the “filling of the void” left behind by churches with mosques is not looked upon too kindly. The new mosques are a reminder of a time and consciousness they want to forget.

Some of the most welcoming refugee and migrant sympathizers and some of the people who are most open to the history and culture of the other have emerged from this contradictory environment.

This issue has also not escaped the nationalist and populist right in Europe that targets Muslims and Jews. Racism does not need to resort to excuses, but it does not hesitate to grab them when they emerge. Racists are now using the construction of mosques and transformation of churches to spread myths about the “Islamization of Europe” in order to garner more popular support and improve their political standing. Reminders of the drop of birthrates in Europe is used to warn that Muslims will soon overwhelm them. Some have raised the issue of Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie. They believe that the development sparked an identity crisis, significantly because Muslims living among Europeans helped promote the fatwa.

This has given rise to more racism and incitement against Muslims. Posters showing the Nazi swastika and speaking of the “invasion” and Islamization have been posted in the vicinity of new mosques.

Muslims who are copying the example of foregone eras are the greatest victims of the current times. Their primary concerns of securing their social and economic future takes a backseat to the mythical “clash of civilizations” and identities. The Muslim refugees and migrants will naturally lose this battle. Given the challenges and rise of nationalism and populism, one must first be responsible for oneself before being responsible towards the other.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks