Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Molenbeek mosque hosts Christmas meal

The terrorist attacks in Paris last November may have boosted populist movements across Europe and given rise to a feeling of insecurity.

But in Molenbeek, a working-class district in Brussels, the EU capital, where the perpetrators grew up, a traumatised community is also making efforts to bridge divides.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Earlier this year, Belgian police arrested one of the Paris attackers, Salah Abdeslam, whose actions had led to the deaths of 130 people.

The 27-year old, Belgian-born French national, who was a petty criminal prior to the Paris attacks, had for months evaded capture until he was caught near a Molenbeek mosque, which, on Saturday (17 December), hosted a Christmas meal for Christians, Jews and atheists.

"A mosque that opens its doors for a Christmas meal is a message of solidarity and peace," Sarah Turine, a local councillor in the Molenbeek district, and one of the organisers of the meal, told EUobserver.

"I think that for some, it is the first time they've entered this building, which is an annex. We are not in the prayer hall but we are in Brussels largest mosque," she said.

Among the several hundred people who attended the meal was Marc Neiger, a rabbi at the Beth Hillel synagogue in Brussels. Neiger walked into Al Khalil mosque carrying a golden, seven-candle menorah and was greeted warmly.

He was seated alongside imam Mustafa Kastit and father Aurelian Saneko, a priest at the Church of St John the Baptist. Each of them took a turn to address the crowd.

"The Jewish community, at least our Jewish community, wants to be a part of inter-religious dialogue," Neiger told EUobserver.

"What we can do is just get to know one another, especially since, many people, many non-Jews, whatever their religion, probably haven't met a Jew," he said.

The official invitation included a call for atheists, local residents in general, and people of other faiths, to also dine at the meal, prepared by three local mosques.

"Our respective traditions lead to a common value, which is grounded in the sense of sharing, in love and the desire for the well-being of others," said Kastit, the imam.

Such efforts are not unique in Molenbeek and picked up pace since an earlier attack in France - the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January last year.

Efforts to dispel prejudice and to change Molenbeek's image as a hotbed of Islamist terrorism are part of a broader initiative launched almost two years ago.

The predominately Moroccan neighbourhood of Molenbeek is home to 135 nationalities in total, but has been linked to a series of terror attacks.

Amedy Coulibaly, who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, had bought his weapons in Molenbeek.

But it is a reputation that local officials and residents are keen to shake off.

"We are rebuilding through events like tonight," said Molenbeek's mayor Francoise Schepmans.

Armed patrols of Belgian soldiers are now a common sight in much of Brussels city centre amid fears that other attacks could be carried out.

Some populist politicians have also used Molenbeek as a platform to launch anti-immigrant tirades, but the communities that make up the municipality are making efforts to reach out to one another.

Molenbeek is culturally rich, relaxed, and also home to an emerging art scene.

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art, a contemporary art museum, opened its doors in the neighbourhood with a burlesque show in April.

The municipality also launched a working group to bridge cultural divides in autumn 2014.

Composed of local religious leaders, a women's centre, and youth organisations, among others, it started setting up meetings throughout the neighbourhood to address a range of issues from violence to prejudice.

"For each initiative done, there are new associations that want to join and help," said Turine, the Molenbeek council official.

Next March, they are organising a joint festival between Jews and Muslims to highlight their historical and cultural backgrounds.

They also aim to hold a separate event on secularism.

Investigation

Bearded infidels in the EU capital

Salafism, the hardline creed invoked by IS, is causing tension among Belgium's Muslims. "We should have done more," to stop its spread, Belgian authorities admit.

EU commission to map gender recognition

The European Commission will start looking at how EU states determine genders - as part of an effort to make it easier for people to determine their own identities.

EU to propose scrapping summer time change

Based on the preliminary results of an online survey in which mostly Germans took part, the EU executive is proposing that the whole EU stops changing times in March and October.

Investigation

How to get around the EU posted workers directive

Some EU careworkers in Belgium receive around €400 a month - despite their carers paying €2,500 a month and paying for flights and accommodation. The answer lies in how firms can skirt the safeguards in the EU's posted workers directive.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us