Thursday

12th Dec 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 20 years of archives. 30-day 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.

MEPs mark Violence Against Women day with urgent call

According to liberal MEP Anna Júlia Donáth, "violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations existing today and remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, and shame surrounding it."

Feature

Malmo, a segregated city - separating fact from fiction

Despite the neighbourhood's beautiful name, the reputation of Rosengård (Rose Garden) does not so much evoke images of roses as headlines of crime and social challenges. This area of Malmö has been struggling with its notorious, mythical, image for years.

NGO reveals German firms fail to meet UN human rights rule

A new report reveals that the biggest companies in Germany fail to manage measures to protect their employees and supply-chain from human rights abuses - ahead of the government deadline for introducing tough new regulation.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs protest against PM Babis over EU subsidy 'fraud'
  2. EU disbursed €2.7bn for Turkey refugees
  3. UK ports set to host EU border checks for Northern Ireland
  4. EU puts tech giants in crosshairs
  5. Faroe Islands under pressure to chose Huawei
  6. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  7. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  8. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'

Stakeholder

FIFA's schools programme aims to reach 700m children

Football clubs today invest huge sums of money in youth development and court talented young players from an early age. Children are the future – not only where football is concerned, but also for society in general.

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Leaders to battle on climate target and money at summit
  2. Von der Leyen: 'Green Deal is our man-on-moon moment'
  3. North Atlantic mini states in geopolitical turbulence
  4. Survey marks EU optimism on eve of UK's Brexit election
  5. Six priorities for human rights
  6. European shipping's dirty secret
  7. Hungary quizzed over EU rules amid twitter row
  8. Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us