21st Mar 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.


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 takes step closer to 'posted workers' deal

Negotiators from the member states, EU Parliament and Commission reached a 'common understanding' to guarantee equal pay for equal work in the EU. They hope to reach a final agreement in June.

EU posted workers face hurdles

Negotiations among the EU institutions will start soon, but could be difficult on several issues - like the inclusion of the transport sector or the duration of a posting.

EU overcomes divisions on posted workers

After a 12-hour discussion, EU employment ministers struck a compromise to reform the rules on workers posted in another country. The principle of equal pay for equal work has been adopted but the transport sector will get special treatment.


EU court bars tests for gay asylum seekers

Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

News in Brief

  1. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy
  2. EU puts conditions on Bayer-Monsanto merger
  3. Hard Brexit would hit poorer Irish households hardest
  4. Finland hosts secretive North Korean talks
  5. EU to unveil 3% tax on digital giants
  6. German elected S&D leader in European Parliament
  7. Germany: nearly €350m child benefit goes abroad
  8. Norway's far-right doubles support as minister resigns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  2. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  3. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrest Malta bank chair
  4. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  5. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
  6. EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints
  7. Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus
  8. EU to probe UK 'election-rigging' firm

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections