Sunday

17th Dec 2017

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.

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 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.

Investigation

How Romania became an EU workers' rights 'guinea pig'

"We are paid as if we were a country of unqualified workers". Union leaders and labour rights experts reveal, in figures, the catastrophic consequences of the laws that have turned Romania into the country of the working poor.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives