Quick look at Islam in Czech Republic


The history of Muslims in former Czechoslovakia is quite interesting in some points. Muslims in Czechoslovakia first organized themselves in 1934 and, from the very beginning, they tried to receive an official government recognition; yet this was not completed at that time due to purely legal and administrative matters.

The early leader of the community was a Czech convert, Muhammad Abdullah Brikcius, an independent journalist and traveller. In World War Two, he shared the illusion of many that German Nazis could liberate Muslims from the colonial yoke, especially from the British rule. He therefore published pro-Nazi articles in Czech Muslim and non-Muslim periodicals, and also made friends with Arab Muslim personalities of a similar orientation, such as the notorious mufti of Jerusalem Amin al- Husayni.

Czech Muslims consequently had problems after the fall of Nazi Germany (largely due to Brikcius' doubtful reputation), and Muslims in general kept a low profile in Czechoslovakia throughout the Communist rule (1948-1989). They suffered from limitations imposed on their activities (as all religious communities in Communist countries) but were never exposed to a real persecution. This can be explained by two facts: first, Communist officials in Czechoslovakia perceived Muslims as a rather exotic phenomenon that could hardly threaten their power (hinted at by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in a journal interview in the 1990's); second, communist Czechoslovakia kept close friendly ties to the so-called "progressive" Arab regimes (especially South Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Algeria) and therefore would not risk stirring up international troubles by intimidating local Muslims (confirmed by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in an interview for the Dingir journal).

Due to the latter fact, Arab students got scholarships for studying at universities in Czechoslovakia, with fairly many of them marrying Czech or Slovak wives and establishing themselves in the country. In this way, they formed the basic core of the Muslim community in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (The internal structure of this community reflects the internal social developments of the Arab and Muslim world: the Arab students who came to Czechoslovakia very early, until the 1960's, were largely secularized and non-religious. The Islamic engagement among the students grew quickly from the 1970's on, and the outwardly "more Islamic" Arabs were typically the students of technology and medicine, not humanities.) Thus a Muslim prayer room could be found in almost every university city in former Czechoslovakia.


There are no reliable figures as to how many Muslims really live in the Czech Republic. Mohamed Ali Šilhavý (interviewed by the BBC Czech Service, September 20, 2001) estimated the numbers at about 20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic, among whom some 400 could be native Czechs. The number of converts seems to grow, and probably as many as 80% of them are women, which more completely adopt cultural patterns (not only the basic faith as such)..

So far, no celebrity converts to Islam are known in the Czech Republic although it is noteworthy that at least two prominent Czech Orientalists of the Communist era were secret Muslims (a professed Islamic adherence is certain of old-generation Mideast scholars Ivan Hrbek and Jiří Bečka at their young age; Czech Muslim author Petr Pelikán has academic education in Arab and Oriental studies; finally, going back to earlier generations, some speculate that Felix Tauer, who has translated the Thousand and One Nights into Czech, may have been a Muslim secretly).

As for the non-Czech Muslims who live in the country, most of them are Arabs (see above), apparently followed by Afghans, sub-Saharan Africans, Pakistanis, refugees from Bosnia- Herzegovina, and people from the Central Asian and Caucasian republics of the former Soviet Union. Turks, Persians, and Kurds are relatively very few in the Czech Republic.


Ústředí muslimských obcí (Main Office of Muslim Associations) – officially registered as a religious community on September 17, 2004, which gives Islam in the Czech Republic an institutional recognition and entitles the community to state subsidies. (To a limited extent, it can also work in Czech prisons with Muslim inmates. However, the community has not fulfilled the general requirements for other activities based on religion, such as teaching Islam in schools or holding marriage ceremonies recognized by government.)

The government-registered Main Office of Muslim Associations serves as an umbrella platform of the following organizations:

1) Islámská nadace v Praze (Islamic Foundation in Prague);

2) Islámská nadace v Brně (Islamic Foundation in Brno - the second-largest city in the Czech Republic);

3) Všeobecný svaz muslimských studentů (General Union of Muslim Students, or, the name they use on their website is: the Muslim Student Union).

The joint platform can be labelled (at least in administrative terms) as the "mainstream Islam" in the Czech Republic. The president of the Main Office of Muslim Associations is Mohamed Ali Šilhavý, a native Czech who is now 90 years old, and a Muslim since he was 20. Also due to his advanced age, the Main Office is mostly represented by its two vice-presidents: one of them is Vladimír Sáňka, again a native Czech convert to Islam who leads the Islamic Foundation in Prague; the other vice-president is an Iraqi Arab by origin whose name is Munib Hasan al-Rawi (transcriptions used by himself or in the media seem to vary, and probably the most common form is Muneeb Hassan). The latter man represents a typical model of an Arab having come to former Czechoslovakia for university studies, later deciding to remain in the country after he graduated. Mr. al-Rawi leads the Islamic Foundation in Brno.

Outside the officially registered platform stand two bodies with a status of civil associations that, however, also pursue religious activities. Yet in terms of media activities, the latter of the organizations is far from marginal:

1) Svaz islámských kulturních center v Praze (Union of Islamic Cultural Centres in Prague) – purely Turkish in membership; related to the worlwide network of "Islamic cultural centres" financed from Turkey;

2) Muslimská unie (Muslim Union) – officially established on January 20, 2001. Although kept mostly by native Czech converts to Islam, the leader of the Union is one Muhammad Abbas al-Mu'tasim (transcriptions used by himself or in the media seem to vary, and probably the most common forms are Mohamed Abbás and Mohamad Abbás), again an example of an Arab who settled in the Czech Republic after his university graduation here. He comes from the Sudan and is a son of a Sudanese diplomat. The Union is highly active in publications on the internet, where it has also paid an extraordinary attention to the events of September 11, 2001. Mr.Abbas´s connection to Third World Relief Agency, notorious jihadist organisation, are well documented. Mr.Abbas aplied by the Czech Court for oficiálů recognition of TWRA already in 1996.


a) Immediate reactions

STATEMENT (by the Islamic Foundations in Prague and Brno) on September 13, 2001 (quoted by the Czech Press Agency, the ČTK, on September 15, 2001):

"The Muslim community in the Czech Republic condemns terrorism in all its forms."

"We join the expressions of solidarity with the people of the United States, and we support the offer of the government of the Czech Republic to help all who have been affected."

STATEMENT (by the Islamic Foundations in Prague and Brno) on September 16, 2001 (quoted by the Czech Press Agency, the ČTK, on September 17, 2001):

This statement protested the frequent media use of the phrase "Islamic terrorism", and also was filed as an official complaint to the RRTV (Radio and Television Broadcasting Council – a public body monitoring the fairness of the media; it grants broadcasting licenses and is authorized to order financial sanctions to punish especially grave cases of media ethics' violations). (The protest has been confirmed by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in an interview with the BBC Czech Service, September 20, 2001).

Text of the statement reads: "Regardless of who committed [the attacks in the U.S.], the accusation cannot be generalized to include a whole nation or even all followers of a certain faith. This is just because the very perpetration of this act makes the culprits stand outside religion, if they had ever claimed allegiance to any."

The Právo daily reported on October 4, 2001 that some Muslims protested against some formulations of a declaration made by the then Czech prime minister (Miloš Zeman), in which he supported the war on terror. The protest statement (expressing the feeling that some of the formulations might stir up hate against Muslims) was issued by one Islamic Emergency Committee (Islámský výbor pro mimořádné situace) based in Ostrava, the third-largest city of the Czech Republic. But this organization has otherwise never been heard of, neither before nor after this statement, and the mainstream Muslim organizations in the Czech Republic in principle supported the prime minister's declaration (with certain reservations against the wording used).

Source: Country Report on Islamisation: Czech Republic, 19/10/07


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