Slovak Muslims Fight for Image, Recognition

By Ahmed Al-Matboli, IOL Correspondent

VIENNA, November 14, 2005 ( – Slovak Muslims find themselves between a rock and a hard place as their religion is not recognized by the state and they increasingly feel unwelcome by the central European Catholic country despite painstaking efforts to reach out to the other.

“Muslim efforts to build Islamic centers or mosques have been dogged by expected snarl-ups though the minority is on the rise and the existing places of worship are really bursting at the seams with the faithful,” Mohammad Safwan, member of the Islamic Waqfs Foundation in the capital Bratislava, told Monday, November 14.

Safwan said his foundation owns a 1,000-square-meter in the capital to build a grand mosque and Islamic center, alas, authorities have severally refused to issue a construction license.

“Every time they come up with feeble excuses,” he said, adding that their reluctance was alienating the Muslim minority in the country, which is 68% Roman Catholic.

He went on: “We don’t have an umbrella body to speak for the minority and liaise with authorities simply because the state refuses to recognize Islam.”

Persona Non Grata

The Muslim activist further regretted that lay people were looking down on Muslims due to spreading stereotypes.

“I’m sorry to say that Muslims are persona non grata in Slovakia,” Safwan said. “Slovaks unfortunately are taking these stereotypes for granted, which is the main obstacle to Muslim integration.

“The Slovaks further recall bitter historical memories related to the 150-year Turkish presence in the country, taking it as a pretext to bear grudge towards modern Muslims.”

There are some 5,000 Muslims in Slovakia out of 5.4 million population. Only four mosques have been constructed so far across the country.

Success Stories

But the minority did not give in to the state or public rejection, trying their best to defend their much-stereotyped religion and proving that they can play a pivotal role in society.

“Muslim leaders and activists have embarked on a media campaign through appearing on TV interviews or speaking to prominent newspapers,” Safwan said.

“We are also keen on holding Islamic exhibitions to answer curious questions from many Slovaks.”

Muslim intellectuals have also extensively translated famed Islamic books into Slovak to remove the language barrier, IOL correspondent says.

Safwan said there is a number of success stories for Muslims, who stood as a shining example for Muslims in the country.

“We have a Muslim physician who heads plastic surgery department in one of the leading hospitals in Bratislava in addition to heavyweight Turkish and Arab businessmen,” he said.


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