Slovakian Muslims Seek 'Positive Integration'

BRATISLAVA, March 1 ( - The 5,000 Muslims in Slovakia are up to two current obstacles down the road of their positive integration in the former communist country; one-sided media and official denial to build mosques or cultural centers.

"In most cases their reporting is very biased, one-sided, and subjective," said Mohamad Safwan Hasna, head of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, in an interview with the English-language newspaper Slovak Spectator.

Hasna lamented that the media outlets do not draw a line between Islam and what he said the regrettable acts of some individuals, leaving a great deal of the reporting "very biased, one-sided, and subjective".

"They don't try to present an accurate picture of things, they are unwilling to go deeper and analyze," said Hasna, a Syrian-born Slovak.

Asked whether this reporting is superficial or intentional, Hasna said that both can be true.

"The problem of the entire journalistic community in Slovakia is that a lot of information comes second-hand. There are some good reports, but that's perhaps 10 percent.

"This can only cause tension and increase intolerance," he warned, saying that Muslims in the country hope for a "positive integration".

"Religion is never the problem. The problem lies mainly in economy and geopolitics. Naturally, religion is exploited in these struggles, because it has great motivational strength," he said.

For the official Slovak position on Iraq and its clear support for U.S. policies, Hasna hoped that a more conservative approach would have been followed.

Asked whether Slovakia's foreign policy alienated the local Muslim community, the answer came as cautious.

"It's hard to judge, because I don't know the opinions of all. I don't think they were thrilled by this attitude," he said.

But the Muslim leader denied that members of Muslim community are under more security attention in the alleged fight against terrorism in the world as was the case with other European countries.

"No, we have not, but I suppose it exists. There were no specific cases," he said.

He admitted that after 9/11 attacks, there were some verbal insults on Muslims, but that no physical assaults were registered.

Prayer Places

Hasna said that the great problem facing Muslims in the country is building an Islamic cultural and educational centre in the capital Bratislava's Old Town.

The Bratislava community has been trying to build an Islamic centre, including a prayer hall and meeting rooms for many years.

Hasna said it bought a plot of land in the city's Old Town four years ago, but the local mayor has denied building permission.

"They have no logical reasons to withhold permission. They mayor is against human rights and religious freedom," Hasna said in an earlier comments.

"Some people are unwilling to share space with someone else and some people don't want anything different here," he said.

But he believed that did not reflect the attitudes of the majority of the population.

"They are neutral, similar [to other countries] elsewhere," he said.

Hasna had earlier complained that the denial of registration of the community - under a law provision that rendered religious communities with fewer than 20,000 members ineligible to gain legal status - and the inability of the community to build mosques is "very humiliating".

"We don't have a suitable and stable place to pray, meet and explain Islamic culture," he told Forum 18 from Bratislava on 30 June.

He said the Muslims in the aforementioned city have to gather for prayers in rented premises, as do the smaller communities in other areas as Martin and Kosice.

Hasna estimated that there are in total about 5,000 Muslims in the five-million-population Slovakia, most of them in Bratislava. He said the community is made up of Arabs, Albanians, Turks and Bosnians, as well as about 150 Slovak converts.

Huge Difference

Hasna said that most Muslims are usually students or entrepreneurs.

"You have to differentiate between the local Muslim community and the communities in Western Europe. There it's mostly [made up of] workers, because of different historical circumstances. In Slovakia, it's mostly [made up of] educated people. The difference is huge," he said.

Hasna's wife is among the roughly 150 Slovaks who are known to have converted to Islam.

The Republic of Slovakia came into existence on January 1, 1993. After the end of Communist rule in 1989, government leaders reached an agreement to separate the country into two fully independent republics. Bratislava is the capital and largest city.


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