Muslims in Slovakia work for positive integration

By Lukáš Fila
Spectator staff

THE SLOVAK Spectator met with Mohamad Safwan Hasna,
head of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, on
February 20 to discuss the problems of the 5,000
Muslims living in Slovakia and the challenges facing
the millions of followers of Islam across Europe.

Hasna came to the former Czechoslovakia some 12 years
ago to study medicine and, aside from heading the
Islamic organisation, also works as a judicial
translator. His wife is among the roughly 150 Slovaks
who are known to have converted to Islam.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why does a Slovak turn to

Mohamad Safwan Hasna (MSH): Mostly problems with
dogma, problems with things such as the holy trinity
and confessions.

TSS: Are they usually people who were Christians

MSH: You could say that. They are mostly people who
belonged to some church before.

TSS: What do most Muslims living in Slovakia do?

MSH: They 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.

TSS: How does Slovak society perceive Muslims?

MSH: It varies, but mostly neutrally - neither
positively, nor negatively.

TSS: What could upset that balance?

MSH: Something could lead to a short-term loss of that
neutrality if, God forbid, there was some attack that
was attributed to Muslims. But everything would
eventually turn for the better.

TSS: Until now, Slovaks have never been directly
affected by terrorist attacks. Could their attitudes
change if they themselves or Slovak soldiers in Iraq
became victims?

MSH: I can't tell you what the reaction [to an attack
on Slovak troops] in Iraq would be. But that's a
little different from 9/11 and people see it that way.

TSS: What role has the Slovak media played in forming
citizens' opinions about Muslims?

MSH: I'm very disappointed in them. In most cases
their reporting is very biased, one-sided, and
subjective. Unfortunately, they don't try to present
an accurate picture of things - they're often
unwilling to go deeper and analyse. They don't draw a
thick line between Islam and the regrettable acts of
some individuals and show that the religion is not

TSS: Are they being superficial or is it intentional?

MSH: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. The media have
a great responsibility, but they don't behave

TSS: The EU is a hot topic in Slovakia today. If
Turkey gets to join the union, will it have an impact
on the situation of Muslims in Europe?

MSH:Definitely: It would improve the situation of
Muslims. But the question is whether it will get in. I
don't want to make predictions, but in the next 20
years, Turkey will not be able to join.

TSS: Why?

MSH: One of the reasons could be religion. Then there
is the threat of a military regime overthrowing the
democratic government, which could happen at any time.
There is the problem with the Kurds. There are several

TSS: Many European politicians keep talking mainly
about religion.

MSH: European analysts, politicians, and journalists
divide over the issue of Turkey into two main groups.
There are the pragmatics and then there are radicals.
It is good that they express their views. I think
Turkey doesn't have all the European traits; it
doesn't belong to Europe with all its body, soul, and
history. So critics are right in saying that history,
values, and developments [between Europe and Turkey]
are different.

TSS: Do you think the process of democratisation would
help the Islamic world?

MSH: When it comes to authoritarian regimes, it
certainly would. But not when it comes to Islam
itself. The foundations and basic pillars will never
change. They did not change in Christianity or
Judaism; from the perspective of the faithful, those
things don't change.

TSS: Are most Muslim communities in Europe isolated
from the majority population?

MSH: It's hard to generalise. In Sweden, where there
are around 300,000 Muslims, integration is going in
the right direction. We are definitely against
negative assimilation. We want positive integration;
we want to introduce the good elements [of our
culture] that are acceptable [for the local
population] into this place. Muslims who live and have
families here should be loyal [to this country]. I
have no problem with civic identity. Religion is a
different matter. In that aspect, we should respect

TSS: What are the greatest problems Muslims living in
Slovakia face today?

MSH: The construction of an Islamic cultural and
educational centre in Bratislava's Old Town is the
greatest problem at the moment. In the past, the
municipality was unwilling to approve its
construction. We are currently involved in
negotiations again and I hope it will get better.

TSS: Is it because the Old Town is in the hands of
Christian parties?

MSH: It is because of the unwillingness of the former
ld Town mayor [Andrej Ďurkovský, a member of the
Christian Democratic Movement elected Bratislava's
mayor in the 2002 municipal elections].

TSS: What is the problem?

MSH: Some people are unwilling to share space with
someone else and some people don't want anything
different here. But I don't think that it reflects the
attitudes of the majority of the population. They are
neutral, similar [to other countries] elsewhere.

Sure, there is some prejudice. But it is not always
reflected in deeds. After the tragic events of 9/11
there were some verbal insults. Luckily, no one was
physically attacked.

And it needs to be stressed that we don't know who was
behind [the 9/11 attacks]. If they were followers of
Islam, then it was a mistake, because Islam doesn't
allow the unjustified use of force. That's the result
of an incorrect interpretation of religious texts. But
I don't know, I have not yet seen totally reliable
evidence [that Muslims were behind the attacks].

TSS: Are you against all violence?

MSH: No, only against the unjustified use of violence.

TSS: Where's the line between what's justified and
what's not?

MSH: That's very questionable. I can't say in general.
Even Christianity or Judaism or any other ideology
acknowledges that force has to be used for

TSS: You say that it's not certain that Muslims were
behind the 9/11 terrorist acts. What other
possibilities are there?

MSH: I don't know; I don't have a theory. It could
have been a conspiracy, or then again it could not be.
I'm not 100 percent certain that Arabs were there.

TSS: But what alternative explanations are there?

MSH: Admittedly, this one appears to be most probable.
But I'm telling you what I feel. It really is a
problem to verify it. If they were really there, it
was a huge mistake. It is unparalleled. They
privatised Islam and acted on its behalf, as though
they represented all Muslims. This is not being
emphasised in the media - that they only represented
themselves and not [all of] us. There are 1.5 billion
Muslims in the world and the overwhelming majority is
opposed to such behaviour.

TSS: What sort of conspiracy are we talking about, a
US conspiracy to justify its actions against the
Muslim world?

MSH: I don't know. Honestly, I have no specific
theory. But there are many people that have doubts.
Even throughout the world.

TSS: How do you feel about the official Slovak
position on Iraq and Slovakia's clear support for US

MSH: I would have welcomed a more conservative
approach. I would have liked to see Slovakia on the
side of the "old Europe", which had a more sober
attitude to what was going on in Iraq. It is not a
fortunate solution that the US invaded [Iraq]. Now
they have enormous problems. God knows when it will
all end. The position of Germany and France, and in
fact most countries of the world, was, in my opinion,

On the other hand it needs to be said that Saddam
Hussein was a dictator who tormented his people and
silenced opponents and had done a lot of harm in Iraq.
That cannot be denied.

TSS: Do you think Slovakia's foreign policy alienated
the local Muslim community?

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

TSS: A lot of effort is being put into the fight
against terrorism, which is, in the eyes of Europeans,
connected with Islam. Have you experienced any
increase in security attention towards members of the
Muslim community?

MSH: No, we have not, but I suppose it exists. There
were no specific cases.

TSS: Will the conflict between Islam and Christianity

MSH: 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.

TSS: But if we look at the dispute over whether girls
should be allowed to wear headscarves in schools,
which they have in France, that's hardly a matter of
economy or geopolitics.

MSH: In this one case it isn't. That's a desperate
attempt by some French to preserve their identity at
the expense of religious rights and freedoms. The
French secularism is based on the foundations that
formed it; there is religious sentiment somewhere
behind it. It's hard to get rid of and it only
transforms into other forms. What the French did will
lead to the increased isolation of Muslims.

TSS: What activities is your organisation involved in?

MSH: There are many things, from organising common
prayers, and events, through exhibitions and seminars,
to charity. We've contributed to the victims of floods
and visited refugee camps to try to deliver food and
clothing there. We try to present Slovakia in the
Islamic world.

TSS: From what sources are you financed?

MSH: Mainly from the contributions of members and
entrepreneurs. We don't accept finances from any
governments, in order to keep our independence.



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