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8 Oct, 2010 02:32

Building of mosques in Poland – sign of Islamisation or tribute to human rights?

Activists say the construction of a second mosque in Warsaw is part of the Islamisation of the country and could eventually lead to radicalism and terrorism.

But local Muslims claim religious discrimination.

Mohammed moved from Egypt to Warsaw several years ago. Poland’s accession to the EU promised greener pastures. However, he says it’s been hard to settle in.

“I do only freelance jobs as it is very difficult for me to find any permanent work,” he said. “And not because I’m not skilled, but because my applications are turned down as soon as employers learn that my name is Mohammed.”

Poland has long been a mono-ethnic nation with the Muslim community making up less than one percent of the population. Most Muslims are ethnic Tatars who have been here for centuries. But the head of Warsaw’s only Islamic centre says the number of migrants from Muslim countries is growing rapidly.

“When I started this mosque almost 20 years ago, only several dozen people were coming here for a prayer,” said Nezar Sharif, head of the Muslim centre in Warsaw, “Now, the Friday prayer gathers hundreds and the building simply cannot fit everyone.”

News of another Islamic centre to be built in Warsaw was welcomed by the nations 30-thousand strong minority.

Construction of a new, second mosque in Warsaw began last year. According to blueprints, it is supposed to be three times larger than the initial Islamic center. But unlike the first mosque which was sponsored by the local Muslim community, this one was financed from abroad.

The fact that construction money came from Saudi Arabia enraged several political movements in Poland. They staged protests urging the government to stop what they called the Islamization of the country. The man behind the rally says it is the fear of terrorism that drove people onto the streets.

“The organization which is going to build this mosque in Europe is connected to the federation of Islamic organizations in Europe,” Jan Woicjek of the Future for Europe movement, told RT, “And another organization which is part of this federation is known in Western Europe for anti-semetic statements and connections to terrorists.”

The rally gathered together several hundred men and was of little surprise to politicians.

“This is influenced by what is happening in western European countries,” said Mateusz Piskorski, former MP, “Everyone here watched what happened in Paris and other French cities several years ago. And there was a threat from fundamentalists after Poland decided to participate in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Sociologists say mosque rallies lit a fuse for a time bomb.

“For now, the civic outrage has more or less calmed down by the presence of European human rights activists,” explained Zbigniew Mikolejko from the Polish Academy of Science, “But as the number of immigrants grow, this may well be not enough to keep the protests down. I believe we are facing a serious conflict in the future.”

At the moment, only around 3 percent of the country is of non-Polish origin. But with more immigrants coming to Poland, the anticipated brighter future with the EU could be clouded by worries of ethnic tensions.