Slovenia’s first mosque has opened in the capital Ljubljana 50 years after the initial request to build it was made.
Opponents of the project have repeatedly tried to halt it, and pig heads and blood have also been left on the site.
Islamic community head Mufti Nedzad Grabus said the mosque’s opening was “a turning point in our lives.”
“Slovenia is the last former Yugoslav state to get a mosque, making Ljubljana a capital rather than a provincial town on the edge of the world,” he told a press conference.
Muslims in the predominantly Catholic country first filed a request to build a mosque in the late 1960s while Slovenia was still part of the former Yugoslavia. The community finally received permission 15 years ago, but ran into opposition from right-wing politicians and groups, as well as financial troubles.
Construction, which began in 2013, cost some 34 million euros, out of which 28 million euros were Qatari donations, according to Grabus.
Situated in a semi-industrial area of Ljubljana, the mosque, which can hold up to 1,400 people, constitutes the core of the six-building Islamic Cultural Centre. The centre also comprises the community’s offices; an education centre, which includes a library; a restaurant; a basketball court; and a 40-metre high minaret.
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All the buildings are made from white concrete combined with steel, glass and wood. A large blue textile-made dome dominates the mosque’s interior, referring to heaven and reminiscent of famous mosques like Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.
Until now, Muslims have been worshipping and holding ceremonies in rented sports halls or buildings. They make up 2.5 precent of the country’s two million people, constituting the second biggest religious group, according to the last 2002 census. Grabus estimated there were around 80,000 Muslims currently.
According to the 2016 European Islamophobia Report, Muslims in Slovenia have become targets of increased hostility especially amid the so-called refugee crisis and with the emergence of acts of terrorism in Europe and the Middle East.
“Acts of vandalism and graffiti have occurred in Slovenia which equate refugees and asylum seekers with Islamists and Islamic terrorists,” the report said. “Islamophobia is felt most by those Muslims, who outwardly show their religious affiliation (either visually by way of dress and/or participation in the media)…
“Islamophobia in Slovenia is also a political problem, since it is stimulated by certain political parties and actors, who are exploiting the Islamophobic sentiment among the population in order to gain political points.”