Muslims and politicians react to Belgium’s decision to take back Grand Mosque

Belgium is taking back control of the Grand Mosque of Brussels by terminating Saudi Arabia’s lease of the building with immediate effect over concerns it promotes radicalism, the government recently announced.

“The concession will be terminated immediately … in order to put an end to foreign interference in the way Islam is taught in Belgium,” the Belgian government said in a statement.

“From now on, the mosque will have to establish a lasting relation with the Belgian authorities, while respecting the laws and the traditions of our country, which convey a tolerant vision of Islam,” Justice Minister Koen Geens said. In what he described as a way to promote more “diversity and transparency” within the mosque’s Muslim community, he said it should train imams and display a cultural exhibit on “the achievements of the Muslim civilization.”

The mosque is being turned over Belgium’s Muslim Executive.

One worshiper at the mosque denied it promoted radical ideas. “If there’s any evidence against the mosque, it would be the sermons themselves. But if you translate them, there’s nothing at all to do with terrorism or anything like that,” they said.

It’s the right move, says Khalid Hajji, President of the Brussels Forum of Wisdom and World Peace.

“The mosques needs to update the religious discourse propagated in Belgium and Europe,” Hajji said. “The Saudi decision is well-thought out and can be seen within the context of the opening that Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing.”

Tamer Abou El Saod, who was appointed director of the Grand Mosque in May, says there are problems over the way it is perceived but denies it espouses a fundamentalist version of Islam. He says he is ready to work with Belgian officials. “There are changes happening already and there are even more changes coming in the very near future,” said.


Saudi Arabia’s recent moves on religion are seen by Belgian diplomat Dirk Achten, who headed a government delegation to Riyadh in November, as a “window of opportunity.”

Adel El-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said his government would accept the decision. “Our policy is to do this with the local government’s full agreement. We will work with the Belgian government to ensure that everything is done in full transparency and in a way that promotes tolerance and inclusion rather than intolerance. We reject extremism and intolerance in Saudi Arabia, and we will pursue the same policy internationally,” he confirmed.


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