Helsinki city council is deciding whether to green light plans for a large mosque complex in the Finnish capital which have led to fierce political debate.
Muslim community leaders first submitted the proposals for a ‘grand mosque’ - double the size of the city’s Lutheran cathedral - on an old industrial site two years ago, but the plans proved to be a hot-button topic in the Helsinki mayoral elections last month.
While the city is already home to several mosques, all but one are poky buildings with previous uses which have been converted.
The 1800 square metre ‘Oasis’ complex, to be built in a Moorish fashion, is billed as a community centre open to both the entire city’s diverse Muslim population as well as non-Muslims. The building - which would open in 2024 - would accommodate 1,200 worshippers at a time, and the grounds and gardens include a cultural dialogue centre.
The proposals were met with particular hostility when it emerged the $151 million (£117 million) construction would be funded by the monarchy of the Gulf state of Bahrain.
While Tarja Mankkinen, the interior minister responsible for Finland's anti-radicalisation policy, said the ministry found many "positive aspects" in the mosque project, "the challenge is that the mosque is planned to be funded by Bahrain and possibly by other Gulf countries".
"The role of the actors who fund the mosque and its activities might consist a [security] risk if it decreases the feeling of belonging to the Finnish society among the Muslim population," she told Middle East Eye.
Any anti-Muslim backlash could also "increase the breeding ground for the violent extremism motivated by religion," she said.
“The funding is being debated, even though we are not even building anything yet,” Pia Jardi, the mosque’s project manager, wrote on her blog.
The Finnish foundation handling the proposed construction means that all plans are subject to strict co-ordination and supervision, she added.
“The rules include no radical teachings or ways of operation… The plan is clear that the activities of the mosque will be managed by Finnish Muslims and that activities will also be organised in Finnish. The Friday sermons, for example, must be organised in both Arabic and Finnish.”
Several candidates in April’s municipal elections - as well as other politicians and several other members of public life - weighed in on the proposals, which led to demonstrations in 2015. Incoming centre-right mayor Jan Vapaavuori said during his campaign that he would actively try to stop the mosque being built.
While at the top levels of government the mosque has received support, Finland, like much of Europe, has seen a rise in popularity of right-wing populist parties in recent years which attract votes by capitalising on anti-immigration fears.
The Nordic country is currently home to 80 small mosques. Around 60,000 of its 5.5 million strong population is Muslim.
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