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A mosque and church planned under one roof

posted 24 Sep 2010, 09:48 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Sep 2010, 09:56 ]

Plans are being made for the construction of a church and a mosque under the same roof as part of a community project in a Stockholm suburb.

Since a few years back, the local Swedish Church, a Catholic parish and the local Muslim association in Fisksatra, just outside Stockholm, have been discussing the construction of a joint 'House of God' - a place for worship and somewhere for people in the community to meet.

The project that has been developing over the years, features a church and a mosque side-by-side, joined by a common foyer. The church will house both the Swedish Lutheran Church and St Konrad's Catholic parish.

The mosque will be added on to the existing Fisksatra church, located in the centre close to shops and a train station. The idea is that the foyer in between the two buildings will be a meeting place for people in the community.

"This is where we'll build a mosque in about three years time God willing. So the future for Fisksatra will to a large part, I hope, be capsulated in this large house that we call 'House of God,' said Awad Olwan, the Imam of the Muslim Association in immigrant-rich Fisksatra.

He said the 'House of God' should be seen as a community project and not an ambition to create peace between two religions with different traditions that have developed over centuries.

"What we do, locally, is that neighbours who have children in the same schools, play football on the same pitch think along those terms that we really want our children to have a good life, that we should have a peaceful environment in our society and we want to any cost avoid situations similar to those in Rosengard and in other immigrant-rich suburbs," Olwan said, referring to the Malmo suburb that has seen rioting in recent years.

Around eight thousand people live in Fisksatra which is often regarded as a problem suburb with crime and drug-taking.

Forty per cent of the inhabitants have roots in a Muslim country, around thirty per cent belong to the Swedish Church and ten per cent are Catholic.

Over the years, the three congregations have held several joint projects and the' House of God' is seen as an extension of this.

Bishop Bengt Wadensjo said the plans for the building had evolved naturally.

"I went with an Imam to all the schools to meet children in all the classes and we celebrated a joint prayer on the football pitch and then we said that 'this has to grow'. So this is how it ended up. Four times a year we prayed together and then we had joint parish evenings in the mosques and it all evolved very naturally," he said.

He also said that the reactions to the project had been overwhelmingly positive.

"There are always some people, but surprisingly many positive responses, surprisingly. I have seldom encountered so many positive reactions as to this," Wadensjo said.

The people behind the project took help from a mediator to come up with a set of common fundamental values for the 'House of God'.

The aim has been to make the building relevant to people of all the faiths so that the result would not be a building which nobody wants to use.

Both Wadensjo and Olwan said the building could also be seen as a way of countering anti-immigrant sentiment in society at large.

In last Sunday's (September 19) election the Sweden Democrat party, which wants radically to cut immigration and strongly criticises Muslims and Islam, won almost 6 per cent of the vote and thereby gaining parliament seats for the first time.

This was a new turn for politics in Sweden, traditionally one of the most open countries in Europe for asylum seekers and refugees.

"This project that we're doing now I believe is a counterweight to alienation and exclusion in society," said Olwan.

"I think it's a fantastic manifestation stemming from us living as good neighbours and I believe I learned already as a young priest that it's not enough to say a lot of beautiful words, one has to do something too and here we're doing something, showing people that we can live together," Wadensjo said.

Olwan said all the taking had been done but before construction can start, building approval from the council is needed and the Muslim association needs to collect money for the new mosque. If all goes to plan, building can start in around three years' time.