Tomorrow, Friday March 25, Belgian mosques will be celebrating a “National Day Against Terrorism”, promoted by the Council of Theologians gathered the evening of March 23rd in Brussels to decide concrete actions to be undertaken on the wake of the March 22 attacks. The Council of Theologians invites all imams in Belgium to “firmly” condemn the terror attacks and “devote their Friday sermons to the rejection of all forms of radicalism, fanaticism and terrorism.” The initiatives of the Islamic community were presented by Salah Echallaoui, president of the ’“Exécutif des Musulmans de Belgique” (EMB). “If I may –were his first words over the phone – I would like to seize this opportunity to extend my condolences to the families of all the victims. Although we have conveyed our condolences in the past days it will never be enough.”
What was your first reaction? Our first reaction was to firmly condemn such barbaric actions without delay. It was an attack against Belgium and against Europe as a whole. Terrorism has no religion, no nationality, it strikes indiscriminately, it kills mercilessly, arbitrarily, in Belgium France, Turkey, Tunisia.
What do you think about the use of religion and the reference to Islam on the part of the Brussels’ terrorists? This piece of information only makes things worse. These people seek to conceal their abomination under the guise of ideological claims. It has already happened in the course of history. These young people are radicalized long before they turn to a religion, which they eventually use to justify their actions. We are facing an instrumental use of religion. They cried out “Allah Akbar”, which means God is the Greatest. Muslims speak these words before gathering in prayer, celebrating God’s greatness.
How could anyone believe that God could act against humankind? How could anyone think that God could kill other human beings and lead other people to commit such abominations…
Islam is a religion of peace, of Mercy. One of the most celebrated verses of the Koran states: “We have not sent you except as a mercy for mankind. ” The whole message of Islam revolves around the Mercy of God. Where is the mercy in the actions of these terrorists, where is the mercy in those who kill themselves in order to kill other people?
How many Muslims and how many Mosques are there in Belgium? There are approximately 700 thousand Muslims in Belgium, and 300 mosques nationwide. Most of the mosques are in the Flanders, although this figure also includes small worship halls.
Brussels is home to an estimated 200/250 thousand Muslim population. It ‘s the largest majority of Muslims in a single city. It’s a diverse community.
What are the most dangerous areas for radicalization? There are no predetermined or fixed places. All specialists agree that radicalization travels mainly over the Internet and through social networks, where youths are exposed to stories of hatred against humanity. Wherever and whenever we learn about fundamentalist speeches delivered inside associations or places of worship, we take action. It’s our responsibility.
It happened two years ago in Brussels, where an imam spoke words of hatred against the Jewish community. We immediately suspended him from his duties. Such hate speech cannot be tolerated, nor this form of proselytism.
Is it possible to thoroughly check imams along with the situation inside the mosques? We cannot ensure it 100% since, as known, not every mosque is officially recognized. In the recognized mosques imams in Belgium have to pass a serious exam at the Council of Theologians, and only those who can demonstrate their adhesion to the universal values of coexistence that we share obtain a certification. When we are informed about ambiguous situations taking place in unrecognized mosques we intervene in cooperation with law enforcement authorities.
In your view, what are the reasons that lead your youths towards radicalization? There are no reasons. There is no justification. One can examine the causes of radicalization. The two youths who blew themselves up had a criminal record and were known by the police. Many of them are youths who feel socially excluded so they identify with groups where they find a reason to live and a role.
I have read the email of a young man who joined the jihad to his parents. He wrote that they often told him that he was a good-for-nothing and that he saw this as an occasion to show them that he was capable of doing something.
However, feelings of exclusion don’t necessary lead to radicalization. There are several steps that can be taken between these two extremes.
Have you been asked to work in conjunction with law enforcement officers? We are constantly in touch and operate with Belgium’s Minister of Cults and Religious Affairs. All citizens have the duty to cooperate with the judicial authorities; this is all the more true in the case of Muslim citizens. We are all in the same situation and it’s our duty to protect our nation.