Great Mosque of Brussels: The gem of the Cinquantenaire Park
If you want to visit the oldest heritage of Islam in Belgium, you have to visit the Great Mosque of Brussels or the Grande mosquée de Bruxelles. It depicts the Islamic history of Belgium accurately. Moreover, you will definitely be mesmerized by the pious beauty of the building itself.
The mosque is located in the Cinquantenaire park of Brussels. You have to walk around the park to find this hidden gem. It is also the hub for Islamic and Cultural Centre of Belgium.
History of the Great Mosque of Brussels
The plan was to build an Oriental Pavillion of the National Exhibition in Brussels. So the architect Ernest Humbeeck was instructed to build the building in Arabic style. Therefore, it was built-in 1880 and named Oriental Pavillion. The building was decorated with a magnificent painting named ‘Panorama of Cairo’ painted by the Belgian painter Emile Wauters. But slowly the lack of maintenance caused a great deterioration in the structure of it.
Then, in the year 1967, the last Belgian King Baudouin lent the building to the ruler of Saudi Arabia. It was a 99-year rent-free lease. Thus, King Faisal ibn Abd Al Aziz reconstructed and transformed the mosque in the year 1978. Then it was turned into a Mosque for the use of Muslim immigrants of Belgium. At that time they mainly came from Morocco and Turkey.
It was reconstructed by architect Mongi Boubaker at the expense of Saudi Arabia.
But there was a problem, the King had no idea who would be the Imam of this newly founded mosque? After much discussions, imams from Gulf area was invited. But, the imams practised the orthodox Salafism, which was way different from what the Muslim immigrants practised. Hence, a mild conflict started.
The impact of the Great Mosque in Belgian society
The Mosque acts as the leading religious institute among the Belgian Islamic community. Also, it has a pivotal rôle as a diplomatic connection between the Saudi and the Belgian Monarchies. As a consequence, it has been a point of debate since its reconstruction.
The mosque acts as an Islamic learning institution also, it has taught hundreds of Muslim students. Muslim scholars and Diplomats often visit this place. The non-Muslim Belgians visit this mosque for conversion. The Islamic Cultural centre hosts a school to teach about Muslim Cultures. There is also one Islamic research centre associated with the mosque which propagates the Islamic faith. It also provides Arabic language courses for adults and children. The adhan and prayers are in Arabic.
The mosque is a beautiful pristine building with a single minaret. The colour of the walls is Ivory white with an elegant dome on the top of the building. It is surrounded by shrubbery which is very much soothing for eyes.
The recent development
In February 2018, Saudi Arabia and Belgium had a discussion where Saudi agreed to give up control of the Mosque. This indicated a new era in the Islam of Belgium. There was a basic difference between the Belgian Islam and the Saudi Arabian Islam… the later was ultra-conservative.
(Written by freelance journalist Shreya T)