Will Budapest get its first “mega” mosque?

For the past several weeks, the story of a somewhat mysterious video produced by a Turkish foundation called Türkiye Diyanet surfaced on and off in the Hungarian press, suggesting that there were plans to erect a mega mosque, with four minarets, a restaurant and a hotel in the Kőbánya suburb of Budapest. Based on the released drawings and the video, the new mosque planned for the Hungarian capital bears a close resemblance to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul. While the precise location of the proposed mosque in Budapest has yet to be determined (it may not be in the Kőbánya suburb), it does seem likely that the Orbán government will not oppose such a move and that Hungary’s Muslim community, supported by the Turkish government, is set on erecting a centre  that will certainly have an impact on the city’s architectural and  cultural landscape.

The drawings depicting a proposed mega mosque and Islamic Centre in Budapest.

The drawings depicting a proposed mega mosque and Islamic Centre in Budapest.

It’s worth noting that at the moment, Budapest does not have a single active mosque. Instead, the Hungarian capital’s Muslim community (which numbers 2,524 according to official statistics released in 2011, and which tend to underestimate these numbers), meets in two prayer rooms for Friday prayers, as well as in private apartments. János Káldos, a professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University (PPKE), converted to Islam 10 years ago, and according to his estimates, there are at least 15,000 Muslims in Hungary, but only around 4,000 actually practice their faith. Most of those who practice their religion are Sunni.

“It is effectively impossible to build a mosque in Hungary. We have tried several times, and have never succeeded. Our efforts sometimes ended really badly. Sometimes local protests by residents, and on other occasions political strong-arming stopped us from building a mosque,” said Mr. Kaldos in an interview with the conservative Mandiner site.

But this may soon change. Earlier this month, journalists asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán what he thought of the possibility of a grandiose mosque being built in Budapest. “There are many religious foreign students in Hungary, who pay tuition here. Yet they don’t have a space to practice their faith. These students pay significant amounts in fees and there are some towns in Hungary, where local universities are effectively supported by tuition fees paid by students from the Arab world,” remarked the prime minister. He then added that authorities will have to begin discussing the proposed mosque for Budapest.

This relative openness to the construction of a mosque by the national Fidesz government (I strongly suspect that local Fidesz mayors and councils will be less enthusiastic) may be in connection with the government’s attempts at building stronger economic and political ties with countries like Turkey.

That having been said, Budapest’s Fidesz mayor, István Tarlós, said that so far no progress has been made on finding a location in the capital that would be acceptable to both the Turkish negotiators and to the Hungarians, in terms of constructing a mega mosque and Islamic cultural centre. Based on information obtained by the Magyar Nemzet daily, the Turkish government (and specifically the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs) is willing to finance  the entire project, from the purchase of land in Budapest, to the construction of the buildings.

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