Brussels retakes Grand Mosque from Saudi hands amid 'radicalism concerns'

Brussels retakes Grand Mosque from Saudi hands amid 'radicalism concerns'
After almost 50 years of control, Saudi Arabia has struck a deal to cede the running of the Grand Mosque to Belgian authorities amid its links to recent terror attacks.
3 min read
17 March, 2018
Saudis have relinquished control of the mosque, located near EU headquarters [Getty]
Belgian authorities are reclaiming control over the Grand Mosque of Brussels from Saudi hands by terminating their lease with immediate effect, following allegations of extremism being promoted in the place of worship, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced the implementation of a series of measures resulting from a parliamentary inquiry into terrorist attacks linked to the Grand Mosque, according to a government statement on Friday.

One such measure was to immediately put an end to "foreign interference" in the way Islam is taught in Belgium, the statement said.

The statement constitutes the first official confirmation of the changeover, which reportedly comes after months of diplomatic efforts behind closed doors, in order to prevent a fallout, according to Reuters.

Concerns over the Grand Mosque first surfaced after it was discovered that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks in 2015 and Brussels attacks the following year, plotted them in the Belgian capital.

Saudi Arabia had an unusual 99-year, rent-free lease of the building that began in 1969. The original deal was struck to allow Saudi-backed imams to work with Brussels' growing Muslim community mainly consisting of immigrants from Morocco and Turkey, in return for cheap oil for Belgian industry.

Jambon - of the conservative Flemish Alliance party - tweeted on Friday that the mosque move is the government's way of "tackling Salafist, violent extremist influences."

The handover of the mosque comes in line with Saudi Arabia's willingness to reform its image as a promoter of a more moderate form of Islam, as it implements seemingly "modern" reforms such as allowing women to drive and loosening some draconian restrictions on male guardianship over women.

Some have accused Belgium - under the nationalist Flemish Alliance - of Islamophobic policy making, as security forces disproportionately target young men of Arab and African descent.

Belgium's Justice Minister Koen Geens told Reuters that the Grand Mosque complex would become the base for the official body representing Belgian Muslims, adding that it would have to register as a place of worship.

He described the move as a way of promoting "European Islam", which he defined as more aligned with "European values", although he did not elaborate.

"From now on, the mosque will have to establish a lasting relation with the Belgian authorities, while respecting the laws and the traditions of our country, which convey a tolerant vision of Islam," Geens told Reuters.

He added that the reform would promote more "diversity and transparency" within the mosque's community, hopefully becoming a training facility for imams. He also suggested the mosque should display a cultural exhibit on "the achievements of the Muslim civilisation".