The city council of Copenhagen has given its final approval for the construction of the first official "Grand Mosque" in the Danish capital. The mega-mosque will have a massive blue dome as well as two towering minarets and is architecturally designed to stand out on Copenhagen's low-rise skyline.
Unlike most mosques in Europe, which cater to Sunni Muslims, the mosque in Copenhagen pertains to Shia Islam. The mosque is being financed by the Islamic Republic of Iran; critics say that theocrats in Tehran intend to use the mosque to establish a recruiting center for the militant Shia Muslim group, Hezbollah in Europe.
Critics of the Shia mosque have warned local politicians that the building will be owned by the Iranian regime for use as a propaganda center as well as a platform from which to recruit impressionable Muslim immigrant youths for service to Hezbollah. But the Copenhagen city council states that who pays for building the mosque is none of its concern.
The Copenhagen mosque is, in fact, being built by Ahlul Beit Foundation, a radical Shia Muslim proselytizing and political lobbying group run by the Iranian government. Ahlul Beit already runs around 70 Islamic centers around the world, and has, as its primary goal, the promoting of the religious and political views of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ahlul-Beit is opposed to all brands of Islam that compete with the form of Islam dictated by theocrats in Iran: the organization has called for the persecution of Sunni Muslims, Sufi Muslims, and Alawites as well as all secular and moderate Muslims. The organization is also vociferously opposed to the integration of Muslim immigrants into their host societies.
Ahlul Beit is especially focused on spreading Islamic Sharia law beyond the Middle East; its centers in Africa and Asia, for example, have been used to radicalize local Muslim communities. In a typical quid-pro-quo arrangement, the organization offers money to the poor who then convert to Shia Islam and are subjected to religious training by Iranian-backed Imams. The group has been banned in at least a dozen countries.
In Europe, Ahlul Beit mosques are usually presented to the general public as centers for cultural and sports activities, but in practice they are often used by Iranian intelligence to monitor Iranians living abroad as well as to harass Iranian dissidents.
In Germany, the Imam Ali mosque in Hamburg was linked to the September 1992 assassination of four leaders of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
In Britain, the Ahlul Beit mosque in London has been involved in issuing death threats against the British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie. The mosque has also been used to recruit terrorists and to spy on Iranian exiles living in Britain.
Mohammed Mahdi Khademi, the man who is set to become the main imam at the new mosque in Copenhagen, is a former military officer who ran the ideology department of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps until 2004, when he was hand-picked by the Iranian regime to move to Denmark. Many Iranian exiles believe Khademi has close ties to Iranian intelligence and fear the new mosque will be used against them.
Some members of the Iranian democracy movement say the Copenhagen mosque is about far more than just the issue of freedom of religion. They say it is about Iran's desire to establish a political-religious foothold for extremist Islam in northern Europe.
Farrokh Jafari, an Iranian exile who recently organized a protest against the mosque, told the Copenhagen-based Berlingske daily newspaper that he is not opposed to having a mosque in the city, but that he wants to draw attention to Ahlul Beit's dubious intentions.
"We are protesting against Copenhagen's plans for a Grand Mosque, which is being paid for by the Iranian theocracy. We fear that the mosque will not serve its religious purposes, but simply camouflage Iran's extended arms in Denmark," Jafari said.
He continued: "We are not afraid of the mosque itself. We are supporters of religious freedom, and Muslims in Denmark should naturally also have a proper mosque. But we fear that this mosque, which is being built by Ahlul Beit, will spread fear among democratic Iranians in Denmark, launder money, and help the regime's people transfer money out of the country, which they have stolen from the Iranian people. This is the experience from England, South Africa and France, where Ahlul Beit is also present.
"Ahlul Beit claims that the funds for the Grand Mosque come from private individuals in Iran and from collections in Denmark. We do not believe that. Ahlul Beit is controlled directly from Iran. It is idiotic to think that an association which uses enormous amounts of money to run religious centers in large parts of the world is exclusively run by private donations from a country that is under economic sanctions."
Socialist politician Lars Weiss, who is involved with urban planning for the city of Copenhagen, said on Danish public radio that funding of the mosque is a matter for the police, not the city council. "If there is a funding problem, it is a matter for the police or, in the last resort, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service. We do not assess funding in connection to other construction projects either," Weiss said.
The dimensions of the new mosque are enormous by Danish standards. The 2,000 square meter (21,500 square foot) Imam Ali mosque (see here for a computerized rendering of the mosque) will feature a massive prayer room for 3,000 Muslim worshippers at a time, amphitheatre, conference room, library and ample living accommodations for visiting imams from Iran. The mosque, which will be built in the Vibevej district in northwestern Copenhagen, will cater to the 80,000 Shia Muslims who now live in Denmark.
In addition to approving the building permit for the mosque, the Copenhagen town council also approved a new plan to enlarge the original design of the mosque, which will now be accompanied by two 32-meter (105-foot) minarets, according to the Danish public broadcaster DR.
The Copenhagen town council is dominated by left and far-left political parties; approval to build the mosque was decided with votes from the Social Democrats, the Radikale Venstre (literally: the Radical Left), the Socialistisk Folkeparti (a socialist green party founded by members of the former Communist Party of Denmark) and Enhedslisten (a Red-Green alliance of the Left Socialists, the Communist Party of Denmark and the Socialist Workers Party). The Conservatives and center-right Danish People's Party are opposed to the mosque plans.
Separately, the Copenhagen city council has also approved the construction of a second mega-mosque (see here for a computerized rendering of the mosque) to be located on Amager island in Copenhagen; it will cater to Sunni Muslims. The city has set aside land for the mosque, but the project has been stalled over a dispute about who will pay for the construction costs. One option would have Saudi Arabia pay for the mosque, but some local Muslims say the project should be financed exclusively by the local Muslim community in Denmark.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.