A new mega-mosque has been inaugurated in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Unlike most mosques in Europe, which cater to Sunni Muslims, the mosque in Helsinki ministers to Shia Islam.
The Helsinki mosque has been paid for 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.
The dimensions of the new mosque are enormous by Finnish standards. The 700-square-meter (7,500 square-feet) mega-mosque, located adjacent to a metro station in the eastern Helsinki district of Mellunmäki, features a massive prayer room for 1,000 worshippers.
The mosque has been built by the Ahlul-Beit Foundation, a radical Shia Muslim proselytizing and political lobbying group presided over by the Iranian government. Ahlul-Beit already runs around 70 Islamic centers around the world, and has as its primary goal the promotion of the religious and political views of Islamic radicals in 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 also outspokenly opposes 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 there. 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; in practice, however, they are often used by Iranian intelligence to monitor Iranians living abroad and to harass Iranian dissidents.
In Germany, for instance, 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 was 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 England and Wales.
In Denmark, the city council of Copenhagen recently authorized Ahlul-Beit to build the first official "Grand Mosque" in the Danish capital. The mega-mosque, which will have a massive blue dome as well as two towering minarets, is architecturally designed to stand out over Copenhagen's low-rise skyline.
The man set to become the main imam at the new mosque in Copenhagen, Mohammed Mahdi Khademi, 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 maintains close ties to Iranian intelligence and fear the new mosque will be used against them.
Although critics of the Helsinki mega-mosque have warned that the building will be used by the Iranian regime to recruit impressionable Muslim immigrant youths for service to Hezbollah, Finnish politicians have embraced the Shia mosque as a symbol of multicultural progress.
According to Egypt Today magazine, multiculturalism has turned Finland into a paradise for Muslim immigration, not only for Shia Muslims, but also for rival Sunni Muslims.
In a story entitled "Welcome to Finland," Egypt Today writes: "Tara Ahmed, a 25-year-old Kurdish woman, came with her husband to Finland seven years ago to work. 'There are a lot of services offered to us here,' she says. 'Plus, during my seven years I haven't had one single harassment, assault or discrimination case in any form.' Like most immigrants, Ahmed and her husband took advantage of the free Finnish language lessons offered by the government, which pays immigrants €8 per day to attend. The government also provides immigrants with a free home, health care for their family and education for their children. In addition, they get a monthly stipend of €367 per adult to cover expenses until they start earning their own living. The government is able to pay for these services due to a progressive tax rate that can exceed fifty percent of a person's income. Even so, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed that Finland needs immigrants and that, in the long run, they are not a burden on society."
After the Egypt Today story was published, Muslim immigrants began arriving in Finland in droves. There are now an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Finland, which has a total population of just over 5 million people. Muslims have arrived from Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Egypt, Kosovo, India, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan, Somalia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Immigration from Somalia alone has more than doubled over the past several years. The Helsingin Sanomat newspaper has reported that most of the Somali adults coming to Finland are illiterate, and that the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab has been recruiting young Somalis living in Finland to go to war against the Somali government.
Some Muslim immigrants to Finland have travelled to Pakistan or Somalia to attend jihadi training camps; Finnish authorities have conceded that Somalis are abusing the family unification procedure to facilitate human trafficking.
According to a journalist for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Tom Kankkonen, who recently wrote a book entitled Islam Euroopassa [Islam in Europe], Finland is also home to several hundred Islamic fundamentalists who adhere to the extremist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam found in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism, which not only discourages Muslim integration in the West, but actively encourages jihad against non-Muslims, threatens to further radicalize Muslim immigrants in Finland, according to Kankkonen, who says these Islamists operate in communities such as the Helsinki Muslimikoti [Muslim Home], the Iqra Association, and the Salafi Forum on the Internet.
In response to the growing threat posed by radical Islam, the Finnish Interior Ministry in December 2010 declared that training individuals to commit terrorist acts would become a criminal offense. The Finnish Security Police (SUPO) has also asked Parliament for €1.7 million in funding to station officers permanently in Africa and the Middle East to stop possible terrorists who might want to travel to Finland.
There are also growing concerns about the failure of ordinary Muslim immigrants to integrate into Finland.
Muslim children in Finnish schools, for example, are often not allowed to take part in school activities such as singing and dancing, which some parents consider to be anti-Islamic. Further, immigrant children apparently often play "the race card" if a solution to a conflict does not go in their favor or if a teacher rebukes a child.
In some instances, Muslim parents have harassed Finnish teachers, as in the case of Tuija Rinne, a Finnish convert to Islam who also teaches in a school in Helsinki. Rinne, who was once the pride and joy of Finnish multiculturalists, was recently forced to stop teaching a course on Islam after Muslim parents accused her of not being sufficiently Muslim.
Among other demands, Muslim parents tried to force Rinne to cover herself in hijab-compliant clothing; they also ridiculed Rinne for teaching belly dancing classes in her spare time. The tensions were defused only after local school officials bowed to Muslim demands and agreed that from now courses on Islam will be taught exclusively by Muslim immigrant teachers and only in their native language.
As their numbers grow, Muslims are also demanding that the Finnish government provide them with more mosques and prayer rooms. There are currently 45 mosques and prayer rooms in Finland, most located in Helsinki; the Islamic Society of Finland, a Muslim umbrella group, says they are overcrowded and inadequate.
As far as Helsinki's new mega-mosque is concerned, Sunni Muslims say it will not provide any decisive relief for the shortage of prayer space in Finland because the mosque will serve only Shia Muslims. As in other European countries, Sunni Muslims in Finland may now look to Saudi Arabia to fund a Sunni mega-mosque to rival Iran's Shia mega-mosque
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.