15:02 GMT +324 March 2018
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    Finland Shelves Giant Bahrain-Funded Mosque in Helsinki

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    After a protracted several year debate, the "Giant Mosque" project in Finland's capital Helsinki has been canceled.

    Helsinki's Urban Environmental Commission has unanimously refused to allocate space for the construction of the mosque in the Hanasaari area, whereupon the authors of the project, including the Muslim Union, Muslim Women and the cultural-religious Fokus organization, withdrew the application, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.

    The idea of a partly foreign-funded 18,000 square meter giant mosque, double the size of the city's Lutheran cathedral, first appeared in 2015. The Royal Family of Bahrain promised to allocate start-up funding for the project, whose total cost was estimated at hundreds of millions of euros. The former industrial site of Hanasaari was considered as the most likely location by the Helsinki Department of Real Estate.

    However, almost half of Helsinki's residents were against a Muslim religious center accommodating as many as 1,200 worshippers, previous polls indicated. A survey conducted by pollster Taloustutkimus showed that Finns would least wish to see a mosque or a syringe exchange center for drug addicts near the place where they live.

    Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapavuori also came out against the mosque project in the pre-election debates between mayoral candidates. After being elected mayor in early 2017, Vapavuori reiterated his criticism of the mosque, venturing that it wasn't needed in the Finnish capital and pledging to work to ensure that it won't be built.

    ​Numerous critics of the project have pointed out that the foreign funding might contribute to the spread of radical Islam in the Nordic country. In particular, Tarja Mankkinen of the Interior Ministry, responsible for the prevention of violent radicalization, extremism and polarization, while admitting the many "positive aspects" to the project, found it particularly challenging that it was planned to be funded by Bahrain and possibly other Gulf states. Mankkinen called the foreign funding a "security risk" as it could decrease the feeling of belonging to Finnish society among the Muslim population.

    Atte Kaleva of the Urban Environment Committee welcomed the negative decision "in light of the numerous problems and ambiguities related to the project."

    ​Finnish Muslim Union Chairperson Pia Jardi, the project manager of the Helsinki Grand Mosque at the Oasis Foundation, said, however, she was not surprised by the decision and said she was yet to have a single rational discussion on this matter. Jardi also said her organization had no intention whatsoever to give up or abandon the project and would consider other locations.

    Finland is currently home to 80 smaller mosques. Around 60,000 of its 5.5 million population is Muslim.

    ​READ MORE: Planned Mosque on Historic Battlefield Invokes Debate on Sweden's 'Rootlessness'


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