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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK

World: Europe

First Czech mosque set to open

The first mosque in the Czech Republic is to open on Thursday in the southern city of Brno. The opening of the mosque comes after several years of campaigning by the city's Muslim community for a place of worship which, as Ray Furlong reports, met with considerable local opposition.

The Muslim community in Brno, the Czech Republic's second city, has long been looking forward to this mosque. Its leader, Mohammed Ali Silhavy, says that until now Muslims have had to hold religious ceremonies in makeshift rented premises.

Their campaign for the mosque has lasted several years with opponents fearing the building would change the character of Brno which has a tradition of passionate local pride.

The result is a compromise in which local authorities have granted agreement to the mosque with the condition that it does not differ too much from surrounding buildings. Most strikingly that means this mosque has no minaret.

It's estimated there are around 20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic - mostly students and businessmen from Arab countries. There are also about 500 Czechs who have converted to Islam and this is not the first time the idea of a mosque has been mooted.

Most famously a few years ago the Mayor of a North Bohemian spa town came up with the idea of building a mosque, a synagogue and a church, all on the same square as an international peace monument.

That idea was shelved in the face of intense local opposition.

But Mohammed Ali Shilhavy says the idea has succeeded in Brno because it has the largest population of Muslims in the country. He stresses that the mosque in Brno which accompanies a religious library and study centre was paid for by benefactors in the local Muslim community.

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