ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN CZECH REPUBLIC

      

General Information

National name: Ceska Republika

Land area: 29,836 sq mi (77,276 sq km); total area: 30,450 sq mi (78,866 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 10,220,911

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Prague, 1,378,700 (metro. area), 1,169,800 (city proper)

Other large cities: Brno, 376,400; Ostrava, 317,700; Plzen, 164,900; Olomouc, 102,900

Monetary unit: Koruna

Language: Czech

Ethnicity/race: Czech 90.4%, Moravian 3.7%, Slovak 1.9%, other 4% (2001)

National Holiday: Czech Founding Day, October 28

Religions: Roman Catholic 27%, Protestant 2%, unaffiliated 59% (2001)

Literacy rate: 99% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $249 billion; per capita $24,400. Real growth rate: 5.7%. Inflation: 2.6%.

The Czech Republic's central European landscape is dominated by the Bohemian Massif, which rises to heights of 3,000 ft (900 m) above sea level. This ring of mountains encircles a large elevated basin, the Bohemian Plateau. The principal rivers are the Elbe and the Vltava.

Probably about the 5th century A.D., Slavic tribes from the Vistula basin settled in the region of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. The Czechs founded the kingdom of Bohemia and the Premyslide dynasty, which ruled Bohemia and Moravia from the 10th to the 16th century. One of the Bohemian kings, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, made Prague an imperial capital and a center of Latin scholarship. The Hussite movement founded by Jan Hus (1369?–1415) linked the Slavs to the Reformation and revived Czech nationalism, previously under German domination. A Hapsburg, Ferdinand I, ascended the throne in 1526. The Czechs rebelled in 1618, precipitating the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Defeated in 1620, they were ruled for the next 300 years as part of the Austrian empire. Full independence from the Hapsburgs was not achieved until the end of World War I, following the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

A union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was proclaimed in Prague on Nov. 14, 1918, and the Czech nation became one of the two component parts of the newly formed Czechoslovakian state. In March 1939, German troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and Czech Bohemia and Moravia became German protectorates for the duration of World War II. The former government returned in April 1945 when the war ended and the country's pre-1938 boundaries were restored. When elections were held in 1946, Communists became the dominant political party and gained control of the Czechoslovakian government in 1948. Thereafter, the former democracy was turned into a Soviet-style state.

Nearly 42 years of Communist rule ended with the nearly bloodless “velvet revolution” in 1989. Václav Havel, a leading playwright and dissident, was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Havel, imprisoned twice by the Communist regime and his plays banned, became an international symbol for human rights, democracy, and peaceful dissent. The return of democratic political reform saw a strong Slovak nationalist movement emerge by the end of 1991, which sought independence for Slovakia. When the general elections of June 1992 failed to resolve the continuing coexistence of the two republics within the federation, Czech and Slovak political leaders agreed to separate their states into two fully independent nations. On Jan. 1, 1993, the Czechoslovakian federation was dissolved and two separate independent countries were established—the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999.

Islamic History and Muslims


 First documented visit of a person with knowledge of Islam was made (964-965) by Íbrahím ibn Jaqúb, a Jewish merchant from then Muslim Spain. His memoirs were later published to became one of the first accounts about Central Europe in Islamic world. Occasionally, Muslim mercenaries were part of armies ravaging the country during its history (for example Cumans during Hussite Wars). During both sieges of Vienna reconnaissance groups of Ottoman armies reached Moravia. Strong trade links between Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire emerged during 19th century. Traditionally, influence of Islam on culture of Czech lands was and is small. Alois Musil and Bedřich Hrozný represented Czech Arabists.
  A law from 1912 recognized Islam as "state religion" and officially allowed its presence in the region. The first community (Moslimské náboženské obce pro Československo) was established in 1934. In 1949 previous registration was abolished. An attempt to set up new community in 1968 failed. In 1991 Center of Muslim communities (Ústředí muslimských náboženských obcí) was established. In 1998 a mosque was opened in Brno  and a year later in Prague. Attempt to open mosques in a couple of other cities was stopped by local citizens. In 2004 Islam was officially registered: the community is thus eligible to obtain funds from the state.
The estimated number of Muslims (almost all of them Sunni) today in the Czech Republic is over 20,000 (0.02%). The number rose sharply during the 1990s and has remained stable since.
Most of the Muslims are refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina (early 1990s) and former countries of Soviet Union (mostly from Caucasus region, from the late 1990s until the present). A significant and influential part are the middle-class people of Egyptian, Syrian and other Middle Eastern ancestries (typically those who studied in Czechoslovakia and decided to stay). A few hundred Muslims are Czech converts.
 

One of the mosques in the Czech Republic

  Vladimir Sanka is the director of the Islamic Centre in Prague. He is  a Czech converted to Islam.


Quick look at Islam in Czech Republic

BRIEF HISTORY

The history of Muslims in former Czechoslovakia is quite interesting in some points. Muslims in Czechoslovakia first organized themselves in 1934 and, from the very beginning, they tried to receive an official government recognition; yet this was not completed at that time due to purely legal and administrative matters.

The early leader of the community was a Czech convert, Muhammad Abdullah Brikcius, an independent journalist and traveller. In World War Two, he shared the illusion of many that German Nazis could liberate Muslims from the colonial yoke, especially from the British rule. He therefore published pro-Nazi articles in Czech Muslim and non-Muslim periodicals, and also made friends with Arab Muslim personalities of a similar orientation, such as the notorious mufti of Jerusalem Amin al- Husayni.

Czech Muslims consequently had problems after the fall of Nazi Germany (largely due to Brikcius' doubtful reputation), and Muslims in general kept a low profile in Czechoslovakia throughout the Communist rule (1948-1989). They suffered from limitations imposed on their activities (as all religious communities in Communist countries) but were never exposed to a real persecution. This can be explained by two facts: first, Communist officials in Czechoslovakia perceived Muslims as a rather exotic phenomenon that could hardly threaten their power (hinted at by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in a journal interview in the 1990's); second, communist Czechoslovakia kept close friendly ties to the so-called "progressive" Arab regimes (especially South Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Algeria) and therefore would not risk stirring up international troubles by intimidating local Muslims (confirmed by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in an interview for the Dingir journal).

Due to the latter fact, Arab students got scholarships for studying at universities in Czechoslovakia, with fairly many of them marrying Czech or Slovak wives and establishing themselves in the country. In this way, they formed the basic core of the Muslim community in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (The internal structure of this community reflects the internal social developments of the Arab and Muslim world: the Arab students who came to Czechoslovakia very early, until the 1960's, were largely secularized and non-religious. The Islamic engagement among the students grew quickly from the 1970's on, and the outwardly "more Islamic" Arabs were typically the students of technology and medicine, not humanities.) Thus a Muslim prayer room could be found in almost every university city in former Czechoslovakia.

STATISTICS


There are no reliable figures as to how many Muslims really live in the Czech Republic. Mohamed Ali Šilhavý (interviewed by the BBC Czech Service, September 20, 2001) estimated the numbers at about 20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic, among whom some 400 could be native Czechs. The number of converts seems to grow, and probably as many as 80% of them are women, which more completely adopt cultural patterns (not only the basic faith as such)..

So far, no celebrity converts to Islam are known in the Czech Republic although it is noteworthy that at least two prominent Czech Orientalists of the Communist era were secret Muslims (a professed Islamic adherence is certain of old-generation Mideast scholars Ivan Hrbek and Jiří Bečka at their young age; Czech Muslim author Petr Pelikán has academic education in Arab and Oriental studies; finally, going back to earlier generations, some speculate that Felix Tauer, who has translated the Thousand and One Nights into Czech, may have been a Muslim secretly).

As for the non-Czech Muslims who live in the country, most of them are Arabs (see above), apparently followed by Afghans, sub-Saharan Africans, Pakistanis, refugees from Bosnia- Herzegovina, and people from the Central Asian and Caucasian republics of the former Soviet Union. Turks, Persians, and Kurds are relatively very few in the Czech Republic.

MAINSTREAM MUSLIM ORGANIZATIONS

Ústředí muslimských obcí (Main Office of Muslim Associations) – officially registered as a religious community on September 17, 2004, which gives Islam in the Czech Republic an institutional recognition and entitles the community to state subsidies. (To a limited extent, it can also work in Czech prisons with Muslim inmates. However, the community has not fulfilled the general requirements for other activities based on religion, such as teaching Islam in schools or holding marriage ceremonies recognized by government.)

The government-registered Main Office of Muslim Associations serves as an umbrella platform of the following organizations:

1) Islámská nadace v Praze (Islamic Foundation in Prague);

2) Islámská nadace v Brně (Islamic Foundation in Brno - the second-largest city in the Czech Republic);

3) Všeobecný svaz muslimských studentů (General Union of Muslim Students, or, the name they use on their website is: the Muslim Student Union).

The joint platform can be labelled (at least in administrative terms) as the "mainstream Islam" in the Czech Republic. The president of the Main Office of Muslim Associations is Mohamed Ali Šilhavý, a native Czech who is now 90 years old, and a Muslim since he was 20. Also due to his advanced age, the Main Office is mostly represented by its two vice-presidents: one of them is Vladimír Sáňka, again a native Czech convert to Islam who leads the Islamic Foundation in Prague; the other vice-president is an Iraqi Arab by origin whose name is Munib Hasan al-Rawi (transcriptions used by himself or in the media seem to vary, and probably the most common form is Muneeb Hassan). The latter man represents a typical model of an Arab having come to former Czechoslovakia for university studies, later deciding to remain in the country after he graduated. Mr. al-Rawi leads the Islamic Foundation in Brno.

Outside the officially registered platform stand two bodies with a status of civil associations that, however, also pursue religious activities. Yet in terms of media activities, the latter of the organizations is far from marginal:

1) Svaz islámských kulturních center v Praze (Union of Islamic Cultural Centres in Prague) – purely Turkish in membership; related to the worlwide network of "Islamic cultural centres" financed from Turkey;

2) Muslimská unie (Muslim Union) – officially established on January 20, 2001. Although kept mostly by native Czech converts to Islam, the leader of the Union is one Muhammad Abbas al-Mu'tasim (transcriptions used by himself or in the media seem to vary, and probably the most common forms are Mohamed Abbás and Mohamad Abbás), again an example of an Arab who settled in the Czech Republic after his university graduation here. He comes from the Sudan and is a son of a Sudanese diplomat. The Union is highly active in publications on the internet, where it has also paid an extraordinary attention to the events of September 11, 2001. Mr.Abbas´s connection to Third World Relief Agency, notorious jihadist organisation, are well documented. Mr.Abbas aplied by the Czech Court for oficiálů recognition of TWRA already in 1996.

MAINSTREAM MUSLIM ORGANIZATIONS AFTER THE EVENTS OF 9/11

a) Immediate reactions

STATEMENT (by the Islamic Foundations in Prague and Brno) on September 13, 2001 (quoted by the Czech Press Agency, the ČTK, on September 15, 2001):

"The Muslim community in the Czech Republic condemns terrorism in all its forms."

"We join the expressions of solidarity with the people of the United States, and we support the offer of the government of the Czech Republic to help all who have been affected."

STATEMENT (by the Islamic Foundations in Prague and Brno) on September 16, 2001 (quoted by the Czech Press Agency, the ČTK, on September 17, 2001):

This statement protested the frequent media use of the phrase "Islamic terrorism", and also was filed as an official complaint to the RRTV (Radio and Television Broadcasting Council – a public body monitoring the fairness of the media; it grants broadcasting licenses and is authorized to order financial sanctions to punish especially grave cases of media ethics' violations). (The protest has been confirmed by Mohamed Ali Šilhavý in an interview with the BBC Czech Service, September 20, 2001).

Text of the statement reads: "Regardless of who committed [the attacks in the U.S.], the accusation cannot be generalized to include a whole nation or even all followers of a certain faith. This is just because the very perpetration of this act makes the culprits stand outside religion, if they had ever claimed allegiance to any."

The Právo daily reported on October 4, 2001 that some Muslims protested against some formulations of a declaration made by the then Czech prime minister (Miloš Zeman), in which he supported the war on terror. The protest statement (expressing the feeling that some of the formulations might stir up hate against Muslims) was issued by one Islamic Emergency Committee (Islámský výbor pro mimořádné situace) based in Ostrava, the third-largest city of the Czech Republic. But this organization has otherwise never been heard of, neither before nor after this statement, and the mainstream Muslim organizations in the Czech Republic in principle supported the prime minister's declaration (with certain reservations against the wording used).

Czechs Revert To Islam In Search For Spirituality

PRAGUE, March 13 (IslamOnline.net) – In their search for spirituality, many Czechs are reverting to Islam, forming a new small but vibrant Muslim community in one of the least religious countries in Europe, according to an online report.

Radio Free Europe said Friday, March 12, that Islam was introduced to Czechs by immigrants from Muslim countries who come to live and study in this Central European country.

Vladimir Sanka, the head of the Islamic Center, based in the Czech capital, Prague, is one of several hundred new reverts to Islam throughout the country and one of some 20,000 Muslims nationwide.

The long ago predominantly atheist and Roman Catholic country came in touch with Islam only 15 years ago after the end of communist rule, the Radio said.

Sanka, 40, was born into an atheistic family and received, like all Czechs, an atheistic education at school and in university.

Nine years ago, he reverted to Islam. In 1995, Sanka became the head of the Islamic Center and an imam in Prague's only mosque.

Sanka related his spiritual journey to Islam as a long and painful one to find Allah in a materially-oriented society.

"Everything was oriented here in our society to [material things] and activities. I was missing spiritual, something spiritual. I found God. I believe that God exists. He created the universe and is above everything and brings justice and so on. People who do something bad, it doesn't mean that there will be no punishment," Sanka said.

Why Islam?

Sanka concluded saying that he found out that only Islam fits his vision as it does not reject the messages of Judaism and Christianity but is a "continuation" of them.

"For me, Islam is very simple, very clear, practical and presents a logical way for daily life," Sanka added to the Radio.

Ondrej Mashatov, a 26-year-old Czech, reverted to Islam in 1998 after a long spiritual quest.

"I was atheist almost all my life, but when I reached the age of 17, I started to look for some, maybe, spiritual way of my life. And through many, many experiences - I spent several years in a very strict Catholic monastery in France -- [found it]. So, I am coming from this background. And then I visited Egypt, and Arabic culture started to be somehow more clear [to me]," Mashatov said.

Mashatov says his spiritual journey was a shallow one until he met an Arab woman, who later became his wife.

"On my way through these spiritual experiments, I met my wife, a girl from the Arab world, and I reverted to Islam," says Mashatov.

He says that now his life is balanced, but says he prefers not to openly express his religious beliefs.

"You can show it by acting in life. You don't need to say that, 'I am a Muslim. I am a Christian.' You can just act like this and nobody doesn't need to know who you are. The important [thing] is acting, how you deal with people, how you deal with yourself to God, how you deal with spirituality," Mashatov said.

Both Mashatov and Sanka say they feel safe as Muslims in the Czech Republic.

Last year, a discussion on role of Islam in Western society was held in Prague to talk on the status of Islam in contemporary society at Prague's Charles University.

The discussion was organized by Czech Association for International Affairs, an academic discussion group, which discussed the fast growing Muslim community in Czech.
(http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2004-03/13/article09.shtml)


Czech Republic: Many Looking To Islam In Their Search For Spirituality
March 12, 2004
By Valentinas Mite


The Muslim community in the Czech Republic, one of the least religious countries in Europe, is small, but trends for growth are seen. Many Muslims come to live and study in this Central European country. There is also a tendency for some young Czechs to convert to Islam in their quest for spirituality.

Prague, 12 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech Republic may be one of the most atheistic nations in Europe, but many Czechs are converting to Islam in their search for spirituality.

Vladimir Sanka says he is one of several hundred new converts to Islam throughout the country and one of some 10,000 Muslims nationwide. Sanka heads the Islamic Center, based in the Czech capital, Prague.

Sanka says that only now, 15 years after the end of communist rule, are Czechs getting in touch with Islam. Czechs are predominantly atheists and Roman Catholics, with some 40 percent of the population describing themselves as each.

Sanka is in his 40s and was born into an atheistic family. He had an atheistic education at school and in university, where he studied geology. He worked as a geologist for 15 years. Nine years ago, he converted to Islam. In 1995, Sanka became the head of the Islamic Center and an imam in Prague's only mosque.

Sanka says the spiritual journey that led him to convert was a long and painful one.

"Everything was oriented here in our society to [material things] and activities. I was missing spiritual, something spiritual. I found God. I believe that God exists. He created the universe and is above everything and brings justice and so on. People who do something bad, it doesn't mean that there will be no punishment," Sanka said.

In the end, he says he came to understand that only Islam fit his vision. Islam also attracted him, he said, because it does not reject the messages of Judaism and Christianity but is a "continuation" of them. "For me, Islam is very simple, very clear, practical and presents a logical way for daily life," Sanka said..

Sanka says he has twice visited Mecca and performed the hajj. He is learning Arabic and is able to communicate in the language of the Koran.

Sanka says he is not the only Czech to convert to Islam but admits that the majority of Muslims in the country are people who emigrated from the Middle East, Chechnya, Bosnia, or Iran.

Ondrej Mashatov, a 26-year-old Czech, converted to Islam in 1998 after a long spiritual quest. "I was atheist almost all my life, but when I reached the age of 17, I started to look for some, maybe, spiritual way of my life. And through many, many experiences -- I spent several years in a very strict Catholic monastery in France -- [found it]. So, I am coming from this background. And then I visited Egypt, and Arabic culture started to be somehow more clear [to me]," Mashatov said.

Mashatov says his spiritual journey was a shallow one until he met an Arab woman, who later became his wife.

"On my way through these spiritual experiments, I met my wife, a girl from the Arab world, and I converted to Islam," Mashatov said. Muslim men may marry Christians, but it is forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. Mashatov had little choice but to convert.

He says that now his life is balanced, but says he prefers not to openly express his religious beliefs. "You can show it by acting in life. You don't need to say that, 'I am a Muslim. I am a Christian.' You can just act like this and nobody doesn't need to know who you are. The important [thing] is acting, how you deal with people, how you deal with yourself to God, how you deal with spirituality," Mashatov said.

Both Mashatov and Sanka say they feel safe as Muslims in the Czech Republic.

Tomas Halik is a professor of philosophy and religion at Charles University in Prague. In an interview with RFE/RL, Halik said the Czechs' general lack of knowledge about religion often leads them to be easily influenced.

"I think [Czechs] are not very well informed in general about history of religion, about Christianity at all. And there's a special situation in the Czech Republic because in the Czech Republic religion was so suppressed by the communist government, and even now churches are not much present in public life. So many people have no experience with a living religion, and they've got some prejudices against religion as such. So, if they meet some [interesting] religious people, they are open to the conversion," Halik said.

"Everything was oriented here in our society to [material things] and activities. I was missing spiritual, something spiritual."He says it has been his experience that recent converts to Islam also adopt many of the political attitudes of the Arab Middle East. "Some of them are under the influence of a little bit one-sided propaganda of the Islamic countries with some prejudices against the state of Israel and so on," Halik said.

He also says some of the converts to Islam may be doing so in protest to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He says there is a feeling that fear of Muslims helped spark support in the United States for the invasion. In that sense, he says, conversions to Islam are a form of protest against that war.
( http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1051864.html )


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.             ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/124287.stm )


Portal of Islam in the Czech Republic

History of Islam in the Czech Republic

  Islamic Centers and Organizations

Islamic centre of Prague, Prague, Czech Republic
URL: www.muslim.cz   Phone: 00420-281918876

Union of Muslim Students in Czech Republic, Praha, czech republic
URL: www.svazmuslim.cz    Phone: 608-558031

Mosque in Prague City Center, Prague, Praha 1
Phone: +420732111611
Islamic Foundation In Brno, Brno
URL: http://brno.muslim.cz   Phone: +420 543 243 352

A.M.S. trading s.r.o., Prague, Czech Republic
URL: www.islamskeknihy.cz    Phone: 00420-777 636 544
Bolevecka Kolej Mosque, Plzen, Czech Republic
Muslim Students Union of Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove, Bohemia
URL: www.freewebs.com/msuhkcz    Phone: +420-728183387

Mosque of Teplice, Teplice, Czech Republic
Phone: 00420-776319533

Bolevecka Kolej Mosque, Plzen
  Islamic Foundation In Brno, Brno
  Mosque of Teplice, Teplice
  Muslim Students Union of Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove
 
Prag Merkez Cami (Prag Centrum Mosque), Prague

INFOMUSLIM, Praha
  Islamska nadace v Praze, Prague
  Islámská nadace, Brno-Venkov
  Muslim Union, Prague
  Union of Muslim Students in Brno, Brno
 
Union of Muslim Students in Czech Republic, Praha

Muslimská unie, Prague

 Muslim Owned Business

   A.M.S. trading s.r.o., Prague
  AMS trading sro, Praha
  Dr. Sanaa Khalif, Alhilal Company Spa Treatment, Ostrava
  Hallal Restaurant, Prague
  Himalaya Restaurant, Prague
  Mailsi Restaurant, Prague
  Piccadilly Fastfood, Prague
  Prague Apartments by FARUX s.r.o, Prague
  Prague Hotels, Prague
  Prahacomfor, Prague
  Rana Pakistani Restaurant, Prague
 
www.nejlevnejsipneu.cz, Ceske Budejovice

References
Islam in Czech Republic ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_Czech_Republic   , October, 2008).
Info please ( http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107456.html,  October, 2008).
Islam Finder ( http://www.islamicfinder.org/cityPrayerNew.php?country=czech_republic   , October, 2008).
Quick look at Islam in Czech Republic  ( http://www.islamawareness.net/Europe/Czech/czech_article0002.html , October, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Czech Republic, October 2008.