Proudly Rejected: The Case of Grand Mosque Initiative in Helsinki

Hossam Hewidy, Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé


In 2014, an initiative to build a mosque in Helsinki was presented to the Deputy Mayor. The founders of the initiative had been promised royal funding from the Kingdom of Bahrain for the implementation of the project. The initiative stimulated a public debate that reached its peak during the municipal election campaigns in 2017. In December 2017, the City of Helsinki unanimously decided to reject the proposal. This article examines the response to the initiative by the city planners and whether it was treated differently from other applications. Data was collected through interviews, document review and spatial analysis. The article found that a destructive atmosphere was created through the (mis)representation of the initiative founders and the funding resources in the politicians arguments, which were problem-oriented and transnational in nature. On the contrary, planners were responsive to dealing with a socially and politically sensitive topic without prior experience but with a few shortcomings. The article contributes to the literature bridging architecture, explicitly mosques and their symbolic meaning in European cities, and social sciences concerning the integration of immigrants and their well-being. It suggests that there is a need to normalise the purpose-built mosque issue.

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