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Flemish government ‘cleaning up’ Islamic communities

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Other state-recognized and state-financed religious communities in Flanders concerned about their future with the new Flemish decree

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

Photo: © Klaas De Scheirder

HRWF (14.06.2021) – After the deportation of a Turkish imam a few months ago, Minister of Domestic Affairs, Equal Opportunities and Integration of the Flemish government, Bart Somers (Open VLD), decided to put to an end the recognition and financing of a Pakistani mosque last week.

Pakistani mosque in Antwerp

On 8 June, Minister Somers decided last week to cancel the recognition of the Pakistani mosque in Antwerp named ‘Antwerp Islamic Association’. It had been recognized since 2007, which had made it eligible for financing by the Flemish government and the Belgian state.

Since 2016, the Islamic community has been embroiled in an internal conflict about the appointment of an imam.

The former imam recognized by the public powers had been dismissed by the Antwerp Islamic Association and replaced by a another one who is not approved by the Flemish government but who is approved by the Executive of the Muslims of Belgium (EMB), the official interlocutor of the Belgian State.

Minister Somers considered that the Pakistani Muslim community does not fulfill the recognition criterion of ‘social relevance’ any more which includes enduring relations with the local government and the local community (neighborhood) as well as social cohesion. The local police sometimes had to intervene in brawls opposing the followers of the two imams.

Deportation of a Turkish imam near Genk (Limburg)

Some HRWF comments

Concerns of other state-recognized religions

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Willy Fautre

Willy Fautré, former chargé de mission at the Cabinet of the Belgian Ministry of Education and at the Belgian Parliament. He is the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, an NGO based in Brussels that he founded in 1988. His organization defends human rights in general but also the rights of persons belonging to historical religions, non-traditional, and new religious movements. It is apolitical and independent from any religion. He has carried out fact-finding missions on human rights and religious freedom in more than 25 countries He is a lecturer in universities in the field of religious freedom and human rights. He has published many articles in university journals about relations between states and religions. He organizes conferences at the European Parliament, including on freedom of religion or belief in China. For years, he has developed religious freedom advocacy in European institutions, at the OSCE, and at the UN.

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