Every time the adhan is raised in Molenbeek, the Muslim call to prayer echoes 20 times in the Belgian capital’s western neighborhood.
That’s because the district is home to 21 mosques, rightfully earning it the reputation of Brussels’ Islamic center.
At the heart of Molenbeek, lies Al-Khalil, the biggest mosque in all Belgium.
“The building was originally a factory and the Muslim community came together to turn it into a mosque in 1985,” Abdel-Karim Al-Kebdani, the mosque director, told IslamOnline.net.
The mosque, which accommodates up to 1,000 worshippers every week at the Friday prayer, also serves as a cultural and social center.
“Al-Khalil is not just a mosque; it offers a number of social and community activities,” explains Kebdani.
Besides Al-Khalil, there are 20 other mosques in Molenbeek, many of them affiliated with the sizable Moroccan community.
Some mosques are affiliated with the Turkish, Pakistan or African communities.
The number of mosques has prompted the Molenbeek municipality to establish the Advisory Council of Molenbeek Mosques.
There are around 350 mosques in Belgium, the oldest of them is the Islamic center in Brussels, which dates back to 1968.
Belgian Muslims are estimated at 450,000 — out of a 10-million population.
In the immigrant-dominant neighborhood, where Muslims constitute two thirds of the 83,000 population, it is hardly possible to come across a blue-eyed or blonde haired person.
Walking down Molenbeek streets, one cannot mistake the Islamic aura and spirit coloring the neighborhood.
Young women in colorful hijab and young men sporting beards are the common face.
Conversations and chatting flip between French and Arabic.
The cafes of Molenbeek offer the famous Arabic tea instead of alcohol.
The sound of recitation of the Noble Qur’an resonates from the shops dotting the neighborhood with signs bearing distinctive Arabic names.
“My neighbors got used to listen to Qur’an every Friday,” the owner of an Islamic bookstore told IOL.
A secondary Islamic school named after renowned Islamic philosopher and physician Avicenna was opened this year.
Kebdani, Al-Khalil mosque’s director, believes that Molenbeek stands as the perfect symbol of tolerance in Belgium, which became in 1974 the first European country to recognize Islam.
“Our neighborhood perfectly reflects the diversity and tolerance of the Belgian society.”