Mosques in Lisbon's Mouraria quarter 'full to bursting'
Image: Miguel A. Lopes/ Lusa

Mosques in Lisbon’s Mouraria quarter ‘full to bursting’

Muslims challenge City Hall to ‘make good on promises’ and build new mosque

Lusa today reports on “Long queues outside Lisbon mosques as council fails to keep promise”.

“Mosques in the Lisbon city centre neighbourhood of Mouraria are unable to accommodate all those who want to enter them, with many faithful queuing outside, waiting for their turn to pray – with past promises from Lisbon city council to build a new space yet to be kept”, continues the text.

“The crowds are at their largest on Fridays, a holy day for Islam, with two queues: on one side for the mosque in Rua do Terreirinho, which is smaller, on the other for the Islamic Centre of Bangladesh, in Beco de São Marçal.

“Down Rua do Benformoso, the area’s narrow main thoroughfare and up Calçada Agostinho de Carvalho, as 1 pm  approaches, more and more men, old and young, and some children, from a variety of backgrounds, but predominantly from the Indian subcontinent, take up their positions.

Image: Miguel A. Lopes/ Lusa

“During the changeover between prayers, those inside leave quickly, even without putting on their shoes, so as not to block up the entrance. Outside, some people have been waiting for more than two hours.

“With a capacity for 500 worshippers and two carpeted rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, the Bangladesh Islamic Centre is awaiting a move to a new location, promised by the city council 12 years ago – when Portugal’s current prime minister, António Costa of the Socialist Party (PS), was mayor of Lisbon.

“The existing space, which was bought by the Bangladeshi community many years ago, cannot welcome all the worshippers who seek it out, acknowledges Rana Taslim Uddin, the centre’s president, who when he arrived in Mouraria in 1991 was one of just six Bangladeshi nationals in the city.

“This mosque doesn’t have the right conditions, because there’s no emergency exit, no windows,” he said. “It’s very difficult in the heat.”

Rana estimates that a place of worship is needed “for more or less two thousand people” now.

There are currently an estimated 60,000 Bangladesh nationals living in Portugal, mainly working as traders, Lusa continues.

“During Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, the Muslims of Mouraria are not even able to break their fast together, as tradition dictates. And the current place of worship has no separate prayer room for women.

“A few days ago, Rana invited the current mayor of Lisbon, Carlos Moedas of the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), who was elected in 2021, to visit the mosque”.

“The new mayor hasn’t replied yet,” he told Lusa, lamenting: “Politicians are in the moment, but then they forget.”

The current place of worship, agrees Miguel Coelho, Socialist president of the Santa Maria Maior parish council, “is unsuitable for the many people it attracts”. It is “absolutely necessary” to fulfil “the commitment made” to build a new mosque, which he recalls was “voted for by all the city’s political forces, including the representatives of the democratic right, the PSD and CDS-PP”.

A new mosque is needed, he stressed, “precisely so that these people don’t have to set up informal mosques in garages and/or shop spaces.”

The idea of building a new mosque in Mouraria, was first floated in 2012 but has since been mired in protests and delays, Lusa explains.

Initially the plan was to demolish buildings to create a square that would allow access to the place of worship via a pedestrianised passage between Rua da Palma, a major avenue nearby, and Rua do Benformoso.

In 2015, the matter was once again discussed at a public meeting organised by the city council, this time to ask Lisbon’s Municipal Assembly to approve the declaration of public utility for the expropriation of the buildings needed to carry out the project – a proposal that was unanimously approved.

However, a court challenge over the expropriation of two buildings by the owners, questioning the amount of compensation offered, delayed the whole process. The city council later said it was considering reformulating the project.

In June last year PS members in the Municipal Assembly criticised the “noisy silence” on the whole subject of the mosque plan.

In response, deputy mayor, Filipe Anacoreta Correia (CDS-PP), said that the council had carried out all the necessary procedures on the Mouraria mosque project but that “no decision has been taken” on the matter.

When questioned on all this by Lusa, the council did not respond.

Mouraria today is home to a large South Asian community, with many people from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, says the State news agency.

“Traders in the area complain that the current situation – with a high concentration of Muslim worshippers on the streets, particularly on Fridays – is detrimental to business.

“People can’t all fit inside and they have to pray in the street and that does cause discomfort at times, but nothing more than that,” says Miguel Coelho, stressing: “We don’t have religious conflict here.”

His words come just days after a proposed march by far-right organisations through the area was banned by the council, on the advice of police.

Source material: LUSA