Brussels: Church-goers upset at imam speech during National Day celebration

Brussels: Church-goers upset at imam speech during National Day celebration

The speech of an imam during Belgium National Day (July 21) in a church in the Brussels suburb of  Sint-Joost-ten-Node has caused some consternation.  The imam cited suras - chapters from the Koran - about those who reject the faith, reports independent journalist Mehmet Koksal on his website.

The imam was present at the celebration by request of the community council of Sint-Joost-ten-Node.  They wanted to involve the various religious in the ceremony and so represent the diversity in the municipality.  But the quote chosen by the Turkish imam Sükrü Uymaz didn't go down well with the Catholic public of the parish.   These were mainly Catholics from the East Block, mostly from Armenia.

Among others the imam read the following passage [ed: apparently] from the al-Baqara sura (6-7):  "As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.  Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur)."


Beatrice Meulemans, religion alderman for the SP.A (Flemish socialists) says that the imam chanted in Arabic.  She did not understand it but thought it was very beautiful.  Later alderman Ibrahim Erkan told her it was scandalous since it referred to infidels.  The audience was primarily non-Muslim but there were other Arab speakers present who confirm this.

Ibrahim Erkan (CdH - Chrisitan Democrats) thinks it's shocking.  He says that there are beautiful suras in the Koran and the imam could have chosen something else for his first speech in a church.  Erkan, of Armenian origin, is fluent in both Arabic and Turkish.

Sükrü Uymaz is the Turkish imam in Meulebeke (West Flanders), working for Diyanet, and is known for his chanting skills.  He also recites online and organizes Koran competitions.
Alderman Clerckx Geoffroy (MR - Liberals) accuses the council of inappropriate planning, but Meulemans says that they spent three months discussing the issue.  They chose an imam working for Diyanet since it's linked to the official Turkish Islam and so would spare them a discussion of the various denominations.

Meulmans says that she met twice with Coskun Beyazgül, head of the Belgian Diyanet, and he sent the imam, who speaks neither Flemish nor French.  She says that the public in the parish is mostly sub-Saharan and Eastern Christian, and she think it's harder for the Eastern Christians to hear about Islam since they come from counties where the relations between the Christian minority and Muslims are tense.  Additionally, they oppose the Turkish government.  She thinks that if the imam would have been Moroccan, there would have been much less of a debate.


Koksal writes that the phrase in question is repeated 9 times in the Koran in 6 different suras, but I could not find it mentioned in the suras he cites.

Sources: HLN (Dutch), Parlamento (French)

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