“We thought the Mosque would fit perfectly in Havana’s historic district with the neighbourhood’s European architecture,” Yuksel Sezgin, press adviser for Turkey’s Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV), a branch of the country’s top government-run religious organization.
The Mosque was approved following a visit by TDV delegation to the Cuban department of religious affairs last week.
Designed after the famous Ortakoy Mosque in Istanbul, the Mosque is being built to serve the city's 3,500 Muslims and will be complete within a year.
According to the plans, the Havana mosque will be 32,300 square feet and have the capacity to serve 500 people. Land for the mosque has already been allocated in the city's Old Havana district.
With no Mosque available currently, most Cuban Muslims pray in their homes or, on Fridays, in the living room of Pedro Lazo Torre, the leader of Havana’s Muslim community.
Luis Mesa Delmonte, a Cuban professor working on Middle Eastern studies at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, says President Raul Castro’s government approved the Mosque project as part of Cuba’s wider effort to inch open the Communist system.
“The Cuban government approved the project some years ago, but the idea was to build one with national resources,” Delmonte said over email.
“It seems to me that the very difficult economic conditions the island is facing won’t help in that direction.”
The plan is part of a wider project by the TDV in building Mosques for Muslims who live in the Caribbean.
A similar project in Haiti is due to be complete by the end of this year.
Islam in Cuba
According to a 2009 Pew Research Centre report, there are 9,000 Muslims in Cuba who constitute 0.1% of the population.
At a certain point there were many Muslim students entering the nation of Cuba interested in studying at Cuba's prestigious schools. The amount of students was approximately 1500-2000. Among that group were students of Pakistani origin, among others. It is known that the dominant population that went to study at Cuba was the Pakistani students who were about 900 in strength. In 2001 Sheikh Muhammad bin Nassir Al-Aboudy, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL) travelled to Cuba to obtain permission from the Cuban authorities to establish an Islamic organization that would support Cuba’s Muslim community. Among the other aims of the proposed organization would be constructing mosques and the dissemination of Islamic culture among the Muslims.
Cuban Muslims learned Islam through embassies of Middle Eastern countries as well as through students coming to study in Cuba from Muslim and African countries. Islam started to spread among Cubans in the 1970s and '80s. Printed and audio-visual Islamic resources are now almost non-existent in Cuba. Spanish translation of the Quran and other major Islamic books are not available in the country. The Muslim community of Cuba even lacks educated religious persons.
Cuba’s Muslims usually pray in their homes since there is no Mosque in Havana. The former President Fidel Castro was reported to have promised to build a mosque for his country’s Muslims, according to members of the Humanitarian Aid Foundation who visited Cuba. The only prayers performed in public are the Friday Prayers that are conducted in a place known as Casa de los Árabes (‘The Arab House’) in old Havana. The Arab House belonged to a wealthy Arab immigrant who lived in Cuba during the 1940s. The House encompasses an Arabic museum, an Arabian restaurant, and the place is used by Muslim diplomats for Friday Prayers. Qatar donated US$ 40,000 for the remodelling of the House, but it is only opened for Friday Prayers, but Cuban Muslims are not allowed to use the facilities, which are only reserved for non-Cuban Muslims, tourists and diplomats.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk