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ISLAM/ Hulsman: Reciprocity is needed in treating churches in Turkey with mosques in Greece

CORNELIS HULSMAN, Director of the Arab-West Report, comments on the re-opening of a mosque in Thessaloniki, pointing out the need for reciprocity in treating closed churches in Turkey

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"The possibility of worshipping in a mosque in Greece should be equal to that of churches in Turkey, with a view of reciprocity and equal rights between Christians and Muslims." This was stated by Cornelis Hulsman, Dutch scholar who studies relations with Islam and Director of the Arab-West Report based in Cairo. Hulsman comments on the re-opening of a mosque in Thessaloniki for the Friday prayers, after it had been closed for 90 years following the First World War.

Is the reopening of the mosque a consequence of the fact that Greece, abandoned by Europe, begins to look toward Turkey?

After the First World War, most Greek Muslims fled or were expelled to Turkey and most Turkish Christians fled or were expelled to Greece , and only small groups were left behind in their original countries. It is very important to see how Turkey is addressing the issue of Christian churches. If this is done equally, with the possibility to pray in closed churches in Turkey , as is the case with this mosque in Greece, I think it is right. It is also important to know if there are around these closed houses of worship remaining Muslim or Christian communities that need a place of worship. Then it also is right for a community to have a place of worship.

If instead, the mosque of Thessaloniki is reopened only because of pressure from the European Union, I think that it is not a correct choice. I recently wrote an article on the Sharia in the Egyptian Constitution, and I found that liberal Egyptian scholars indicate Greece as a positive model of relations between Christians and Muslims. There are small Muslim communities in Greece, and of course they have the right to a place to pray.

Why then did Turkey, after having occupied the northern part of Cyprus , close all the churches?

Just as the Muslim community in Thessaloniki is entitled to a place of prayer, the Christians of Northern Cyprus, assuming they have remained there, must be able to reopen their churches. Relations between Christians and Muslims should be guided by equality. We need to take the same attitude towards the mosque as we have towards the churches. The only mistake would be to behave differently toward one or the other.

Must we also take into account what is happening in Pakistan , where the churches are being attacked by terrorists?

No, we must not make any comparison with Pakistan , which has nothing to do with any of this. The question concerns the relations between Greece and Turkey , and the reopening of mosques in Greece should be conditional upon the reopening of the churches in Turkey , and not in other countries. Attacks on churches in Pakistan are something radically wrong, but they are not an excuse to act just as wrongly against Muslims in Europe .

To what extent is reciprocity in relationships a concept that is actually viable?