Concern in Denmark about the growing influence of Qatar in the religious and social sphere

The Gulf country totally controls the fund that governs the Great Mosque of Copenhagen
Men participate in Friday prayer at the Great Mosque in Copenhagen

REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY  -   Men participate in Friday prayer at the Great Mosque in Copenhagen

Qatar has taken full control of the fund behind the mosque attached to the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center in Rovsingsgade, in the Norrebro district of the Danish capital of Copenhagen, thanks to the full takeover of the organization's board of directors. The institution has already received a large amount of money from the Qatari state since its inauguration in 2014 by the Gulf country's minister of religious affairs, Ghaith bin Mubarak Ali Omran al-Kuwari.

Qatar has been firmly at the centre of power of the Hamad Bin Khalifa Centre for Civilization in the Great Mosque of Copenhagen. And the Danish daily Berlingske now reveals that the board of directors of the investment fund operating behind the mosque has been replaced, so that five people from the closest Qatari sphere now have an absolute majority. Indeed, one of the new members of the governing body is Shaheen al-Ghanim, who has been head of the Department of Islamic Affairs of the Qatari Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.

The Great Mosque in Rovsingsgade has a long and close relationship with Qatar, and the organizations affiliated with the Gulf monarchy have donated at least DKK 227 million (about 29.5 million) to the Copenhagen Store Fund, which operates the aforementioned Islamic centre. 

Fotografía de archivo del ministro de Asuntos Religiosos de Qatar, Ghaith bin Mubarak Ali Omran al-Kuwari (C), durante la inauguración oficial de la primera mezquita con cúpula y minarete de Dinamarca en Rovsingsgade, el 19 de junio de 2014
CANPIX DENMARK/THOMAS LEKFELDT - Archival photograph of Qatari Minister of Religious Affairs Ghaith bin Mubarak Ali Omran al-Kuwari (C) during the official opening of Denmark's first domed mosque and minaret at Rovsingsgade on 19 June 2014

The Qatari Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs is a kind of government agency also known as the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs and the Qatari Awqaf Authority; which was created in 1993 with the declared aim of "ensuring that all areas of modern life comply with the principles of Islam". It operates with the aim of promoting the Islamic faith in Qatar and abroad, and some of its investments have been the subject of controversy because of the alleged radicalism at the heart of this entity. It is an institution that offers courses in Arabic as a foreign language, also on the Sharia, and Islamic arts and Arabic calligraphy. It also offers classes of introduction to Islam in the different languages of the countries where it is established. 

In February, donations from Qatar to the Great Mosque in Copenhagen became known and there was great concern among politicians in the Danish Parliament about the possible influence of Islamist radicalism in Danish society. In line with this the spokesperson for the Danish People's Party, Pia Kjærsgaard, expressed her concern about this movement from Qatar in her country, including funding, which "makes your hair stand on end". Some of the members of the board that governs the fund that controls the religious institution live in Qatar, which is criticised by the Nordic MP: "If you sit at the table of a mosque in Denmark, but you live in Qatar, it is clear what interests you are trying to protect. And it's not the interests of Denmark.

Hombres sentados en la Gran Mezquita de Copenhague
REUTERST/ANDREW KELLY - Men sitting in Copenhagen's Great Mosque

Qatar is still active in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden, through the implementation and funding of religious centres. Thus, it has also come to light that the Qatar Charity monetary fund, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, had donated money to a free school in the Danish city of Aarhus, where the municipal head Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl questioned the Danish Minister of Integration, Mattias Tesfaye, on the matter. Tesfaye responded to this by also expressing his concern: "The government takes it very seriously if forces with a medieval vision of democracy, freedom and equality try to gain influence in Denmark through financial donations. Influence that can help undermine democracy and fundamental freedoms and human rights". At the same time, the Scandinavian executive announced that it will propose a bill prohibiting the receipt of donations "from certain natural and legal persons".

In this respect, the Qatari country's links with the Muslim Brothers, a Salafist organization (a trend that defends a very rigid version of Islam) considered to be terrorist by several Western countries, including the United States, have always been a source of concern.

Una niña lleva una bandera de la Hermandad Musulmana mientras se une a los manifestantes del Frente de Acción Islámica durante una manifestación
REUTERS/MUHAMMAD HAMED - A girl carries a Muslim Brotherhood flag as she joins demonstrators from the Islamic Action Front during a demonstration

Qatar's new and improved influence on the Great Mosque in Copenhagen is the culmination of a power struggle on the board of the fund that directs the designs of the institution. Three board members once criticized President Abdelhamid al-Hamdi, but these critical elements of the board are now out and have been replaced by Qatar-friendly individuals. Religious analyst Lene Kühle told Berlingske that the takeover of the agency's board is not necessarily related to religion but to Qatar's intention to secure its investment. However, the fact is that the Hamad bin Khalifa Centre for Civilisation is clearly religious and radical in nature, according to some experts, since, for example, Imam Abu Bilal, who has been convicted of calling for the murder of Jews, has preached several times at this religious centre. Even when this was published in February, representatives of the Great Mosque said that Abu Bilal was not considered an extremist element. 

Un hombre durante la inauguración oficial de la primera mezquita de Dinamarca con cúpula y minarete en Rovsingsgade, Copenhague
A man at the official opening of Denmark's first minaret-domed mosque in Rovsingsgade, Copenhagen

Qatar's moves in Denmark are important, considering that Islam in this European country is the nation's largest minority religion and plays a prominent role in shaping its social and religious landscape. According to a 2018 estimate, some 300,000 people, 5.3% of the population in Denmark, are Muslim. A figure that has escalated over the last few decades. 

The majority of Muslims in Denmark are Sunni, the branch of Islam that predominates in the Great Mosque of Copenhagen at the Hamad bin Khalifa Center for Civilization.