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In Belgium, an imam recites a surah from the Koran in the Brussels Parliament

Correspondent in Brussels.

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In Belgium, an imam recites a surah from the Koran in the Brussels Parliament

Correspondent in Brussels

The images sparked reactions of indignation in Belgium and beyond. On Friday, a video circulated on social networks showing an imam, Muhammad Ansar Butt, reciting a surah from the Koran from the podium of the Brussels Parliament after being decorated. The scene, which had not been filtered until then, took place on January 13, during an event with awards ceremony organized by the vice-president of the Assembly, Hasan Koyuncu (PS), with the Friends Of Brussels association. It was the imam himself, of Pakistani origin and who lives in Leeuw-Saint-Pierre (Flemish Brabant), who posted the sequence on Facebook. Before removing it.

Federal MP Theo Francken and former Secretary of State for Migration (N-VA) relayed the video on X – formerly Twitter –, accompanying it with a very long message. “Brussels, once liberal, looks like a lost city. At all levels,” he lamented, accusing the PS of “bowing more deeply than ever before the favors of Muslims” and denouncing “unprecedented scenes of submission.” David Leisterh, the Brussels leader of the Reform Movement (MR), a center-right liberal party, called for the creation of a commission on the subject. “Centuries of religious struggles are watching us. How could anyone accept such actions? This is what neutrality is for. My group demands accountability,” he explained.

Friday evening, Idit Rosenzweig-Abu, the Israeli ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, said she was "absolutely horrified to discover that at the Parliament in Brussels, a guest Muslim preacher chose to recite extracts from the surah." Al-Ahzab", a surah about a battle between Muslims and Jews. It is “a surah which explicitly calls (verse 26) to kill and take captive the Jews,” underlines the diplomat, while recalling the rise of anti-Semitism and fear in Brussels where 18,000 Jews live. Far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose party came first in the legislative elections in the Netherlands, chose to ride on this affair, posting a comment on X: “A Pakistani imam in the Brussels Parliament. 2024. Belgium is lost.

In the ranks of the PS, this affair creates all the more embarrassment as the Belgians will vote in less than four months to elect their representatives to the federal Parliament and the regional Parliaments. The Brussels Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities (PS), Nawal Ben Hamou, participated in this event and even decorated this imam. But those around her said on Friday that she left the scene when he began to recite verses from the Koran. Rachid Madrane, member of the PS and president of the Brussels Parliament, also went to the front line to put an end to the controversy, emphasizing that deputies can organize events and that the institution also receives some 10,000 visitors per year.

He also told the Belga agency that a letter would be sent to the vice-president of the Assembly Hasan Koyuncu and to all the presidents of the different political groups to remind them that neutrality should apply to the Parliament of Brussels. The President of the Brussels Parliament is also considering having this point included in the institution's regulations. “Parliament is the temple of democracy: it is neither a mosque nor a church.”

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