RIJEKA, Croatia - Capping years of hard work, thousands of Muslims have celebrated the opening of Croatia's first mosque on the Adriatic Coast since the Ottoman era.
"Building of this mosque was crucial for me because my daughter will go to kindergarten here," Sadmir Kukuruzovic, a 27-year-old truck driver from Rijeka, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).More than 20,000 Muslims from Croatia and neighboring European countries gathered Saturday, May 4, in the western city of Rijeka on the Adriatic coast to celebrate their first mosque in the area.
The opening caps years of hard work by Muslims to build the mosque and Islamic center, which was first suggested in 1968.
Lack of funding has long stumbled the building of the mosque, which was designed by late prominent Croatian designer Dusan Dzamonja.
The building only started in October 2009 after getting the finance from donations of Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
The project was estimated to have cost about 10 million euros ($13 million).
The Islamic center consists of a large silver mosque with a 23-meter (75-feet) high minaret on a hill overseeing Kvarner bay.
The complex also includes a conference room, dining room, guest house, classrooms for young people, cafeteria, basketball and soccer courts, a parking lot and multi-purpose halls.
The mosque's opening was attended by Qatari Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ghaith bin Mubarak Al-Kuwari and a number of Croatia's top officials and Catholic church representatives.
"Multiculturalism and diversity are among basic values on which the European Union is built," Paul Vandoren, the head of EU delegation in Croatia, said, a reminder that the country was set to join the bloc on July 1.
Muslims from neighboring countries also celebrated the new mosque in Croatia.
"For Muslims Croatia is good place to live in and could serve as an example to other European countries," said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency.
"Today's event sends good signals to the whole world and notably to the region" of the Balkans, ravaged by inter-ethnic wars in the 1990s, he said.
Aziz Emini, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia now living in Germany, said his family "came to witness real peace among religions."
"Croatia, which tomorrow will enter the European Union, could serve as an example of integration of Muslims in Europe," the 47-year-old baker said.
Muslims make only some 1.5 percent of Croatia's 4.2 million inhabitants. Almost 87 percent of the population are Roman Catholics.
Out of Croatia's 63,000 Muslims around 10,000 live in the Rijeka region. The mosque in Rijeka is the third one built in Croatia.The biggest mosque is in the capital Zagreb, while the eastern town of Gunja, on the border with Bosnia, hosts another one.