LJUBLJANA After decades of submitting their request for a place of worship, Muslim have laid the foundation stone of Slovenia's first mosque at a former industrial site in the capital Ljubljana.
"We are happy to be starting this civic project in Ljubljana, which will thus become a better-known and a more pluralistic city," Mufti Nedzad Grabus, the highest representative of Slovenia's Islamic community, told the ceremony on Saturday, September 14, Reuters reported.
The idea of building an Islamic cultural center in Ljubljana dates back to 1969 when the first formal request was submitted by Sulejman Kemurato, the then head of the Islamic community in Ljubljana.
The Islamic community has since faced problems in obtaining a construction permit and finding a location for the center.
In 2004, Muslims proposed a site for the mosque is in downtown Ljubljana beside the city refuse dump, but the bid for a mosque, even such a modest location, was also halted.
Right-wing politicians voiced firm opposition for the project, and nearly 11,000 signatures have been collected in opposition to the proposal.
After taking office, Ljubljana Mayor Jankovic offered a new location to build a mosque in the city center. In 2008, Islamic community offered to buy the land.
Several thousand people attended the ceremony, including Slovenia's centre-left prime minister, Alenka Bratusek, and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic, who helped lay the first stone.
The ceremony was also attended by Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Bakir Izetbegovic and former President of Slovenia Danilo Turk.
A handful of women in the crowd wore headscarves - an unusual sight in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav republic, a member of the European Union squeezed between Croatia, Italy and Austria.
"I am happy to attend this extraordinary ceremony sharing joy with Bosniaks and Muslims all over Slovenia and Ljubljana, who will soon get their home -- a modern Islamic cultural center and a mosque," Izetbegovic told the ceremony.
"I thank the Republic of Slovenia and Ljubljana for the support to the project by providing the necessary permits and approvals for the construction.
Thanks to all people of good will, the governments of friendly countries and organizations for their engagement, their voluntary contributions and donations to the Mufti Nedzad Grabus and his associates in this historic project, he added.
Laying the foundation stone of their first mosque, Slovenia Muslims attending the ceremony were overjoyed.
"This means the world to me," said Sahra Kacar, 44, who was born the same year as the first official petition to build a mosque in Ljubljana was filed.
"We will have a proper place to pray, rather than using various public halls."
Construction of the mosque is expected to begin in earnest in November and is projected to take three years at a cost of some 12 million euros ($15.9 million).
The Islamic community will foot most of the cost, thanks to a large donation it expects from Qatar.
The most prosperous of Yugoslavia's six republics, Slovenia saw an influx of people from across the region - including Muslims - seeking work over the past 50 years, particularly with the collapse of their joint state in the early 1990s.
Slovenia broke away in 1991 and its economy boomed, while the likes of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo descended into war.
Slovenia is home to nearly 50,000 Muslims, making up some 2.4 percent of the country's two million people population.
A 2002 census found that it was the second largest religion in the country behind Catholicism, which has 1.1 million followers.
Muslim groups claim there are around 80,000 Muslims in the country.
There was a previous mosque in Slovenia, before it was an independent country, but it was destroyed after World War One.