One of the key things I do when I am travelling is to visit a mosque and pray. As do many Muslims. It builds a spiritual connection both with Allah as well as the strange place you have visited fleetingly. It makes the bond that much greater.
So during our road trip across Europe last northern winter we were fortunate enough to stop and pray at several mosques across the continent.
One of the most memorable visits was one we hadn’t planned at all. During the last leg of the mainland trip we had left Duisberg in western Germany and were heading to Lille in northern France to catch the Eurostar train to London.
Being quite a short trip and our train booking was on the following day, we decided to take a slight detour and drop in to Brussels. As the location for the European Commission, it was of great political significance. Because we hadn’t planned this, I had done none of my usual research on halal eateries or mosques.
It was to be a dash-in, dash-out visit.
So we headed directly for the Arcades du Cinquantenaire as one of the city’s key landmarks at one end of the Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary (or Jubelpark in Dutch). The European Commission is nearby.
After we parked the car, I had the sudden urge to visit a restroom. I figured we were at a park and all parks should have a restroom but as we went in there was none in apparent view. After a short reconnaissance of the northern part of the park, panic set in and I increased my speed towards some small buildings, which turned out to be just some, small, empty, buildings. Pressure was building up.
Beyond them in the northwest corner I saw a large building with a tower obscured by trees. Thinking perhaps a church I beelined towards it. As I approached the architecture seemed to suggest otherwise and before long I spotted the crescent on the “tower”.
It was in fact the Great Mosque of Brussels (also housing the Islamic and Cultural Centre of Belgium). A welcome sight for more than one reason! After satisfying the most pressing need, we prayed Dhuhr and Asr there before continuing on with our sightseeing.
Some of the mosques visited during our trip:
- Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque), Istanbul, Turkey. No need to say anything that has not been already said.
- Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, Istanbul (Asian side), Turkey. A nice local mosque that was next to the restaurant where we had spent a few hours eating and enjoying the view.
- Grand Mosque, Tangier, Morocco. Beautiful courtyard and wooden ceilings. A taste of what we were to expect in southern Spain.
- Murrabateen Masjid, Cordoba, Spain. Small mosque inside beautiful gardens.
- Ali Mosque, Barcelona, Spain. Close to the tourist areas and the seaside but the surrounds seemed a bit seedy.
- Moschea del Misericordioso, Milan, Italy. A local community mosque. The main mosque was actually quite neat and small with a cemetary but they have built a centre next to it and I suspect they have the Friday prayers there.
- Mešita Černý Most, Prague, Czech Republic. On the outskirts of the town. It was snowing outside but inside was cosy and warm both in temperature and colour.
- Omar Moschee, Berlin, Germany. Quite a large multistory mosque and Islamic centre. Quite well attended in what seemed like a migrant heavy area. Lots of great places to eat around.
- Great Mosque of Brussels (also housing the Islamic and Cultural Centre of Belgium), Brussels, Belgium. Imposing structure in the corner of the central park.
- Grande Mosquée Al Wifaq, Lille, France. We went for Friday prayers here. Quite a large gathering on the outskirts of Lille.
- Dublin Mosque, Dublin, Ireland. Mosque and community centre with a restaurant as well.