The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, announced on February 18, 2022, the initiation of the procedure to the withdraw recognition of the Executive of the Muslims in Belgium (EMB), the representative body of the Islamic faith in Belgium.
The Minister of Justice, in charge of worship, declared that the EMB “can no longer be an interlocutor.” The EMB would then no longer receive the 600,000 euros in annual subsidies from the Belgian State.
The organization, the official interlocutor of the Muslim community of Belgium with the Belgian public authorities, is accused of a lack of transparency as well as a “permeability to the influences of foreign powers,” via Turkish institutions such as the Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı (President of Turkish Religious Affairs), the Milli Gôrüs (European Islamic organization based in Germany), and Moroccan, such as the Association of Muslims of Belgium financed directly from Morocco.
“The challenge for these countries is to continue to control their diaspora through mosques and the appointment of imams. They thus have a direct influence,” explains Islamologist Michaël Privot. For Turkey, it is mainly a question of securing the political support of the diaspora for President Erdogan.
For Morocco, it is to succeed in getting their hands on the Great Mosque of Brussels, continues the academic. In December 2020, Salah Echallaoui, vice-president of the EMB and president of the Grand Mosque of Brussels, was accused by State Security of spying for Morocco; he had to resign from his post.
Mehmet Ütsün has been the president of the EMB since 2018 also the leader of the Sultan Ahmet mosque in Heusden-Zolder, in the eastern province of Limburg. However, State Security has pinpointed “the important role in the propagation of extremism in Limburg” by the Sultan Ahmet mosque in Heusden-Zolder.
It appears that the latter is the place of business of the Islamic Information Center (Islamitische Informatiecentrum), propagator “of extremism among young people in Heusden-Zolder and the surrounding region.”
For Mehmet Ütsün, it is not up to the minister, but rather to the Muslim community, to judge the Executive of Muslims. In a press release, the EMB said it hoped “that the Minister of Justice respects the rule of law and the constitutional principles of our country. The Muslim faith has the autonomy to organize itself and does not need interference from the political world.”
Asked by the Belga press agency: “We live in a secular country where the separation of Church and State is guaranteed by the Constitution. The political world can criticize us but cannot decide for us,” said Mehmet Ütsun.
But how can they continue to invoke the separation of Church and State while receiving state subsidies? What makes Nadia Geerts, author of “Say, what is secularism?”: “So let's finally stop funding cults, since on the one hand it flouts the famous principle of separation to which the EMB is so viscerally attached, and on the other hand, it does not allow any way to control them without being reproached for an unacceptable interference in matters of worship.”
If the EMB is deprived of its recognition, however “the federated entities will always remain competent to recognize mosques on an individual basis,” notes the Minister of Justice. In this country of 11.5 million inhabitants, the Muslim community has between 600,000 and 800,000 members, according to various sources.