You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Krakow has an Islamic Centre. Tucked away on a side street north of the Old Town, only a modest green sign announces its presence to the outside world. Inside too, the Krakow home of one of the world’s great religions is understated. A single room is used for prayers and meetings. Tape on the worn carpet indicates the east-west axis, allowing the faithful to place their prayer carpets in the correct orientation. A simple whiteboard bears handwritten prayer times along with the entry phone code for the building. There is a calendar and a single, framed example of Islamic calligraphy.
The Krakow Post visited the Islamic Centre at the invitation of Dr. Hayssam Obeidat, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Jagiellonian University. Dr. Hayssam and a small group of friends founded the centre in 2011 as a place for the city’s Muslims to pray together and celebrate festivals. He spoke to us about their members and activities.
“We rent the space from the municipality of Krakow. Our community includes around fifty people who attend prayers and take part in our various activities. I believe there about 1,000 Muslims in Krakow and about 35,000 in Poland as a whole,” said Dr. Hayssam.
Krakow Post: What are the centre’s main activities?
Dr. Hayssam Obeidat: We have prayers five times a day and a big prayer meeting on Fridays. Because most of the members of our community work, many of them cannot attend daily prayers and only attend the main prayer meetings on Fridays. We celebrate the Muslim festivals, including Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and others. We hope to soon open a school for children to teach them about Islam. There is also a Muslim women’s group that meets here every Friday. It includes Polish women who have converted to Islam and students from Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries.
KP: Do you find it difficult to keep the tenets of Islam while living in Poland?
Dr. H: I have lived in Poland for 28 years now, and I have never had any problems keeping Islamic religious laws. I think the bigger problem is for Muslim women, because of the hijab clothes they wear. They sometimes feel uncomfortable when people stare at them on the street. Krakow city council, and especially the mayor, were very supportive of our wish to open this centre.
KP: Do you have any contact with the Jewish community or the Catholic Church in Krakow?
Dr. H: We don’t have any formal connections with the Jewish community, but I sometimes meet its members at public events. I have met the Chief Rabbi of Krakow several times. We are very open to dialogue with all religious communities. We have a strong dialogue with the Catholic Church and are invited to their ‘Islam Day’ every year.
KP: How do you feel as a Muslim living in predominately Catholic country? Do you find it difficult to raise your children according to the tenets of Islamic here?
Dr. H: Polish society doesn’t like radicals and we are not radicals. There have been a few, minor incidents, but generally I feel very comfortable as a Muslim in Poland. The children go to public schools but they do not participate in religion lessons, which are not obligatory.
KP: Can anyone visit your centre to experience a Muslim festival or see prayers?
Dr. H: The centre is open to everybody. We sometimes have guests at our prayer meetings – usually school or university students who are interested in experiencing Muslim traditions. Everybody is always welcomed.
KP: Poland’s Constitutional Court recently upheld a ban on the ritual slaughter of animals according to Islamic Halal and Jewish kosher rules. How has this affected your community?
Dr. H: Halal meat is very important for us. This decision has definitely caused us a serious problem. I am willing to join hands with the Jewish community to solve this issue.
KP: Do you feel that Islamic life in Krakow has developed in recent years?
Dr. H: Definitely yes. We plan to hold a festival in the near future that will introduce the Muslim faith to the people of Krakow, and we hope it will help us spread the beauty of our religion to the local citizens.