"Croatia is an example to other countries in terms of Muslim freedom and rights," Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in the town of Sisak on Thursday, inaugurating an Islamic Cultural Center and a mosque named after him.
Erdogan said that when he visited Croatia six years ago, “a message of tolerance and against discrimination, Islamophobia and xenophobia was sent to Europe and the world.”
He said messages “about friendship, brotherhood, peace and coexistence” were being sent today as well. “That’s not by accident, because Croatia is an example of a country in Europe and the world regarding the freedom, prosperity, respect and rights of Muslims.”
“This freedom does not refer only to our Muslim brothers but also to other faiths and cultures” in Croatia, he added, underlining that the new mosque in Sisak was a symbol “of Croatia’s model status and multiculturalism.”
Addressing over 1,000 believers and those who wished to see him outside the Islamic Cultural Centre financed by Turkey, Erdogan said Ankara had never forgotten its “brothers and friends with whom it shares a history, human and cultural ties” in this region.
“In our hearts we never separated Sisak from Amasya, Petrinja from Bursa, Zagreb from Ankara, Sarajevo from Istanbul, and Mostar from Rize,” he added. Erdogan thanked Croatia for the assistance in combating wildfires in Turkey and extended condolences to the families of those killed in Croatia’s Banija region in a 2020 earthquake, after which Turkey sent abundant relief.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said “a monument to culture, modernity, the Islamic community and a modern Croatia” was inaugurated in Sisak today. Croatia, he added, is a democratic country open “to all people of good will, of all faiths and healthy world views.”
He mentioned the Bosniak veterans of the 1991-95 war, saying they “defended Croatia together with their Croat brothers” and that the Sisak “Islamic Centre is a monument to their courage, patriotism, faith in a better tomorrow and the homeland.”
The two presidents were welcomed outside the Centre by many who arrived by bus from other parts of Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably its northwestern Una-Sana Canton. The inauguration was attended by many Croatian ministers and other politicians as well as religious and political representatives from the Gulf countries and other European states.
The head of the Islamic Community of Croatia, Aziz Hasanovic, said the Islamic Cultural Centre was a unique religious facility and that “on the world’s cultural and religious map, (Sisak) is affirming itself as a multicultural and religious centre in which all citizens live in harmony and unity.” He thanked those who contributed to the construction of the mosque as well as Erdogan, “whose name as of today will be carved into the foundations of our community.”
“This Centre is dedicated to him as without him it wouldn’t exist,” he added.
Sisak’s main imam Alem Crnkic said the Islamic Center’s mosque reflected the positive spirit of the city and that it was “a privilege to live and act as imam” in a city in which all citizens were looking forward to the completion of the mosque.
Mayor Kristina Ikic-Banicek said the mosque was a symbol of the victory of Sisak’s Muslim community as well as all its citizens. “The Islamic Cultural Center will enrich Sisak and Croatia because it shows all the richness of this city’s diversity. We must learn from each other.” “A small but very organized community of people who breathe as one can do anything that crosses their mind,” she said about Sisak’s Muslim community. “That’s today’s main lesson, we should have big ambitions and realize them.”
Sisak’s Roman Catholic Bishop, Vlado Kosic, welcomed the opening of the Islamic Center, saying, “Let’s collaborate, let’s be friends. As Pope Francis says, we are all brothers.”
“Muslims and Christians, especially today, should work together in fighting for the values of marriage and family, which is the union of a man and a woman with children, in defending human life from conception, in advocating justice, truth and peace in the whole world,” he said, adding that believers “must not allow policies to manipulate them.”
Kosic said that Muslims enjoyed all religious and national rights in the majority-Catholic Croatia, and that it was expected that Catholics in BiH, where they are a minority in relation to Muslims, should have the same rights and live in equality and unity with the representatives of the majority.