HAVANA – Fulfilling an old dream for Cuban Muslims, the government has approved plans for the country’s first mosque with a courtesy of the Turkish government, following a visit by a delegation from Turkey's Religious Affairs Foundation to the Caribbean island.
“We thought the mosque would fit perfectly in Havana’s historic district with the neighborhood’s European architecture,” Yuksel Sezgin, press adviser for Turkey’s Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV), a branch of the country’s top government-run religious organization, told Vocative on Friday, April 25.
The dream mosque was approved following a visit by TDV delegation to the Cuban department of religious affairs last week.
Designed after the famous Ortakoy mosque in Istanbul, the mosque is being built to serve the city's 3,500 Muslims and will be complete within a year.
According to the plans, the Havana mosque will be 32,300 square feet and have the capacity to serve 500 people.
Land for the mosque has already been allocated in the city's Old Havana district.
According to TDV officials, the 19th century design of Ortakoy mosque was suggested to fit in nicely with the architecture of the surrounding area.
With no mosque available currently, most Cuban Muslims pray in their homes or, on Fridays, in the living room of Pedro Lazo Torre, the leader of Havana’s Muslim community.
Luis Mesa Delmonte, a Cuban professor working on Middle Eastern studies at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, says President Raul Castro’s government approved the mosque project as part of Cuba’s wider effort to inch open the Communist system.
“The Cuban government approved the project some years ago, but the idea was to build one with national resources,” Delmonte said over email.
“It seems to me that the very difficult economic conditions the island is facing won’t help in that direction.”
The plan is part of a wider project by the TDV in building mosques for Muslims who live in the Caribbean.
A similar project in Haiti is due to be complete by the end of this year.