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Palais 12 to be transformed into giant prayer hall for Muslim festival
Brussels' Palais 12 at Heysel will be transformed into a giant prayer hall for the Muslim festival of Eid al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) on 28 June.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 Muslim worshippers are expected at the famous concert and entertainment venue on the day.
The gathering, announced by the Muslims.be website, will take place at 7.30 next Wednesday morning and last only around 20 minutes.
It is being organised by four mosques in the Laeken and Neder-over-Heembeek neighbourhoods, in collaboration with the teams from Brussels Expo, the manager of Palais 12 and the Brussels-City authorities.
Given the Belgian capital’s large Muslim population, the mosques were worried that they would not be able to accommodate the expected crowds for the major Islamic holiday and that people would be forced to stand on the streets as they had for previous important holidays.
“The initial request came from the Al Mouahidine cultural and Islamic centre in Laeken,” explained Hassan, a member of the organisation and management of the Al Mouahidine mosque.
“We then asked other mosques in Laeken and Neder-over-Heembeek to join so that we could work together on this joint and collective project, which is a first, so that it is well organised and concentrated.”
Invitations to the Palais 12 prayer are being sent first to the faithful of the four organising mosques, which will close their own doors on 28 June.
“After being overwhelmed during Eid al Fitr, we thought we had to do something for Eid al Adha,” said Hassan.
“Given that it falls just before the summer holidays, and that families won't have left yet as their children will still be sitting their exams, we anticipate that we're likely to receive a lot of people. Hence our request to the authorities to obtain authorisation.”
While members of the mosques are being given invitations, there are no plans to turn away worshippers without one, until the venue’s maximum capacity has been reached.
Emin Luka, chief executive and operational director of Brussels Expo and Palais 12, said there had been no difficulty making the arrangements.
"It's much easier to organise this prayer than a concert," Luka said.
"When the request was presented to us, we were talking about accommodating 5,000 people and a Brussels Expo hall was available. Then the applicants came back to us and said that they would like a larger capacity.
"The only hall with the security arrangements to hold that many people is Palais 12. As the date was available, we agreed."
Luka said the request was not unusual, as the venue has organised religious fairs and exhibitions in the past.
Palais 12 will open its doors and welcome the first worshippers at 5.30 in the morning.
"At 8.00 or 8.15, after the prayer and the Imam's sermon, everything will be over," Luka added.
The car park at the front of Palais 12 will be inaccessible for the event to reduce the risk of traffic jams, but Parking C with its 10,000 spaces on the edge of the Brussels ring will be available for use at a cost of €10.
From there, people can use the footbridge on the Chaussée Romaine to get to Palais 12 and its side entrance, though organisers strongly recommend that worshippers come to Heysel by public transport.
Security will also be provided, with police present in the area.
In Europe, and particularly in the UK, several towns have already organised large-scale events to celebrate a Muslim festival.
Last year, Blackburn Rovers football stadium opened its doors for the Eid al Fitr prayer. Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium hosted an iftar, or breaking of the fast, last March and so did the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City.