Vienna as the capital city of a multinational, multicultural and multi religious monarchy was a melting pot for centuries. In the last half-century, Vienna attracted people from all over the world. They have brought their culture and customs, and made the city even more diverse. Today, more than 40 percent of Vienna's citizens are foreign born, and more than half have the roots outside of Austria. The biggest religious minority is formed by Muslims, that make around fifteen percent of Vienna's population. This article will be dedicated to the most significant centre for preservation and development of the Islamic culture - the Vienna Islamic Center, that is much more than just a mosque.
Although Islam has a long tradition in Austria that dates back to the 9th century, the first mosque was built in the 20th century. The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the Islamic Center and the first Austrian mosque took place in 1968, in the presence of the Austrian Foreign Minister Kurt Waldheim, the archbishop of Vienna and the ambassadors of the Islamic countries in Austria, who will finance the construction. However, the construction was postponed due to the lack of financial support, until the King of Saudi Arabia decided to finance the project. After ten years, the mosque within the Islamic Centre was opened in 1979.
The mosque has a 32-meter high minaret and a 16-meter high dome. The costs of the interior decoration were covered by the Islamic states and the Austrian government. Besides the large mosque, the Islamic Center includes a library, an auditorium, offices, classrooms for Arabic and Qur'an classes, and the apartments for the staff. It serves as a religious and cultural site of gathering for diplomats, business people, students, workers and all others.
The month of Ramadan is the holy month and the time for fasting and prayers of believers that belong to the Islamic community. It is the time when the Islamic Center shows its purpose.
During the month of Ramadan, the mosque is very visited, especially at night when the daily fast is broken, and the prayers take place. The fasting time lasts during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset. After the sunset, those who have fasted can have their evening meal called "iftar" or "fatoor". This meal is often done for the community, and everyone is invited because it is believed that feeding someone an iftar meal is a form of charity, and it is very rewarding. If you are invited, you don’t pay for this meal. In Vienna, during the month of Ramadan, many Muslim communities organize big public iftars where anyone can join. Such an Open-Air Iftar is held in the street, where lots of benches are placed, and meals are served. Traditionally, three dates are eaten to break the fast. Afterwards, it is the main course, and the dessert comes the last. Some of the restaurants in Vienna offer special deals and set menus for iftar. It is not really a tradition, but it is slowly becoming one. I can recommend you to try it at the Turkish restaurant Kent. There are four of them in Vienna, and the food is very tasty.
There are organized mosque tours from Monday to Thursday so that everyone can visit it. Once a year, the Islamic Centre organizes the day of opened doors when the visitors are guided through the mosque and can gain insights into the religion and everyday life of the Muslim community in Vienna. Also, once a year, the long night of the mosque takes place. From 7 pm until 1 am, visitors interested in Islam are invited to visit the Islamic Centre and participate in discussion groups.
Perhaps not really something that a regular tourist would do in Vienna, but why not if you find yourself in the city during the month of Ramadan, have iftar in a restaurant or an open-air gathering, and visit the Islamic Centre, an institution that is more than a mosque.
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