HELSINKI, March 23 (Xinhua) -- A plan to build a major mosque here using foreign financing has become a national issue in Finland with local elections under two weeks away.
The final decision would fall upon Helsinki Councilors to be elected in April.
Over two years ago, three local Islamic organizations filed an application to the city of Helsinki to be given an area on the eastern waterfront to build a large mosque.
Financing for the 140-million-euro (151 million U.S. dollars) project was said to come from a Middle East country.
The 20,000-square meter building would be erected at a location within two kilometers from the city center and would be twice as big as the neoclassical Lutheran Christian cathedral of Helsinki.
The debate concerns both the alleged security risks in foreign financing as well as the question how a major mosque would be accommodated to the Helsinki skyline.
There are some 80 small mosques in Finland, 30 of them in the capital area. However, only one of them was originally built as a mosque, and the rest have been converted from other use. Currently, some 60,000 Muslims live in Finland.
The proposal to put the monumental building on a piece of land owned by the city made it an issue in local politics.
Decision-makers who are opposed to the plan have suggested that Finland follow the example of Austria in restricting foreign financing of mosques. They also noted the initiators of the plan in Finland had no way of handling such a major project on their own.
Conservative mayoral candidate Jan Vapaavuori said he opposed the construction, irrespective of Finnish or foreign financing, as it would be "too big to be in Helsinki".
Ujuni Ahmed, a local city council candidate of the conservative party, said Helsinki would need "a mosque that looks like a mosque".
Some politicians of Middle Eastern background acknowledged the need for a mosque, but were cautious about the risk that Shiite and Sunni Muslims might not be treated equally in the establishment.
Nasima Razmyar, a Finnish Member of Parliament of Muslim background, told news service Uusi Suomi this week that a mosque that would promote dialogue with other religions should be open to all Muslims. She also asked how the running costs of the mosque would be met.
The plan received high profile backing recently. Heikki Pursiainen, director of the liberal think tank Libera, issued a strongly worded write-up in favor the plan.
He said that in a free country a person was allowed to build any size of church or mosque on his or her own land. "If the project purchases an area at the market price, no one would have the right to complain," he noted.
Pursiainen admitted the real estate leasing policies of the city complicated the situation. "The city should not rent out space to religious organizations at a discount rate. If it does, all religions must be eligible."