Czech event brings atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims to the same table
On 18 August, 30 people of various minority and religious backgrounds gathered in Prague to eat breakfast together. Those participating in the event wanted to show that people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions are able to understand one another.
The event was part of the Czech Government's HateFree Culture project. Coordinator Lukáš Houdek said the breakfast was supposed to be a response to the exacerbated debate in the country about immigration and Islam.
"We wanted to respond to the spreading hysteria and show that even though each of us is from a different environment, we are able to sit together and have breakfast. We just want to show that it works," he said.
The breakfast was also attended by the Kuwaiti and South African Ambassadors to the Czech Republic. The event took place at Studio Alta in Prague's Holešovice quarter.
Those attending brought their own dishes. Participants were able to partake of apple strudel, sweet Indian noodles, pakora (fried onion rings in batter), savory and sweet pies, or traditional Czech open-faced canapés.
Young Czech Muslims say they are bothered by the hateful invective on social networking sites that they see against Islam or against refugees. "The Czech Republic has a concept of freedom in which anyone can say whatever they want, whether it's negative or positive. It's essential to preserve this, but there should be some decency," said breakfast participant Ondřej Adamík.
According to Lenka Ahmed Balická, who wears a headscarf, the most hateful, worst reactions are posted to Facebook. She said that when people are face to face with someone, their reactions are milder.
However, she also said she was accustomed to receiving unfriendly glances. "One lady even got up from sitting beside me in the metro and went into the other car," the Czech Muslim describes.
Balická said people in the Czech Republic do not know much about Islam. "There is a widespread opinion here that every Arab is also a Muslim and that every Muslim must also be an Arab. No one ever presumes you will know how to speak Czech," she said.
However, she also said that she feels the unfriendly atmosphere is beginning to slowly change. "The more exacerbated the situation gets, the more I notice the positive reactions as well. It's already slowly disintegrating, it's reached its peak. People are slowly beginning to change," the young Muslim woman said.
Those attending the event wanted to have breakfast together as proof of the possibility of mutual understanding. Adamík confirmed Balická's sense of hope.
He believes the number of people who are actually interested in Islam is growing. A "wave of conversion" is rising, he said.
Lucie Kašiarová, the director of Studio Alta, said she was also bothered by the exacerbated discussions of Islam and refugees in the Czech Republic. "I don't know anything about this problem. All I know is that everyone has gone nuts. As a Slovak, I feel uprooted here. I am an artist, and artists usually respond to situations, but now I don't know how to respond. I don't want to find out about all of this just through Facebook," she said.
Young representatives of the Czech Muslim community would like people not to get their information about Islam just from the tense debates in the media or on social networking sites, but for them to meet Muslims in person. "We want to communicate. People should feel free to come to the mosque, it's open," Balická said.
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