The new Grand Mosque of Algiers breaks all records for gigantism

The new Grand Mosque of Algiers breaks all records for gigantism

Facing the Mediterranean, the minaret of the Great Mosque of Algiers appears like a rocket connected to the azure blue sky. On this Sunday, February 25, the enormous glass obelisk has only one competitor: an immense Algerian flag, flying in the gardens of the vast religious building which received a visit from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune for its inauguration.

Religious fever and colonial history

This solemn visit marks the opening of the building to the public in anticipation of the month of Ramadan, which will begin on March 11. Many Algerians have expressed, for many months, their desire to be able to pray in what is now considered “the largest mosque in Africa”, the third in the world after those of Medina and Mecca, both located in Saudi Arabia.

If for some this great mosque is a new setting intended to maintain the religious fever which has spread over entire sections of the Algerian population in recent years, for others it is above all a snub to colonial history: it is just a few meters from where Cardinal Lavigerie, former archbishop of Algiers, founder of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, had established a community of White Fathers until 1920. A journalist recalls, for his part, that Originally, the mosque was wanted by the former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to “feed your ego”.“He wanted, like the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca in Morocco, this structure to bear his name after his death”.

Up to 120,000 faithful

Finally named “Djamaâ El-Djazaïr” (in French: “great mosque of Algiers”) – this place of worship of pharaonic proportions breaks numerous records: its rectangular minaret reaches 265 meters, the highest in the world. On its 46 floors, covered in smoked glass, there are restaurants and cafes accessible by numerous elevators. From the top, we have a breathtaking view of Algiers, its bay and the hinterland but also of the entire mosque, built on 20 hectares, as well as its outbuildings: an institute of Islamic sciences, a hotel, a large library and a prayer room capable of holding more than 35,000 worshipers – up to 120,000 if we include the esplanade. The religious precinct is also connected to the Promenade des Sablettes by two cable-stayed bridges which span the expressway linking the Algerian capital to its eastern suburbs.

Controversies over costs

But this gigantism has a price. Launched by former president Bouteflika, who wanted it to bear his name for posterity, the work was started in 2012 by the Chinese company China State Construction Engineering to be completed in April 2019. At least for the minaret and the large prayer room. To date, the real cost of construction, estimated at 1 billion euros at the start of work and which sparked controversy, is not known.

In 2020, the Chinese side had mentioned nearly 2 billion dollars (1.84 million euros). Faced with the controversy, the finance minister at the time, Aïmene Benabderrahmane, who became prime minister some time later, claimed that his department had transferred 898 million euros. To this controversy were added doubts about the compliance of the building with seismic standards, built on land with high seismicity. A criticism brushed aside by the Algerian authorities.

On the political level, they appointed a rector, with the rank of minister of state, to manage the mosque. Mohamed Mamoune El Kacimi El Hassani comes from the Rahmaniyya brotherhood, the most widespread in the country and which, according to the authorities, preaches moderate Islam. A way of “popularize middle-ground Islam”far from “drifts” Salafists, as President Tebboune pointed out.

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