In Israel, an Arab village builds mosque with Chechen help

Thu Nov 28, 2013 9:40am EST
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By Dan Williams

ABU GHOSH, Israel (Reuters) - In a Holy Land rich with religious sites, the new Abu Ghosh mosque is rare - as is the hilly village from which it rises.

Bankrolled largely by Chechnya and named after its former leader Akhmad Kadyrov, who was slain by Islamist militants in 2004, the glimmering shrine tells of this small Israeli Arab community's historical ties to the restive Russian province.

Abu Ghosh residents say their forbears were Chechens who came five centuries ago to then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. With the advent of modern Zionism, the villagers were quick to forge an alliance with the Jewish state founded in the war of 1948.

"We were raised to accept and welcome everyone, no matter what their race or religion," said Salim Jabr, the former Abu Ghosh mayor and chief fund-raiser for the $10 million mosque.

Eye-grabbingly nestled just off the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, the building has four minarets - a number typical of mosques in the Caucasus but otherwise unseen in Israel or the Palestinian territories, where one or two is the norm.

The slender spires reach up 52 meters (171 feet) around a gilded dome that sits above a marbled prayer hall capable of taking in 3,000 worshippers. The previous village mosque held only 150, Jabr says - insufficient for a population of 6,500.

Turkish artisans provided woodwork and filigree for the mosque, gratis. There's a contemporary Israeli touch, too, in the roomy, ventilated bomb shelter built into a lower floor.

Yet conflict has not left much other mark on Abu Ghosh, which also has two monasteries commemorating Christian traditions holding that both Jesus and King Solomon passed through here en route to nearby Jerusalem, the latter bearing the biblical Ark of the Covenant.   Continued...

A man walks past a new mosque in the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun