Algeria inaugurates Bouteflika-era mega mosque
Algeria's Grand Mosque, the world's third-biggest and Africa's largest, hosted its first public prayers on Wednesday, a year and a half after construction was completed. Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, the modernist structure extends across 27.75 hectares, and is smaller only than the two mosques in Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia.
To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project and a symbol of the megalomania of former autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced out in April last year after mass street protests against his two-decade-long rule.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had been expected to inaugurate the mosque's prayer hall - whose maximum capacity is 120,000 - at the event on Wednesday, the eve of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
But Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Djerad and members of the government opened the hall in Tebboune's stead, after the president was hospitalised on Tuesday amid a COVID-19 scare. Tebboune had gone into self-isolation the week before following reports of suspected novel coronavirus cases among his aides.
On Wednesday, Tebboune was transferred to a hospital in Germany "for in-depth medical examinations on the recommendation of medical staff," according to a statement from the presidency. It was unclear how many people were allowed to attend the prayers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The mosque's interior, in Andalusian style, is decorated in wood, marble and alabaster. It features six kilometres of Koranic text in Arabic calligraphy, along with turquoise prayer mats. The mosque aims to be an important theological, cultural and research centre, and the complex includes a library that can host a million books.
Featuring geometric architecture, it also boasts the world's tallest minaret - 267 metres - fitted with elevators and a viewing platform that looks out over the capital and the Bay of Algiers. The tallest such structure had previously been a 210-metre minaret in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.
But it has all come at a cost of over $1 billion in public money, according to finance ministry figures.
The seven-year construction work was completed in April 2019, three years behind schedule, and the company in charge, China State Construction Engineering (CSCEC), brought in labourers from China.
"There is a mosque in almost every neighbourhood," said Said Benmehdi, an Algiers resident in his seventies, whose two children are both unemployed. He said bitterly that he would have preferred for the "state to build factories and let young people work".
Five imams preside over the mosques and five muezzins are responsible for conducting the call to prayer, said Kamel Chekkat, a member of Algeria's ulema association of Muslim scholars. He told journalists that the mosque would be tasked with "regulating and harmonising fatwas with Algerian life".
A multidisciplinary study and research group will examine the Koranic text and "its keeping with the times and above all, with science," he added. "The idea is that the Grand Mosque will be a place for combatting all types of radicalism, religious and secular." (AFP)