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The Mosque and the Federation

A conversation with Tarik Benhattat, from the Islamic Cultural Foundation, Geneva.

A large institution in a small-scale neighborhood can become an imposing presence and may have to take some extra effort to become welcoming of its neighbours. This was a message that emerged through a conversation between the director of the Islamic Cultural Foundation in Geneva and Jeremy Pillet, from urbz.

Both the Mosque and the Federation appeared to echo each other when referring to the moment of hesitation that a visitor felt when approaching the entrances of these institutions. This moment of hesitation may come from prejudice or ignorance - of what the institutions represent. Either way, the onus to bring clarity about themselves rests on them. They need to make a special effort to communicate more about themselves.

It took a dedicated Neighbour's day for some visitors to come into the mosque for the first time.

This brings us to the question of effort - the extra drive - the intentionality of creating a sense of neighbourliness. According to anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, a locality emerges through conscious production. It is not simply a given context. For a geographical space to become a local presence, its actors work on actively producing locality, a shared sense of belonging.

We can extend that to the idea of a neighbourhood. It is not simply a juxtaposition of streets, homes, offices and markets. For its buildings to become a neighbourhood the inhabitants need to reach out to each other and intentionally connect as neighbours.

For global spaces, whether the Federation or the mosque, they may be well-known entities in terms of a more universal role they play, but need to also have a friendly face that opens into the local context they are embedded in to become a good neighbour.

When the mosque organized a neighbours day - the effort paid.

The IFRC, with its park project - is doing its own effort to become a neighbour - from simply being a physical presence in the neighbourhood.

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