In 1995, Argentine President Carlos Menem1, donated 8 acres of downtown Buenos Aires land to the Saudis, so they could build the King Fahd Mosque.
Until that point in history, Argentina had been almost ruthlessly assimilating and/or converting any Muslim immigrant who came in.
Not by Inquistion, but by society, by intermarriage, by music, by the Catholic culture, the Argentines had slowly eroded whatever Islam came in with the Muslim so that Pedro Brieger, an Argentina academic, could write in 2000 that he was cautiously expecting Islam to die out2.
The King Fahd Mosque may have undone that.
The enormity of the donation – and the damage – has to be appreciated fully.
In the 1990s, Buenos Aires was booming. It was one of the most expensive places in the world to live. To donate 8 acres in downtown Buenos Aires, would have been equivalent to donating Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. Yet, this was given freely to the Saudis when Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian-Muslim immigrant parents, visited Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis built an enormous King Fahd Mosque. King Fahd Mosques are sort of a franchise. There is one in Sarjevo, one in Edinburgh, and one in Buenos Airea, along with another (under a different spelling: Fahad) in Los Angeles.
The Mosque became a national Islamic center. Why Argentina would even need one in 1994 is beyond reason. Muslims were only 1% of the population at that time and their numbers were dwindling. Practicing Muslims were under 0.01%. Argentina was Cathoic and not afraid of asserting it culturally.
Since then, the Mosque, and its (CIRA)3 Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic have intruded noticeably into Argentina politics and culture.
President Cristina Fernandez announces the legalization of the hijab in Argentina.
Giving civil rights to a minority is encouraging; but what is troubling is that Argentina’s President is doing it at the Islamic Center and does it behind a CIRA icon of an Islamic Crescent. She felt the need to do it at the King Fahd Mosque and Islamic Center. This is indicative of a growing Saudi influence.
The Mosque is now training non-Arab Argentines in the Arab language. The Mosque and CIRA have been instrumental in the legalization of the hijab (at the same time that France is outlawing it). The Mosque has been instrumental in cancelling a popular Christian-Arab TV program, which infuriated the majority Christian Arab community and caused a minor controversy on the internet.
Prior to the Mosque, Islamic immigrants to Argentina had almost no choice (there were some small societies, but not major) but to Christianize, if not in faith, then in culture. Today, the King Fahd Mosque is thwarting assimilation, and seeking converts.
The enormity of the damage has yet to be seen. It may be merely slowing down the erosion of Islam. But so far, it seems to be agressive, and Argentina may have brought in a hornet’s nest into its capital.
1Carlos Menem was president of Argentina in 1995. He was the son of Muslim immigrants from Syria. He officially converted to Catholicism to meet a constitutional requirement for the president – a requirement which has since been removed; but many doubt the sincerity of his conversion. His wife and one of his sons remained Muslim.
2The number of Muslims in Argentina is decreasing, and this is due to several factors. … This may, however, change in the future with the construction of the new Islamic Cultural Center King Fahd, financed by the Saudi government …
(Source) Muslims in Argentina – Pedro Brieger, ISIM Newsletter, June, 2000
Pedro Brieger, though he noted that Islam was fading in Argentina, warned that the King Fahd Mosque may change things. Apparently, the King Fahd Mosque has started to change thing … not necessarily for the better. It is the outcome of Saudi Money.
3Centro Islámico de la República Argentina