Former footballer Freddie Kanoute leads efforts to build Seville’s first mosque

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A former professional footballer who played in Europe’s top leagues and was once lauded as Africa’s best player is spearheading efforts to construct the first purpose-built mosque in Seville, Spain.

Freddie Kanoute, who represented Mali internationally and played for seven years for top-tier club Sevilla, is behind the fundraising efforts to build the Seville Mosque and Cultural Centre but his connection to the local Muslim community goes back well over a decade.

The “Kanoute 4 Seville Mosque” campaign has raised nearly $750,000 of a $1million target since launching last year.

Organisers say it will be the first purpose-built mosque for Seville in 700 years since Islamic rule ended in southern Spain.

“Football was always my passion, I’ve always liked playing football. It’s become my career. The day I meet god I’m not going to be asked about how many goals I’ve scored in my career," said Mr Kanoute, 42, who grew up in France.

A striker in his heyday, Mr Kanoute was named African footballer of the year in 2007 and also played for Lyon in France, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur in England, and Beijing Guoan in China where he retired in 2013.

Freddie Kanoute (L) playing for Tottenham against North London rivals Arsenal. Getty

But it was his spell at Sevilla from 2005-2012 where he played more than 200 games that is regarded as the best part of his career and he has retained a strong link ever since.

Mr Kanoute believes the city has a “special light, a special energy”.

In 2007 he helped save a converted part of a building in Seville that had been serving as the mosque for local Muslims but was at risk of being sold. He paid $700,000 out of his own pocket to keep the place of worship alive for the Seville Mosque Foundation.

“At that point when I was living here, I saw that it was necessary and that that place was at risk. So I did what I could do to help and support that existing musallah,” he said in a campaign video.

It’s estimated there are some 30,000 Muslims in Seville, in southern Spain’s Andalusia. But organisers warn the majority of Muslims in the city are first-generation immigrants and typically lack funds to help build an Islamic centre.

“Here in Seville… with an ever-growing Muslim community, I think it becomes necessary to have a bigger place,” he said.

A plot of land has been identified for a three-storey building and purpose-built mosque.

Mr Kanoute added: “So now I think it is the time for them to have a more dignified place of worship, but not only also for the whole community at large to come together and especially the next generation so they can not only learn their religion properly but also to understand that the community has to come together and to be a kind of multicultural space of dialogue between communities.”

During his football career Mr Kanoute made no secret of his religion and once refused to play in a football shirt that bore the name of a gambling company as sponsor.

Updated: May 6, 2020 03:27 PM

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