Hungarians Take a Walk to Overcome Fear of Muslims

BUDAPEST – Amid rising rates of Xenophobia in the European country, many Hungarians are participating in a walking tour of Muslim mosques and communities to overcome their fear of Muslims.

“I can say that this walk, ‘Muslims who live among us’, is the most popular tour,” Anna Lenard, who runs the Budapest-based tour operator Setamuhely (Budapest Walkshop), told Reuters.

“Most people have never met a Muslim in their life and this … together with what they hear everyday in the media causes a lot of tension and stress in daily life. I think this is the main reason why people are coming now.”

The tour operator runs 30 different walks, taking visitors around the city’s architectural and cultural sites and the Jewish and Muslim communities.

About 80 people go on the Muslim tour per month, the organizers said.

The tour, typically consisting of around 30 people, includes a visit to a small mosque hidden in an old apartment where Muslims come to pray. They time their tour so that tourists arrive when local Muslims are praying.

“I am very interested in everything multi-cultural and in cultures and religions that live among us,” said Nauszika, a psychologist who did not want to give her full name.

“It is the best way to lose your fears if you start to ask the one who you (are) afraid of,” added tour leader Marianna Karman, an Africa expert who converted to Islam herself.

“These people choose to come on these walks because they would like to talk about this problem. They want to fight against their fears.”

The popular tour includes a visit to Budapest’s largest mosque, located in a former office building, as well as a few Muslim food shops.

The tour became necessary after reports from think-tank Terki showed that the proportion of people deemed to be xenophobic and resentful of foreign immigrants shot up to 60 percent this year, rising 19 points from two years ago.

Many analysts note that rising xenophobia rates coincide with the recent influx of migrants who crossed Hungary in their route to richer parts of western Europe.

Hungary is home to a Muslim community estimated at 40,000, according to the Hungarian Islamic Community (MIK).