Friday 13 September 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Sweden

Muslims in Sweden are said to be about 8.1 percent of the total 10 million Swede population, that is something like 810,000 Muslims living in the country. Although, there have been some connections of the Vikings with the Muslims in the 7th-8th centuries, there has not been any significance arrival of Muslims in the country.  In 1930 census, 15 persons were said to be listed as "Muslims and other Asian faiths."

The emigration of Muslims was noticeable in the 1940s when Muslim of Finnish Tatars origin emigrated from Finland and Estonia. However, Islam began to have a noticeable presence in Sweden with immigration from the Middle East, in particular Iraq and Iran, beginning in the 1970s. The second-largest Muslim group consists of immigrants or refugees from Eastern Europe, particularly from former Yugoslavian countries, most of them being Bosniaks. Besides, there is also a sizeable community of Somalis. As of the year 2000, an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people of Muslim background lived in Sweden, or 3.5% of total population.
Nasir Mosque, Gothenburg [Photo: Wikipedia Commons / Alislam.org]

Sweden has a number of mosques dotted all over the areas where Muslim communities reside. Nasir Moské, Gothenburg, built in 1976 is considered the first mosque in Sweden, which quickly became not just a religious centre but a centre for study, festivals, and many other events for the community. The second mosque, Malmö Mosque, Came up in 1984, and later, the Uppsala Mosque in 1995. More mosques were built during the 2000s, including the Stockholm Mosque (2000), the Umeå Mosque (2006) and the Fittja Mosque (completed 2007), among others. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Libya have financially supported the constructions of some of the largest Mosques in Sweden.

The attitude of majority Christian Swede population has been generally mixed. Although, there have been no Muslims living in areas that now constitute Sweden in the 16th century, yet since then there has been a sort of negativity about Islam that has since prevailed.
A popular painting from the same century depicts Saint Christopher carrying Jesus as a child on his shoulder, saving him from water in which the Pope and Muhammad drown. The painting was aimed at Catholicism, and portrayed the Pope and Muhammad as false prophets. Turks were often used synonymously with Muslims, as a prayer book of Caspar Melissander from 1609 reads, "Sweet Lord Jesus Christ, keep us from the Turk, the Tattar, the Pope and all sects." Decrees during the 17th century eventually made practicing Islam illegal, as well as any other religion outside of the Church of Sweden. In 1734, membership in the Church of Sweden was established as a precondition for citizenship, and any non-Lutheran could be banned from entry into the country. [2]
However, the public opinion towards the Muslims softened with continuous contact to the Ottoman Empire. King Karl XII made exceptions to the citizenship laws in 1718, allowing Muslim and Jewish migrants from the Ottoman Empire the right to perform their religion. But again, attitude towards Islam deteriorated in the early 20th century with the rise of nationalism and Orientalism in Sweden. Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, teacher and mentor of several of the leading Swedish Orientalist scholars, was highly critical of the faith. 
  • Jonas Otterbeck, a Swedish historian of religion, claims that most Anti-Muslim sentiment in the country were derived from an opposition to traditional Islamic clothing such as the hijab. At the end of the 1980s, extremist xenophobic groups began targeting Muslims as a severe societal problem and causing the recession in Sweden’s economy.
  • Håkan Hvitfelt conducted surveys in the 1990s to research the Swedish public's attitudes towards Islam. He found that the majority of Swedes had "a rather or very negative attitude to Islam" and considered Islam "incompatible with democracy, oppressive against women, and expansive" in nature.
And since then, the life of Muslims in Sweden has not been very easy. There have been numerous attacks on the mosques in the country. And a sharp reaction erupted from the locals when Muslims were granted permission to hold a weekly call for prayer. And soon thereafter, there were calls from the Christian Democrats of Sweden to ban mosque from broadcasting call to prayer.
The shuttered down mosque [Photo]

Likewise the attacks on mosques have seen a sharp rise since 2017 by 10 times compared to previous year. The Uppsala University report by Mattias Gardell said 38 mosques or Muslim assemblies had come under attack in Sweden in 2017. Max Stockholm from the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities, who financed the report, told Swedish TV SVT the attacks on mosques and Muslim assemblies is a threat on freedom of religion, which is established in the Swedish constitutional law. [4]

And such news news continue to be reported even today. On banning of calls to prayers, Avdi Islami, a spokesman for the Muslim community in Vaxjo, said thousands of Muslims visit the mosque every year and likened the prayer calls to ringing church bells. "We have a society in which we are different...it's therefore better to think of the differences as making us stronger," he told TT. 
Fredrik Johansson, who grew up in Sweden, has this to say about negativity about Muslims in Sweden: "As can be understood, even if you don’t understand Swedish, around 50% are negative towards Islam. The full study (in Swedish) shows that in almost every population group, at least 40% are negative towards Islam. Most negative are men on the countryside with low education. While Turks mix well with the local population for their not very conservative Islamic views, the majority of Muslim asylum seekers in Sweden have low education, and have little social mobility and are rarely able to integrate. Due to not having “roots” and seeing no future, their children often become either troublemakers or radical islamists in these parallel societies. The Swedish public television is always trying to promote “oppressed groups” such as Muslims. They are happy to show Muslim girls on TV, often with headscarves, but I rarely see any young Arab Muslim men. Probably because the men have the “wrong” values…" [7]

There are fairly large populations of Muslims resident in both capital cities. So long the Muslims walk around the cities and streets without revealing their identity through their attire, they are generally not noticed nor any eyebrows raised. However, women clad in Hijab or body covering with black loose garment are instantly picked up and one can draw negative and verbal, reactions as this is seen as a visible reminder of the lack of gender equality in Muslim countries.

There are no official statistics on the exact number of Swedish converts to Islam, but Anne Sofie Roald, a historian of religions at Malmö University College, estimates the number of converts from the Church of Sweden to Islam to be 3,500 people since the 1960s. Roald further states that conversions are also occurring from Islam to the Church of Sweden, most noticeably by Iranians, but also by Arabs and Pakistanis.

There are a number of organizations that are established in various parts of the country by the Muslim communities to look after their interests and organize community festivals and meeting, and ensure schooling of the Muslim children. The religious festivities like Ramadan and Eids are celebrated and Muslims organizations help organizing these events.

The local youth is specially against waves of immigrants swarming the country. They believe that the immigrants are robbing their rights as government is doling out more to accommodate the immigrants. They also believe that the a people portraying a very different culture in an always liberal Swede society is simply misfit.

Watch the video below and see how the pulse of the society is towards Muslims, specially the immigrants:
I tried to collect some data to give out a point of view of Muslims living in the Sweden, but unfortunately could find any positives to pen here.

Author's Note: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 45 | 6 | 7 |
Photo | For more Q&A about understanding Islam click here
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