Monday 21 October 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Finland

Muslims in Finland constitute a thin minority, numbering approximately 65,000 in a total Finnish population of  5.5 million. Muslim Tartars are the oldest Muslims that came to came to Finland in the late 19th and early 20th centrality. Since the late 20th century the number of Muslims in Finland has increased rapidly due to immigration. 

The new immigrants established their own mosques and societies. In 1996 these groups came together to form a cooperative organ - the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Finland. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 Finns have converted to Islam. The vast majority of these are women who have married Muslim men. However, it would be interesting to note that Finnish women converting to Islam don't see the veil as a symbol of oppression, but as a sign of liberation from superficial beauty, a researcher specializing in religious issues has claimed. In fact Veiled women on Finnish streets have become an increasingly familiar sight.

The idea that the number of converts is rising was shared by Pia Jardi, a proud Muslim since 1986, Helsinki Mosque employee and a collaborator with the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (USKOT). According to Jardi, people are drawn to Islam by its clarity, direct contact with God and rites with transparent meaning.

Islamophobia is one of the major concerns for the Muslims of Finland. Researcher Linda Hyokki – herself a convert to Islam says, "Europe has a problem with religion. As an academic I noticed that there is a lack of research on Islamophobia in Finland. Islamophobia has a lot to do with the phenomenon known as the "racialisation of Muslims". Muslims are treated as if Islam were a race. In this way, anti-Muslim prejudice becomes racism. It employs the same terminology that is used in biological racism, which is why researchers often talk about "anti-Muslim racism". She is of the view that even if you are Finnish born and bred, once you convert to Islam, you become the ʹracial otherʹ because you are no longer accepted into the "original culture". Right-wing politicians have juxtaposed Muslims with a supposed Nordic race.

In an interview, when asked "What kinds of discrimination have you observed towards converts to Islam?", Linda said: During my fieldwork I interviewed both men and women, in an attempt to record their experiences. One girl told me how her mother called a helpline for victims of religion when she learnt that her daughter had turned Muslim, fearing that she had been brainwashed. Another story tells of a girl who graduated from high school as the best student in her year. As tradition goes, she would have been the one to deliver that yearʹs graduation speech. But because she was a Muslim the headmaster wouldnʹt allow her to speak, arguing that the institution didnʹt want a girl with a headscarf to speak for the school.

How to Finns think of religions? Joni-Petteri Kivistö, Member of Liberal party of Finland and a moderate minarchist, says: There is quite lot of prejudice sometimes but not so much open racism and discrimination. Much less than there is elsewhere I would say. Generally Finns tend to see what kind of individual you are. We are very secular state with strong history in gender equality. Those who practice their religion very conservatively, christian or Muslim might face some amount of prejudice. 

Roope Niemi, who lives in Finland, observes: Finland is already home to a sizeable muslim community, and therefore has alot for muslims. For example in Itis (a shopping center) they have Ramadan every year, and in all the big cities they serve halal. Everyone has their right to practice their freedom in Finland. Racism has cooled down over the years, and you will not hear that much it. There may be some cases of racism but they are rare. Atleast where i live in, Helsinki. I dont know where you come from but most services in Finland are provided in Arabic and Somali.

Despite the Islamophobic attitude, the young Muslims are very resilient and instead of Islamophobia having a hugely negative impact on convertsʹ lives and that they were suffering, the Muslims regard it as a test by God – a lesson in patience. They would ask: what ways are there of dealing with discriminatory behaviour other than aggression? Can I beat people with arguments? Instead of buying into the passive victim role, I have found that Muslims in Finland are ready to speak up about the injustices they face, says Linda.

Järvenpää Mosque is the only purpose-built mosque in Finland, which was commissioned in 1942. The Järvenpää Mosque belongs to the Islamic congregation of Finland’s Tatars, established in 1925. However, the call for prayer from the minaret is not permitted.
Jarvenpaan moskeija, Jarvenpaa, Finland [Photo]

Besides the only "actual mosque" as mentioned above, there are also around 80 small mosques in Finland, around 30 of them in converted buildings or private flats in Helsinki, although many of them are referred to as "prayer rooms". The Muslims have always been yearning for one central official mosque for their special days and congregations, but have so far been denied. In December 2017 the city of Helsinki rejected a proposal to build a large mosque financed by funds from Bahrain.

Finding halal foods hardly poses any problem. There are small shops selling halal foods in cities where Muslims live. In Helsinki and Turku one can even find fresh halal meat. So Muslim tourists vising Finland don’t worry about the food.

After the recent NZ massacre of Muslims in two mosques, hate graffiti on the walls of Helsinki mosque really distressed the Finnish Muslims. The words “Fuck Islam” and “Rapers”, sprayed on the outer walls of a mosque in Mellunmäki coincided with the mass shooting of Muslims in New Zealand has caused sorrow, distress and fear among the Muslim community in Helsinki.

Despite all negative attitudes of the Finns, the Muslims continue to live a healthy and all encompassing live, celebrating religious festivals and days. Month of Ramadan is actively celebrated by fasting followed by actively participating in gatherings of Eid ul Fitr. 

Please watch the video below a documentary on Islam in Finland:
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.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 |
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