May peace be upon him who follow guidance.
Dear fellow muslims and fellow arabs. Dear non-muslim and non-arab readers. I hope you read this in good health.
In Denmark, many rumors flourish about what the Arab world is like. People tend to get their information from what they see in the news and a few vacations to Hurghada. The Arab World seems very far away from the average danish man.
But the same is also true for you, my dear arab and muslim brethen. You get your information about Denmark from what you have heard and perhaps about few things you’ve heard in the news – among them being the cartoons and the way the danish government handled it, along with romours about xenophobia, islamiphobia, racism and so on.
Therefore, as an arab muslim living in Denmark, i will write about this subject, so that we all may understand. And may Allah (tt) grand us succes in understanding.
I will arrange the following into 3 sub-categories:
Everyday life experience in Denmark
Government politics of Denmark
The problem and its solution
The below is nothing but my view on the situation.
Everyday life experience in Denmark
The following is of course my own experience.
I have lived in Denmark since the early 90’s, and i have not regretted that i came here ever since. I can with ease recall one of my first cultural experiences with a native dane. I were taking danish lessons, and one day my teacher invited me home for a coffee. He introduced his wife to me, and with arab politeness and a portion of embarassment too, i lowered my eyes and did not look into her eyes as i spoke – the attitude of a chivalrous, arab gentleman 😀 But she took it as a matter of disrespect that i did not look into her eyes, as this appearently is not something nice to do here in Denmark. I felt that she was offended, and i asked her husband whispering, “what did i do wrong?”. And when i found out the answer and i informed him about why i did what i did, he began laughing and he told his wife. She also understood and they were so happy that i tried to offer respect that they invited me to come again the next day.
It might seem like nothing but an old mans memories, but the point of this is that even though she felt offended, she was open to the fact that in my culture this is a signal of respect for her husband. In fact every danish people i met were happy to have me around, they all wanted to do their best to welcome me into their folds. And then the questions began: “What is your food like in Egypt?” and so on, everybody was very interested in hearing about my upbringing and my culture and what made me move to their country.
It started nice, but soon i also experienced discrimination. Not everybody were that nice. But what really surprized me was that when i was harassed by one dane, the other dane would stand up and defend me.
Overall, my everyday experience was pleasant, and when i met discrimination it was always based on my ethnicity, never on my religion.
But then, 9/11 and the war on terror came around. Since then, discrimination based on ethnicity have been on the decline, and since it has been all about Islam. I am no longer a “fucking perker” (perker is a danish insult towards middle-easterners, like the english “nigger”), i am a “fucking muslim”.
Even though i rarely meet discrimination, when i meet it, it is based on religion now, which is not taken so seriously in our society by the native danes. “Religion is something you choose”, many argue. “Ethnicity is not”.
This does not meen that the average dane discriminates muslims.
However, the whole picture changes when one engage in online debates or in the debate in newspapers in general. The tone is VERY harsh against Islam and Muslims, and many young muslims do not know how to respond to such a tone.
On the other hand, too, the tone is getting more and more harsh among the religious muslim community against the native danish one.
This is of course only when one enters the debate. On the everyday basis, it is absolutely possible to live a life without any kind of discrimination, even as an arab muslim in Denmark.
Another issue that i have noticed is that every time a muslim does something, people expect us to condemn it. I have many time experienced at work that when there is a bomb in Iraq, my collegues confront me ans say “So what do you think about that, Ahmad?”. Silence appearently means acceptance, and it is annoying really to have to have an opinion on everything, but compared to all ive got from Denmark (a good job and a pleasant life with future possibilities for my children), i believe it is a price that i am ready to pay.
The Government politics of Denmark
Is the government politics in Denmark against muslims? I dont think so, but i have mixed feelings. I believe one of the main problems is that the Danish government is in a political alliance with the Danish Peoples Party (Dansk Folkeparti), and i do believe that this party is discrimiative towards muslims and islam. A member of the parliament and a member of the government coalition, Martin Henriksen (Danish Peoples Party) refers to Danish muslim converts as “ex-danes” on his website. Other members or former members of the party have been famed for saying things like “Muslims is cancer-cells in Europe”.
Besides the Danish Peoples Party, i do admit that i have sometimes shaken my head over Islam-related things said by danish politicians, but i believe that this is rather misconceptions than anything else. In general, there is freedom of religion in Denmark, and can we afford it, we are allowed to have our own mosque build for the propose.
Yes, it is true. There is no building in Denmark who were build for the propose of being a mosque. In Odense a house were rebuilt for the propose, but the original building was not. Instead, we have a lot of houses who serves as mosques, which works fine i must admit.
So besides the unfortunate that Danish Peoples Party is a member of the government coalition and thereby have a lot of power, i do not believe that the government is discriminative towards muslims. In fact, many state-sponsored institutions (like Kindegartens and so forth) buys and serves halal meat for muslim children, and many with a muslim majority serves only halal meat.
What about the way they handled the Cartoon crisis, then? First, Jyllands-Posten (who were behind the cartoons) is an independent media, and as such, the Danish government cannot do anything about what they write. But that been said, I also believe that the Danish government did wrong in rejecting a meeting with Muslim ambassadors, that do not signal any good. It signals nothing but “we dont care about you”-mentality. But one should know that this was something that the Danish prime minister regretted later on, so i do not believe that this diplomatic move – or any diplomatic moves during the Cartoon crisis – was motivated by hatred against Islam or muslims.
The Problem and its solution
Is Denmark xenophobic? My answer is no, not at all. Islamophobic, then?
My answer would still be that in their essence, they are not. As i understand the danes, they are afraid of religion. They are afraid of something that is “dictated” from above, which the people cannot change should they like it. The reason why Islam is so much in focus is because it plays a MUCH larger role in our identity than christianity does in theirs. Yes, it is true – christianity by name is the majority religion in Denmark, but plays only a small role in danish society.
If asked if they are Christian, many people would respond “well i am a member of the Danish Peoples Church”, which means that they are christians pr. culture, not necessarily by personal belief. And even among more religious christian danes, it is normal just to reject one part of christianity’s theology, which for example among us Muslims would be heretical and heresy pr. definition!
A few years ago, i began frequently visiting a church with a danish friend of mine who in return visited our mosque frequently. I talked to the priest and asked him; “Do christians also belief that Jesus, peace be upon him, was born without a father?”. And his answer was: “Not without a father, his father is God according to traditional christian theology. But if you ask me, i do not believe that Mary was a virgin, i believe that Jesus was born just like everybody else”. And this is fully normal in Denmark, only a few very conservative christians would even mention this deviance from Christian theology!
What would the reaction of us Muslims be, if an Imam said that “Jesus peace be upon him acutally had a father and his name was Yosef!”? We would tell our youth not to take knowledge from him, we would call him a deviator and a heretic, and many would even call him an apostate.
And i think that this actually pretty well demonstrates the difference between our relation to our religion and their relation to their religion.
Of course, the danes needs to understand Islam, and i believe that they are ready to do that, but they also have to understand – and accept – that religion really plays this role in our identity. And of course, dear arabs and muslim living abroad of Denmark, we should understand and accept that their religion do not play this role in their identity at all.
So the main problem, i believe, here in Denmark is that danes do not understand religion, and we fail to understand how they do not understand religion.
Perhaps that gap between us will never close.
But what should be done now, in Denmark anno 2008, where the PET (Intelligence service of Denmark) come up with a new terror-case every third month, where young muslims make riots in the streets, where crime and ethnic polarisation is increasing?
I do not believe that we have to agree on everything. Instead of just focosing on what divides us, we should focus on making sure that as much citizens as possible contribute to the society and work and are generally happy. After all, thats what i find important among us immigrants – many of us actually do not have a job.
Society is doing what they can, but we as muslims should also take a responsibility. I mean look, every time someone does something stupid, we are expected to condemn this act. And we do! We do nothing but condemn. We condemn terror, crime, riding a bus without a ticket, lying, rioting.. there is no limits for what we do condemn. But know that no problem gets solved this way, dear fellow muslims in Denmark.
There is a man behind every crime. In this case, this man is a muslim. If we, as muslims along with the rest of the society, keep condemning him, condemning his acts, how do we expect him to come back on the right track? No one is saved this way. Believe me. Resocializing criminals is what i do for a living.
Instead, our actions should be based on love for our fellow muslim. Do remember that we are brothers and sisters in Islam, and that does not mean that we should just refer to each other as such! No, we should really see this man as our brother, and if asked we do not accept of his acts, but we will never have anything but love to offer our brother, no matter if is he is criminal or not.
So fellow muslims: Right now, the danish are doing more for your muslim brethen than you are. Living as a criminal is not a life of joy. Its a life of sorrow. Do not neglect your responsibility.
May God’s peace and blessing be upon Muhammad and his family and his companions,
May God grant us succes in imitating his noble Prophet, the mercy to the worlds,
And may God grant us succes in encouraging others to do the same.