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'Swedish prayer call debate treats Islam like a static religion'

'Swedish prayer call debate treats Islam like a static religion'

Published: 09 Jan 2013 14:33 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Jan 2013 14:33 GMT+01:00

The Swedish debate about the call to prayer treats Islam like a static religion that is wholly resistant to change.

It relies on an image of Islam propagated by both the Counter Jihad movement and by fundamentalist Muslims.

Yet Islam and other world religions are constantly evolving and adapting to social norms. A historical example is that early Christians did not eat pork, but when Christianity spread to areas where rearing pigs was common, the traditions changed in order to adapt to new surroundings.

There are about 400,000 Muslims in Sweden. Only about one in four has access to a religious congregation. In others words, three in four Swedish Muslims don’t even go to a mosque.

Thus it’s a very vocal minority that is asking for the call to prayer. It’s a vocal minority that doesn’t want to adapt to the rest of society.

Multiculturalism is often used as an argument by those who desperately want to introduce the call to prayer in Sweden. But if that’s the argument, let’s look at other multicultural considerations:

If the call to prayer is allowed, what happens to Persian-Swedes who associate it with torture in Iran? What will it mean to women who have fought tooth and nail to get away from honour cultures and associate the call to prayer with patriarchal oppression?

They are also part of multicultural Sweden. Multiculturalism does not include only religious groups.

Swedish politicians need to know more about religions and cultures in order to make decisions in a multicultural society. Tolerance is good but tolerance without knowledge usually leads to stupidity, which is illustrated by the call to prayer debate that erupted following a local council's decision in September to scrap a 1994 prohibition against prayer calls at a mosque near Stockholm.

Multiculturalism in Sweden is not under threat just because there is no call to prayer. The majority of Muslims will continue to worship, just like they always have, without it. It is only the deeply conservative Muslims who expect society to adapt to their version of Islam who will be disappointed.

It is scandalous that politicians in a secular country listen to them, to a vocal minority that has no democratic mandate to represent all Muslims in Sweden.

We live in an era of mobile phones and computers that makes the original function of the call to prayer obsolete. It’s an odd notion that someone needs to scale a roof or climb a minaret to shout out “God is great” in order to assemble the congregation or remind people to pray.

The majority of Muslims are sensible enough to use digital devices for the call to prayer, rather than waking up the entire neighbourhood.

Furthermore, the perceived notion that the call to prayer is an essential part of Islam belongs to an exoticized and outdated view of Muslims harking back to the days of colonialism.

Politicians who fight for the call to prayer have seen far too many Indiana Jones films.

The call to prayer is also, in essence, problematic because it takes place several times a day, every day of the year.

If you want to introduce it you should first of all invite your neighbours to have a dialogue. Another reason to talk about it first is that making such a racket can trigger Islamophobia.

Call to prayer proponents usually refer to the church bells, but many of the churches were built when Swedish society was dominated by the Church of Sweden (Svenska kyrkan), and had weak democratic structures.

Today, however, Sweden is a democracy and its citizens are allowed to have an opinion when a religious institution wants to make noise in their neighbourhood. For example, the municipal environment office in Malmö decided in early 2011 that Saint Andrews (Sankt Andreas) Church had to reduce the volume of its chimes.

This is just one example of how one can confront a noise-polluting religious institution without creating too much drama.

A national debate has sprung up on this topic when it actually should concern the municipalities and their environment departments (miljöförvaltning). It has become a national debate because we still have politicians who do not understand that Sweden is secular and who have bought into the image of a static Islam, the Islam of fundamentalists.

Because the debate makes an issue out of something that does not need to be an issue, it risks legitimizing the vocal minority in the eyes of the majority of moderate Muslims.

If Swedish politicians insist on listening to those who do not want to adapt to society, then Sweden will soon face a ghettoized Islam that time and time again underlines its conflicts with the non-Muslim majority population.

The fact that many Swedish Muslims live in socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods tells us that the call to prayer is not and should not be treated as their main challenge.

Islam in Sweden will never look like Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Sweden has laws that regulate the call to prayer. There will always be people who report it as a noise pollutant to the environment office. There will always be people who protest it because their sick grandma has to rest in the afternoon and doesn’t want to be disturbed.

That they protest does not make them racists. It means that Sweden is a democratic and secular state where nothing, not even the call to prayer, is holy. People want peace and quiet, whether they are disturbed by the call to prayer or a raucous party next door.

A minority of Swedish Muslims and a few ignorant Swedish politicians have hijacked the issue and created a debate that is irrelevant to most Muslims in Sweden.

Let’s pull down the shutters on this debate and let the residents of Swedish municipalities across the country discuss and decide together whether the call to prayer is appropriate or if the religious person should instead use a more discrete tool to be reminded of when it is time to worship.

Persian-Swede Nima Gholam Ali Pour has a Master’s in International Migration and Ethnic Relations from Malmö University (Malmö Högskola).

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by The Local.

Your comments about this article

15:52 January 9, 2013 by Frobobbles
Excellent article, and very sound views.

"f the call to prayer is allowed, what happens to Persian-Swedes who associate it with torture in Iran? What will it mean to women who have fought tooth and nail to get away from honour cultures and associate the call to prayer with patriarchal oppression? "

Sadly enough, militant swedish feminists are not likely to understand this.
16:14 January 9, 2013 by Russ Cobleigh
would christian church-bells be allowed in muslim countries?
16:15 January 9, 2013 by Svensksmith
A well written and sensible article.
19:15 January 9, 2013 by jvtx3232
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
03:15 January 10, 2013 by linnymc
Great article. I like the cell phone idea. Each mosque can message each person when it's time to pray. That way they're not imposing on everyone else. Very logical!
08:36 January 10, 2013 by ameer_r2
Very logıcal and reasonable but stereotpes conservatıve Muslıms as unwilling to adapt to changing times and conditions that make the call to prayer unnecessary and even harmful to social integration,peace and harmony and may be seen by feminists or others as negative.. The writer exaggerates the potential problem to make his case for absolutıst secularısm as in the case of Swıtzerland and the prohıbıtıon of the building of minarets or as in Germany the restriction on the size because of the change ın the traditional church steeple skylıne and the claimed symbolıc nature of mınarets as the conquest of Islam over Christendom,its religion and culture or at the very least a sign of the threat of the growing strength of Islam, The French laice,anti-religious establishment dogma that prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in schools and the facial veil as unFrench and restricting the freedom of girls and women even when voluntarily chosen. This has been extended to Jewish skull caps and Sikh turbans. Even halal or kosher slaughtered meat has come under scrutinity as imposing a religiously mandated choice on the general population when served in restaurants as if this will affect the minds and bodies of its consumers negatively. Though in Turkey and other majority Muslim countries, calendars are available, the call to prayer is given as a reminder but is now done from a loudspeaker which can be too loud for those nearby and not as a beautiful,hauntin, spiritual chant that attracted even non-Muslims in years gone by. When done before sunrise it can disturb the sleep.Many would therefore like to do away with amplifiers and return to the natual human voice. In some areas of the US,the call is made inside the mosque which violates Islamic tradition. If religious freedom does not impose undue economic or social distress, such as the right to pray at work,time off for Friday congregational or holiday worship,then it is allowed as a civil right.

Islamophobes see any accommodation, such as foot baths for mandated ablutions as a concession to creeping shariat and a danger to the supremacy of US law. This vocal minority has a political and religious agenda to marginalize Muslims from society. Religious diversity should be encouraged as enriching society and not dividing people. Peace to all.

Ameer Raschid

USA/ Turkey
13:00 January 10, 2013 by GregAbdul
why would it offend you if someone shouts a few words outside of a building and then goes inside and prays? Don't you see that your perceived need to inhibit us in our prayers is prejudiced? Should someone tell you how to be wife your wife in order to be properly Swedish? Sounds nuts, but that is exactly what you are doing to the Muslims in your country. Live and let live please. That is the true European way. Muslims want to be a part of Sweden, so just give us space to be ourselves and we will find ways to make our Islam particularly Swedish when it needs to be. We should not change our religious practices just to please you. You are not a god.
15:10 January 10, 2013 by ameribrit
"why would it offend you if someone shouts a few words outside of a building and then goes inside and prays?"

If this were the case , then maybe people would be more tolerant of it, but it is not a case of " someone shouts a few words outside of a building and then goes inside and prays" is it!

You are free in my eyes to follow whichever out dated spiritual mumbo jumbo you choose to. I just don't want to have to share any part of it with you. This goes for having to hear a call to prayer, however many times a day, as well as having to tolerate the damn bells from the christian version of a call to prayer. It is all just unnecessary noise pollution to me.
16:48 January 10, 2013 by Iraniboy
A typical narrow minded argument which implies that Muslims in Sweden should suffer since Iranians or some others have suffered from Islam in Iran or elsewhere. This is a very dangerous but common line of thinking. If we follow the suit we have to put the Swedish king in jail since one African king is torturing his people in Africa! Or we should close down Swedish church since one bishop in X has raped children. This kind of argument is both dangerous and naive.
17:00 January 10, 2013 by ameer_r2
Very logical and reasonable but stereotypes conservatıve Muslims as unwilling to adapt to changingt times and conditions that make the call to prayer unnecessary tand even harmful to social intmegration,peace and harmony and may be seen by feminists or others as negative. The writer exaggerates the potentiial problem to make his case for absolutist secularism as in the case of Switzerland and the prohibition of the building of minaretsr as in Germany the restriction on the size because of the change in the traditional church steeple skyline and the cllaimed symbolic nature of minarets as the conquest of Islam over Christendom,its religion and culture or at the very least a sign of the threat of the growing strength of Islam, The French laice,anti-religious establishment dogma that prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in schools and the facial veil as unFrench and restricting the freedom of girls and women even when voluntarily chosen. This has been extended to Jewish skull caps and Sikh turbans. Even halal or kosher slaughtered meat has come under scrutinity as imposing a religiously mandated choice on the general population when served in restaurants as if this will affect the minds and bodies of its consumers negatively. Though in Turkey and other majority Muslim countries, calendars are available, the call to prayer is given as a reminder but is now done from a loudspeaker which can be too loud for those nearby and not as a beautiful,haunting, spiritual chant that attracted even non-Muslims in years gone by. When done before sunrise it can disturb the sleep.Many would therefore like to do away with amplifiers and return to the natual human voice. In some areas of the US,the call is made inside the mosque which violates Islamic tradition. If religious freedom does not impose undue economic or social distress, such as the right to pray at work,time off for Friday congregational or holiday worship,then it is allowed as a civil right.

Islamophobes see any accommodation, such as foot baths for mandated ablutions as a concession to creeping shariat and a danger to the supremacy of US law. This vocal minority has a political and religious agenda to marginalize Muslims from society. Religious diversity should be encouraged as enriching society and not dividing people. Peace to all those who do not oppress and act justly.

Ameer Raschid

USA/ Turkey
17:50 January 10, 2013 by thecritic
Relax people, wait until the nationalists of europe taking over this continent and believe me they will, and they will build you a new mecca here ok?

"The majority of Muslims are sensible enough to use digital devices for the call to prayer, rather than waking up the entire neighbourhood.". Well, this guy has probably never visited paris for sure...in Paris these mus don't wake up entire neighborhood anymore, they're just simply taking over entire neighborhood now, they block the entire neighborhood and use the public streets as their mosques. Yip, these mus have a lot of respect for the countries that adopted them, and we, believe me, we're just love to have you mus here. You are too precious to us, and believe me you deserve more much much more!!! So just kindly wait ok???
19:07 January 10, 2013 by allnotmoney
this article is okay,but i am not having any problem with learning the swedish language,but the only problem i am having is the govt not supporting me just because i am married,i am going to the sfi but it is hard to learn with empty pocket,but still yet i am still struggling to learn it ,it is for my own benefit,Mr America wake man you are not in New York.

welcome to Cold Hell
21:47 January 10, 2013 by jvtx3232
There shouldn't be any Mosques in Sweden anywhere, let alone the filthy calls to prayer. Sweden is for Swedish people, not Muslims.
06:17 January 11, 2013 by Eric1
Christians are becoming fewer and fewer in the middle eastern muslim countries because of persecution. The Swedish "diversity" ministers couldn't care less. They will support these evil haters instead. Soon Christianity will be gone and the Western world will sink into misery and economic collapse. Evil can only exist when good people allow it.
10:28 January 11, 2013 by cogito
"The sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer."

--Barack Obama
15:24 January 11, 2013 by jvtx3232
That's Barack HUSSEIN Obama to you, sir! ;)

Here's another good quote by B.H.O.:

"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." -at the United Nations, September 25, 2012
16:38 January 11, 2013 by bcterry
If islam gets the right for a call to prayer in my neighborhood, then i'll have the right to show up on the street near the mosque with my boom box, and when the intrusive wailing starts, so will my cranked up great jazz and blues C.D.'s, and when the wailing stops, so will my boombox.
17:07 January 11, 2013 by jomamas
If it were one mosque, there would be no debate.

Soon Europe will be covered with mosques, but mostly big American box stores and other bits of globalism.

By 2100, Sweden will be mostly broken-English speaking, Swedes will be in a minority in their own land.

Sweden is abolishing itself.
17:25 January 11, 2013 by Dilia
Many hateful comments, wow. I am against all type of noise pollution, like one comment above states.

Also I love my quiet home to be totally silent, not interrupted by any other sound but nature as it's intended by our mother nature.

However, I hear the church bell every Saturday at the same time, without fail. I hear this also when there is death or some nuptial going on. I think they sound really nice. I think it adds some colour to my day, although it's not the sound of a woodpecker or some swans.

When I was in a Muslim country, the sound of the prayer was nice to my ear. When I visited India, the sound of their Hindu temples also was unique, much longer than the church bell.

I just think there should be freedom of religion, expression to everyone. How the group or person make use of the freedom is another issue. I understand it can be quite rude especially if it is too loud, in the middle of the night. But the calling for prayers are 5 times a day, dawn, noon, close to evening, sunset & one final one, very close after sunset. It doesn't have to be too loud. It does not have to be screaming, soothing instead..
18:14 January 11, 2013 by testUserName
I don't know why we are making fuss out of it. I am a practicing muslim (tax payer and doing white collar job). I and many like me totally understand that Azaan on loud-speakers is not possible in Sweden. As mentioned in the article, we follow apps/paper to know the prayer timing. However, for friends here with extremist views, there are many churches in muslim countries and there bells ring as well. We don't have any problem with that. Peace guys!
19:04 January 11, 2013 by bcterry
"However, for friends here with extremist views, there are many churches in muslim countries and there bells ring as well. We don't have any problem with that. Peace guys! "

Name the muslim countries where there is freedom of religion, where adherents of any religion are allowed to freely proselytize?
19:14 January 11, 2013 by Trenatos
If you move to another country, adapt to their customs, don't try to force your own unto their people.

I don't care or mind Muslims, but I don't want to have to be forced to listen to their religious stuff unless I go to a mosque.

You're in Sweden!

There's a reason you had to move, and Sweden was a better choice than where you were, so don't try to change us or our country!
19:40 January 11, 2013 by thecritic
#19, go suck bones!

#20, "there are many churches in muslim countries and there bells ring as well.". What countries are those...bullsheetkistans?
21:37 January 11, 2013 by bcterry
How about it testUserName, will you answer my simple direct question or run?
00:50 January 12, 2013 by Enjoyourlife
Well, I won't my time to write my mind because the local will delete it. We would certainly pour it out on Al Jazeera...BBC....CNN on facebook. By the way the call to prayer is irtitating. I have lived a mosque. Alaaaaaaaaaaaaakuba like for 30mins.
15:49 January 12, 2013 by godnatt
Good article. Well said.
23:00 January 12, 2013 by bcterry
Why is it, that virtually every time you challenge a post by a muslim with a direct simple question, they quickly run for the exit, and disappear?

It speaks volumes.
09:13 January 13, 2013 by CPO Sharkey
I'm not sure what this article is talking about. It's like a dissertation from a high-school kid trying to make a point about something, but blaming society for failing to make the point for them.

As any parent knows, when your kids attempt to make a point about something they think is important, it's best just to nod your head and say "That's very interesting." No matter how stupid their dissertation is, you shouldn't crush their dreams if they show some talent, however pointless. I'm very happy this article was posted, I found it very interesting.
08:38 January 14, 2013 by ericrufinosiah
Well,it's sad to read and know that Scandinavian countries are going to have

more changes to their cultures,customs and etc as time goes by and I wonder

if it's good or bad.I just hope that Scandinavian countries preserved their thousand

years of history and all their great Viking customs and cultures and be strict to

those who wants to change and imposed their customs and cultures in beautiful

Sweden as well as in Scandinavia.
10:44 January 14, 2013 by Lars Porsenna
CPO Sharkey: I am very happy you posted that comment. I am proud of you.
19:15 January 14, 2013 by Bilal Ajmal Khan
just before anyone judges me: I am a muslim, tax-payer and haven't taken a benefit of a single penny from the state of sweden...like socialbidrag or whatever.

Now the issue: In my opinion, foreigners have to adjust to swedish laws and abide by the rules. I like azan myself but since we are in a foreign country, things have to run the way Swedish society wants.

The second thing is that this decission should be made by the local community of that area and not just a panel of 6 people.
11:34 January 16, 2013 by star10
The only reasonable point in this article is that the sound may disturb neighbors who do not want to hear it (mostly non-Muslims and probably some Muslims too). The same logic applies to church bells of course. The only difference between the church bells and the prayer calls is that the neighbors are willing to tolerate the noise from the church bells but not from the prayer calls. So Sweden is not a country where nothing is holly, as the author argues. In Sweden, the church bell is more holly than the prayer calls. Still, Sweden is a great democracy and Swedes in general are very kind and tolerant to immigrants.
13:09 January 16, 2013 by Stolpskott
When I lived in Istanbul, the dawn call to prayer (Fajr, typically just before 6AM) became my alarm clock, especially as I lived within sight and walking distance of the Hagia Sophia.

As long as the calls to prayer are subjected to the same standards as other environmental noises (the ringing of church bells included), then I personally have no problems with them. So if someone thinks they are too loud, they can complain about the noise.

Objecting to the calls to prayer on the grounds that Christian or other religious calls to prayer in another country is proscribed so therefore the muslim call to prayer should be proscribed is, in my opinion, a vapid and illogical statement - if I visit North Korea, I do not expect to be able to walk out in the countryside and have random conversations with the locals. I do not expect to be able to access all internet pages when I visit China, and when visiting Saudi Arabia, I do not expect to be left alone with a woman I am not related to. When people from those countries come to visit Sweden, they might expect the same cultural norms they are used to at home to apply in Sweden, but I see no reason why I should limit myself in the same way those people do, so I explain the differences to them, and if they choose not to accept those additional freedoms, that is their choice.
16:25 January 16, 2013 by mcwin1
Well written article. Stolpskott also makes sensible points regarding cultural norms and acceptance. There are many mosques in the greater Orlando area where I live, and there presence is no more or less controversial as churches. I do not recall hearing the dawn call to prayer here. I believe it is "noise" ordinance rules that govern this. I do hear church bells though, so I wonder who decides what "noise" is here . Thank you The Local for perspectives from Sweden that afford me an opportunity to expand my knowledge of cultural integration in other countries.
21:23 January 16, 2013 by bcterry
Church bells are generally once a week on Sundays, and not before 10-11 in the morning, it's a huge difference than 5 times everyday starting at dawn in the name of a violent, totalitarian, fascist ideology.
21:22 January 17, 2013 by Kalyissa
19:07 January 10, 2013 by allnotmoney

this article is okay,but i am not having any problem with learning the swedish language,but the only problem i am having is the govt not supporting me just because i am married,i am going to the sfi but it is hard to learn with empty pocket,but still yet i am still struggling to learn it ,it is for my own benefit,Mr America wake man you are not in New York.

welcome to Cold Hell

Why should the Swedish government support you? Get a job... I never got a penny when I moved here instead I brought money from the UK where I worked up funds, I then studied SFI and then Grundläggande for a while but found a job in Denmark in the end which is now where I work,. If you even have two brain cells there are jobs around if you can be bothered to look...

And i do hope I don't hear the call to pray here. If I do i'll just have to open my windows and play heavy metal at full blast.
17:15 January 19, 2013 by philster61
All I have to do is think back to the Muslim call to arms against Denmark a few years ago.And the torching of embassies. For what ? Cartoons.. Muslims should develop a sense of humor, a sense of irony and a sense of perspective before they should expect any respect or consideration from their place of residence. European society is trying to move on from religion and religious oppression. We don't need to be dragged back into it.. Why don't Muslims take advantage of the freedoms offered by Europe and leave their religion behind? As long as religion is there, progression will be halted. Religion poisons everything....
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