On Tuesday, a majority of the members of Botkyrka municipality’s city planning committee voted in favour of scrapping a 1994 prohibition on allowing prayer calls dating from before the construction of the mosque, located in the municipality’s Fittja district, the Dagen newspaper reported.
The Christian Democrats were the only party to vote against allowing the mosque to make prayer calls.
The matter was put to a vote after Ismail Okur, chair of the Botkyrka Islamic Association (Islamiska föreningen i Botkyrka) filed a citizens’ petition with the local council in January seeking permission to allow prayer calls at the mosque.
He told Dagen that members of the association decided it was time they took steps to exercise their right to religious freedom in Sweden.
“We’ve lived our whole lives in Sweden; we’ve paid taxes; we’ve been exemplary citizens; we’ve given a lot to Sweden,” he said.
“Now we want to get a little back. Now we want to have religious freedom.”
However, the local council’s decision to allow prayer calls at the mosque is only the first step toward making Okur’s request a reality.
First the entire municipal council and executive board must approve the move. Then the Islamic Association must decide whether to file a request for a permit with local police, or start sounding the call to prayer immediately.
The decision could be of major significance for Sweden, as it could set a precedent for other mosques in the country to follow, according to Dagen.
Stefan Dayne, a Christian Democrat member of the city planning committee who voted against lifting the ban, claimed that members of other parties didn’t vote to uphold the prayer call ban because “they were afraid” of losing the support of local Muslims.
“We have nothing against religious freedom. We’re for freedom of expression. And we have nothing against Muslims. But we don’t think local government has the competence to rule on prayer calls,” he told the paper.
“It’s a message that’s being trumpeted and which can offend other groups and therefore we see it as a matter for the police.”
While it remains unclear exactly when, if ever, prayer calls may be heard emanating from the mosque in Fittja, Okur of the Islamic Association welcomed the city planning committee’s decision.
“It’s great! The prayer call for us is like ringing bells is for churches. It’s important,” he told Dagen.
“There are more than 100,000 Muslims in Sweden. Shouldn’t we also have our religious freedom?”
Okur stressed, however, that the Islamic Association’s initial request was to have a call to prayer once a week, rather than five times a day.
“We have to start somewhere,” he said.