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Opinion: Saying 'be like us or stay away' won't further integration in Sweden

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Opinion: Saying 'be like us or stay away' won't further integration in Sweden
Fittja mosque in Stockholm already has permission to hold calls to prayer at certain times. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
06:59 CET+01:00
The opposition to Muslim calls to prayer expressed by some Swedish politicians is similar to the problems Jews in Sweden faced in the 1700s, argues Aron Verständig, chairperson of the Stockholm Jewish Community.

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In Stefan Wilhem's new book "Herr Aarons rike" (Mr Aaron's kingdom) which was published last year you can read about the German jew Aaron Isaac, who decided to seek his fortune in the kingdom to the north.

The book chronicles how the ambitious but stubborn Aaron – he refused to give up his religion – succeeded in gaining permission to live in Sweden from King Gustav III himself.

Despite the royal decision, Aaron was subjected to both physical and verbal attacks from Stockholmers. There were fears that the German-Jewish seal engraver, with his foreign religion, would bring instability to homogeneous Sweden. A recurring voice in the book is that of Over-Governor Carl Sparre was was concerned about what could happen when not everyone in Sweden worshipped the same god in the same way. Everything is just so much better when everyone is the same. That was the late 1700s.

Like the Jewish experience for almost 250 years, the right for Muslims to practice their religion is often restricted. The Christian Democrats positioning to ban calls to prayer is the latest. Here we are in 2018: yet another Riksdag party seriously wants to ban the call to prayer at the same time as they clearly point out that "church bells have a natural, special status in Sweden based in tradition and are a part of our heritage. This way of marking ceremonies through a call to prayer has the purpose of proclaiming one religion's spiritual power over a residential area".

It's of course entirely true that church bells have been sounding in our country for longer than the muezzin’s voice from mosque minarets. But this kind of argument undoubtedly harkens back to the opposition to Jewish immigration in the 1700s, when they were also considered to be a challenge to homogeneous Swedish society.

READ ALSO: Banning Islamic calls to prayer won't help integration, Jewish leader argues

The message from the Christian Democrats and its allies is clear: be like us or stay away. Such a message hardly furthers integration. Instead, a more constructive message would be: practice your religion with respect for the law of the land.

Of course we shouldn't allow calls to prayer – or church bells, for their part – to ring out at unsuitable times and disturb those who live nearby. But that's not the issue in question here.

Before the 2010 election the musician Mange Schmidt wrote the song "Flyter" (flow) for the Moderates. In the song there is a line that says "build a mosque baby, build three please baby. Don't let any other asshole crush your idea baby".

It feels like that was more than eight years ago.

This is a translation of an opinion piece by Aron Verständig originally published in Dagens Nyheter.

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