A voice for newcomers in Sweden

'Sweden's values are very similar to Islam'

Photo: Tomislav Stjepic/Migrationsverket

Published: 19.Aug.2016 08:22 hrs

Being a Muslim hasn’t hampered Zain Elabdin’s attempts to integrate. In fact, this 26-year-old Syrian dentist sees lots of similarities between Islam and Swedish culture.

Two years ago Zain Elabdin left the Isis stronghold of Raqqa and sought asylum in Sweden. He wondered if he’d find it difficult to adapt to life in one of the world’s most secular countries. But that hasn’t been the case at all. 

“Being from a Middle Eastern or an Islamic background doesn’t mean you’re incompatible with Western life,” he says. 

Once he had started learning Swedish, no cultural hurdles seemed insurmountable. If anything, he found that the Swedish way of life was a lot more familiar than he had expected. 

He attributes this in part to the Law of Jante, a fictional codification of typically Scandinavian ways of thinking in which the collective always takes precedence over the individual.

“In Islam we have numerous hadiths that talk about the same rules as the Law of Jante. I‘ve discovered how similar the ‘Scandinavian commandments’ are to the rules of morality in Islam. The moral framework is very similar to ours.” 

By selling him to be himself, Sweden helped him gain a new culture without requiring him to lose his old one, he says. 

“Being a Muslim wasn’t at any point a barrier against my integration: I built relationships, and now I have a Swedish family.”

And nobody raises an eyebrow if he doesn’t guzzle a few snaps at the crayfish party. 

“I don’t mind if my friends drink alcohol or eat pork, why would they mind when I refuse? This is freedom: everyone has the right to choose what they want. 

“For me these details shouldn’t be controversial at all; what should matter I think is respect for the law, and for others in the community.”

At the same time, he thinks Muslim newcomers to Sweden should respect long-standing  cultural traditions, such as shaking hands with women.  

“Let’s look at it the other way: If a Swedish woman travelled to an Islamic country, she would be asked to respect the cultural codes. She might be asked to dress with reserve, and if she didn’t, that could be considered offensive.

“Therefore, we need to respect their customs and culture, and follow their way of greetings, because it is a societal practice and an integral part of Sweden’s traditions.” 

Instead we should be judged on our achievements and how we contribute to society, he believes.

Note: Zain Elabdin's story is also featured in MIG Talks, a a joint communications effort initiated by the Swedish Migration Agency. Read more here (in Swedish)

More Stories

Ratiba says living in Sweden will "give a new meaning" to her life.

Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens

Ratiba Hanoush, 28, left Syria for Turkey in 2012 before arriving in Sweden last year. She admits that she still feels like an outsider, but explains why she is happier here than at home. READ
A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do. READ
There's something fishy about the human jawbone – it has its origins in the placodermi, a jowly species of fish that lived 400 million years ago, Swedish and Chinese researchers say. READ
An arson attack in Malmö that caused only minor damage and was barely reported in the media has been claimed by terror group Isis. READ
This tasty cake is an autumn staple in Swedish cafés. Why not make it yourself! READ
Justus and Emma

A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage

Closeness, selflessness, and pleasure; falling in love is a strange but wonderful human experience. READ
The social media giant removed a breast cancer awareness video because it deemed the images "offensive," according to the Swedish Cancer Society. READ
Anna-Lena and Johan designed and built their home with tall beautiful windows, a smart heating system, and a separate section for their greyhounds. READ
The 300kg haul was found by in a truck which drove off a ferry in Karlskrona. READ

'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'

Syrian programmer Samer Malatialy got an IT job after just over a year in Sweden. His new homeland has all the ingredients to be a global startub hub, he believes, but it needs to embrace more foreign talent and fix a couple of serious bottlenecks. READ