Muslims’ integration into Scandinavian societies has been both similar and different from the integration experiences of fellow Muslims into other European countries.
Lief Stenberg, contributor to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, explains four main levels of integration for Muslims into Scandinavian countries:
- The general integration in order to make Islam and Muslims an accepted part of the Scandinavian country’s way of life – so far, this has not happened due to remaining segregation in the housing and labor markets. There are lingering bad views of Islam and Muslims, mainly among older generations – a view which I find similar to how some view other groups, like African Americans, in the U.S. Stenberg notes that change can only come from both the Muslims and native Scandinavians. Specifically, Muslims will have to reinterpret their religion to work it into existing Scandinavian society, and Scandinavians will have to change their laws to be more accommodating. For example, Sweden is taking a step in the right direction by working towards making headscarves legal in the workplace for Muslim women.
- Political level – so far there is a low level of integration in this area. Muslims generally have little to no involvement in Scandinavian politics, partially due to how the “average” Muslim male and female are portrayed in the media. The male is often pictured as a middle aged guy, living every aspect of his life to Islamic standards; he is passionate about protecting and embracing Muslim culture, so far as to say his brand of Muslim is the right brand, and he is not interested or invested in Scandinavian politics. The female, on the other hand, is portrayed as a convert who wants to be involved in Scandinavian politics and is generally much more secular in comparison to her peers and males (Stenberg, 2002).
- Level of religious rituals – the tension between Muslims and Swedes, specifically, is rising. Stenberg writes, “… In Sweden, Muslims have attacked the Freedom of Religion Act from 1951 because of restrictions on the Islamic way of slaughtering animals” (Stenberg, 2002). Slaughtering of animals is certainly a topic that is controversial in many societies today, but it adds depth to the situation as this activity is part of a religion, not just out of plain cruelty.
- Ideological level – generally, the situation for Muslims in Scandinavian countries is positive. According to Stenberg, Muslims are active in the development of “Euro-Islam.” In other words, generally, Muslims want to separate themselves from political unrest in the Middle East and their home countries, and they want to create a new, “true” Islam in Europe.
The integration of Muslims in Scandinavian countries is an ongoing process that is slow moving, similar to that of Muslims in Spain. Surprisingly, despite the history between Spain and Islam, there is not such a great impact of Islam on modern-day Spanish society. Contributors to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Contreras and Garcia, conclude that it is for two reasons: 1) Spain has only welcomed Muslim immigrants for the past 15 years and 2) Spain has no colonies in the Muslim world anymore. They write, “The disparity of their ethnic origins, circumstances, and timing of their settlement in Spain coupled with the fact of the presence of a well-established Muslim community in Spain… have affected the way in which each Muslim community has lived its religious life” (Contreras & Garcia, 2002). Naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts to Islam have a high level of integration in society, however, the majority, Muslim immigrants who have settled in Spain, have limited integration (Contreras & Garcia, 2002). The Spanish government’s policies and acknowledgement of Islam is for the naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts, not for immigrants. How is this fair?
I agree that these tensions between Muslims and European countries will likely improve, but also become more complex. I believe both Muslims in Europe and native Europeans will become increasingly more passionate about their stances on these complexities, which will likely bring new light to the situation. The Muslims in Europe will likely become closer and more bonded through their similar experiences in attempt to integrate into the various European communities. Additionally, I agree with Hunter’s perspective regarding the old notion where Muslims will one day return “home” is slowly diminishing. I think (and hope) Europeans are starting to take these immigrants seriously, accepting the idea that these people are in Europe with intentions to stay and create a better quality of life. One interesting point that Hunter makes in the concluding remarks section is about the assimilationists versus communitarians. According to Hunter, the assimilationists believe that it is up to the Muslim people to conform to the culture of their host country and keep their religious life completely private and hidden – creating new, hybrid forms of Islam. However, communitarians prefer to stay banded together as Muslims and either slowly integrate into certain parts of society or remain isolated from the rest of society as a whole. The idea of a combination of the two views, with the creation of a modified European Islam is a promising and exciting future for Muslims. I think this is a huge step for several European societies that hold their history, legislation, and tradition so tight. By making way for new religions and new types of people, specifically, the integration of Islam and Muslims, I’m hopeful that the fear of the unknown religion/person begins to fade away.
Hunter, S. (2002). “Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.” Print.