ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN ICELAND

      

General Information

Republic of Iceland

National name: Lydveldid Island

Land area: 38,707 sq mi (100,251 sq km); total area: 39,768 sq mi (103,000 sq km)1

Population (2008 est.): 304,367

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Reykjavik, 184,200 (metro. area), 114,800 (city proper)

Monetary unit: Icelandic króna

Languages: Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken

Ethnicity/race: homogeneous mixture of Norse/Celtic descendants 94%, population of foreign origin 6%

Religions: Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic Church 2%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4% (2004)

National Holiday: Independence Day, June 17

Literacy rate: 99% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $11.89 billion; per capita $39,400. Real growth rate: 1.8%. Inflation: 4.1%.

Iceland, an island about the size of Kentucky, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and just touches the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most volcanic regions in the world. More than 13% is covered by snowfields and glaciers, and most of the people live in the 7% of the island that is made up of fertile coastland. The Gulf Stream keeps Iceland's climate milder than one would expect from an island near the Arctic Circle.

The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse people in the late 9th century. A constitution drawn up c. 930 created a form of democracy and provided for an Althing, the world's oldest practicing legislative assembly. The island's early history was preserved in the Icelandic sagas of the 13th century.

In 1262–1264, Iceland came under Norwegian rule and passed to ultimate Danish control through the unification of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (the Kalmar Union) in 1397.

In 1874, Icelanders obtained their own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union, as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally under the Danish monarchy.

During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II, British, then American, troops occupied Iceland and used it for a strategic air base. While officially neutral, Iceland cooperated with the Allies throughout the conflict. On June 17, 1944, after a popular referendum, the Althing proclaimed Iceland an independent republic.

Islamic History and Muslims

The Nordic country Iceland is estimated to have between 800 and 1000 members by the Association of Muslims in Iceland. The Association of Muslims in Iceland had 341 members in 2006. The Association itself estimates there are 800-1000 Muslims living in Iceland.

Most of the nation's Muslims live in or near Reykjavík, but there is a small number of Kosovar Muslim refugees in Dalvík. The Association of Muslims in Iceland (Félag Múslima á Íslandi) was founded in 1997. It is headed by Salmann Tamimi, a Palestinian immigrant.

The community has had its own mosque since 2002. The mosque offers daily and nightly prayers, which attracts a core group of 30 individuals, with a mix of local Icelanders and Muslims from all over the world. The mosque also offers weekly Friday prayers for Juma'a. The mosque is located inside an office style building on the 3rd floor in the Áramúli section of Reykjavík.

In 2000 the Muslim Association applied to build a mosque in Reykjavik. However, the city has not approved the plans, saying they are competing.

Nevertheless the number of Muslims in Iceland is growing rapidly. The Muslim Association of Iceland (only for Sunni Muslims) had 341 members in 2005 according to Statistics Iceland. When it was founded in 1997 it had 78 members.

Now the MAI claims that in total around 700 to 1,000 Muslims are living in Iceland. It also claims that growing numbers of Icelanders are converting to Islam, with some 100 converts in recent years. Of course these numbers must be regarded with some skepticism since they come from an association which may quite easily see political benefits in exaggerating them. Muslims in Iceland, for instance, have for some years been calling for the building of a mosque – preferably in the capital city of Reykjavík. Nevertheless, the figures are probably not so far from the truth.( http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/1311 )
 

Islam and Icelanders - Communication-Understanding

By Petrina Asgeirsdottir

In the light of the political development in the world AFS Iceland wanted, as an intercultural organization, to offer an interesting discussion about how to create a better understanding and cultural awareness between the western world and the Muslim world. Iceland is a very homogenic society. More than 90% of the population belong to the Lutherian State Church, approximately 500 Muslims live in the country.

Our special guest was Dr. Irid Agoes from AFS Indonesia who traveled to Iceland all the way from Indonesia only for the weekend. Irid had also meetings with the board and staff of AFS Iceland and had a workshop for volunteers about The Intercultural Dimension in Our world Today. We sincerely thank Irid for joining us for the weekend and for her great contribution to our organization, it was very important for us to have her here.

AFS Iceland held the forum in the Intercultural Center in Reykjavi­k, run by the Red Cross. Three lecturers gave presentations. Mr. Thorhallur Heimisson an Icelandic Lutherian minister talked about Islam in history and present, Dr. Irid Agoes talked about Understanding Islam Interculturally and Mr. Salmann Tamimi, the chair of the Muslim association in Iceland talked about Muslims in Iceland. Salmann is a Palestinan who has lived in Iceland for many years. Then there was a panel discussion which Elin Eiriksdottir facilitated. Facilitator of the forum was Petrina Asgeirsdottir. After the forum AFS Iceland had a reception for the guests.

The forum was very successful, between 90-100 people attended. We did not expect so many and our only problem was that the assembly room was too small and there were not enough seats for every-one. An interesting discussion took place and the people that attended were very happy about this initiative.

The forum was a small step in intercultural relations in a big world which suffers from a lack of intercultural understanding and awareness of the leaders of the world.

New Muslim Stories

"Journey to Light"
by Núr

Bism'Allah al-Rahman al-Raheem

Copenhagen, 7 February 2004

I'll try my best to be clear and hopefully not bore those that read this too much. I'll start at the beginning...

I was born Anna Linda Traustadóttir to Icelandic/Danish parents in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1966 and baptised into the Lutheran Church. My family moved to Vancouver, Canada and then to New York City when I was young. I finished high school at 16. In 1988, I got my B.A. from McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Since then I have been travelling around the world, studying and working. Denmark has been my base since 1990.

In 1997, while studying Arabic in Cairo, one of my English girlfriends, a born-again Christian bought me a portable Bible, with both the Old and New Testaments. I was extremely pleased because I had decided that I needed to know what the Bible was and what was in it. And I felt that I could hardly call myself Christian without consciously studying the Bible.

In 1998, whilst studying at Damascus University, I read the whole Bible, from cover to cover, taking notes as I went along. Once I had completed it, I realised that there were too many inconsistencies, too many things I didn't agree with. Like the Old Testament's portrayal of God and women, not to mention all the things that Paul wrote in the New Testament. And when I read about the holy men, the Prophets, like Noah, Lot, David, etc., I found that I didn't respect them. I love and admire Moses (from the Old Testament) and Jesus (from the New Testament). Having already read the Torah, I tried getting a complete Jewish Talmud, to no avail. I'd always heard that Jews (except for Reformed) do not recognise someone who converted to Judaism. Also, many, though not all, Jews are Zionist (those who support Israel). And I am terribly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, and so, by default, pro-Palestinian. I also wanted a religion that would accept a convert. I dabbled with Buddhism but decided this was not for me, as Buddhists don't believe in God. And I strongly believe in God, always have. Buddhism is still interesting as an alternative way of life. My mum and I used to discuss Hinduism and so I was very interested in it, but there are just too many Hindu gods for me. Therefore Hinduism was out of the question. That, and the fact that you cannot convert to Hinduism.

When I had my son, Andrés Ómar, in October 2001, I was asked whether he would be baptised, and even then I refused. I felt that innocent children would surely be welcome in Heaven, baptised or not. Anyway, how could I introduce him into the Christian religion when I myself did not call myself a believing Christian, though I was born and raised as a Protestant? I didn't believe in the Trinity, in Mary as the "mother" of God, in Jesus as the "son" of God, in Jesus dying to cleanse us of our sins, in Jesus crying out in Aramaic on the cross: "Eli, Eli, lama sabakh-tha-ni?" I mean why would Jesus cry out: "My God, my God, why hadst thou forsaken me?" when Jesus knew he was sent on a mission by God as a prophet of God?

I grew up being one of the most anti-Muslim, anti-Islam people you could ever meet. This is true: I was. I had also been anti-Arab before moving to Cairo to study Arabic (I thought Arabic calligraphy was beautiful). I'd grown up in the States, raised on American movies, which always portrayed Arabs as fundamentalists, radicals, women-oppressors, religious fanatics, terrorists, never normal , average people. The large majority of people who are anti-Arab has never been to any Arab country. The reality there is very different.

In 1999, I went back to Damascus to work at an embassy. There in 2000, I met an engineer named Mohannad. We married soon after we met. To be honest when I married Mohannad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim. Over time, I realised I loved him because he was Muslim. A good Muslim. I had meet many Muslims here in Denmark and in the Middle East, and just like in my life, I've met some nice and not-so-nice Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I thought all those Muslims I'd met were representing Islam. And whenever I asked Muslims questions about Islam, one thing struck me: Nearly everyone claimed to be an expert in Islam, even those who gave me, I later found out, false information. It would have been more prudent just to say: I don't know/I'm not sure. Yet I never judged Christianity or any other religion by its followers. Strangely though, I judged Islam by every Arab I meet, even though 1) not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Druze, Coptic, Alawite, etc. And 2) most Muslims aren't Arab. Muslims can be Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Macedonian, Malay, Russian, Thai, African, Bosnian, American, Swedish, etc., and of course, Arab. I had been raised not to be prejudiced, but I was. It took me a long time to realise this.

It's only after countless hours of discussion, and at times arguments (!), with my husband that I came to be open-minded enough to realise that I didn't have the full picture.

During Ramadan, November 2002, I asked Mohannad whether he would help me read the Qur'an in Arabic. He had little time, but I was determined to read the Qur'an in Arabic with the help of a good translation. When I read the Qur'an, Islam's holiest book, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so compassionate, so feminist! Nearly all the books I'd ever read about Islam, all written by non-Muslims, showed Islam in a negative light. Those people who wrote against Islam sometimes gave partial quotes from the Qur'an, leaving out the rest of the verse, or they would translate the verses incorrectly, on purpose or by mistake. I knew enough Arabic to know that what I was reading was unlike anything I'd ever read.

So much science, so much knowledge that has been only recently discovered. I mean the Prophet Mohammad mentions: black holes, space travel, DNA and genetic science, evolution (transformation and mutation), geology, oceanography, embryonic development, aquatic origins of life... WOW! I had always heard that the Qur'an was basically just a watered-down version of the Bible, but none of this was in the Bible! I wondered how someone over 1400 years ago could have written anything like this! Some of these ideas were only discovered this century. Then I thought, well, Arab scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, cartographers were so advanced for that time, maybe some of them got together and wrote a book, loosely based on the Torah and the Gospels. But then I studied it further and realised that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the arrival of Islam. Then I read that Muslims believe that the Qur'an was given to Mohammad through the Angel Gabriel, and is the continuation of God's word. Muslims believe that parts of the Torah and parts of the Gospels, that speak of Jesus' life, are inspired by God, or "Allah" as God is called in Arabic. Not just Muslims, but Christian and Jewish Arabs also call God "Allah." Muslims revere Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, in fact, all of the Biblical Prophets. It is also mentioned that there are other prophets that came to other nations to help them become better people. It's said that Buddha was one of these prophets, but that he along with Jesus, never meant for people to believe he was superior to God, just that he was a messenger of God. They also believe that the Prophet Mohammad is the last prophet, until Jesus returns to Earth.

It says in the Qur'an that Allah can put a veil over our eyes and a stone over our hearts so that we can neither see nor feel the message of the Qur'an. Only when Allah is ready for us to know it, do we understand. On 12 December 2002, I had an incredible dream that started me thinking and contemplating religion more deeply. Dreams are very important in Iceland and dream interpretation is practically a science! I never thought I needed a religion. Religion fascinated me, but I had believed I was doing fine just believing in God, taking bits from different religions until I got my own cocktail: "Anna's Mix."

In January 2003, I started looking at the Internet, just doing searches like: "Islam," "Qur'an," "Muslim," etc. In March, whilst in Reykjavík, I got the opportunity to speak with one of my best Icelandic girlfriends, a Muslim, and she recommended a really good English translation (the Abdullah Yusuf Ali version), to go along with the original Arabic. In April, I received it and started using it as a supplement.

In May 2003, my Icelandic Muslim friend returned the visit and stayed two weeks with us. We started talking about the Qur'an. I told her that I wanted to translate it into Icelandic. She told me it was her dream too. We agreed we would do it together. We used our time together well, discussing Christianity, Judaism and Islam all day, every day. She had questioned her Lutheran faith, considered Judaism, visited Israel ("Occupied Palestine" as far as I am concerned) twice, and only on her second visit, started to consider the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She got interested in Islam. She had earlier gone a similar path as I, coming to the same conclusions. Back in 1995, when she told me she'd become Muslim, I behaved badly: I was extremely negative. Shame on me for being unsupportive!

Now I found myself seeing myself Muslim. I told my husband about my revelations, and he questioned me at length. He asked me to wait with changing my religion. He told me that becoming Muslim would make my life more difficult, that people who didn't know Islam would treat me differently, that at this time, in the year 2003, and in this world we live in, people would ridicule me. He said I might lose contact with my family and my friends if I took on the Muslim faith. He feared that people that didn't know me so well or that I hadn't seen in a long time, or ever met him, would think he was forcing me to become Muslim. I told him if that were true, we could not have got married, for when we married, I was Christian, and had remained Christian up until then. Also, I argued, people who have known me at all know I am a strong-minded, true feminist/humanist, that I am opinionated, but not narrow-minded, and that no one can control me...My parents have tried for years to no avail!

I decided then and there that if friends and family didn't want any contact with me because I decided to become Muslim, so be it! My religion is mine and I am proud of my research into Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It has taken me years and countless hours of reading and soul-searching to get to this point. My belief in God is something I have always taken seriously and I have never been ashamed to declare this faith, even when others ridicule me for believing in something they say we cannot see. I argue, look around you, how can you not believe in a supreme being that created everything around us. And for those of you that view Islam as some kind of cult, it isn't. It's one of the biggest religions in the world, if not the largest: One in four people on this planet is now Muslim, and it's the fastest growing religion.

So finally, on 4 June 2003, I decided to officially become Muslim so that I could go on Hajj to Mecca. I had been searching for answers for a long time, since my childhood, and by the mid-1990's, I was buying books on different faiths. Deep inside, I imagined I would find the answers for me. I remember the first time I heard the "Azan" (the Muslim call for prayer, when a fellow says "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) from a minaret at a mosque). It was a bright, sunny, February Sunday in Cairo in 1997, so church bells were also ringing, but when I heard the call for prayer, tears streamed down my face, without my realising it. I wasn't Muslim, but it moved me. One of my oldest and dearest friends, a Catholic, was in Beirut a while ago, staying at a hotel and woke up to the call for prayer at 4.30 during her first night in Lebanon. She thought it was so moving that she also cried.

When I read the Qur'an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is right for me. The inspirational beauty of the Qur'an makes me sometimes cry. It's an all-encompassing way of life. No other religious book ever moved me to tears.

The Qur'an is simply put the most complex book I've ever read. The more you read it, the more you both understand and at the same time, question. The Qur'an is meant to inspire you to learn more. Every time you read it, you peel off different layers of understanding. I am not an expert; I never will be. Even if I read from it every day for the rest of my life, I will still learn something new. It's full of mysteries. I still also supplement my Qur'anic studies with Biblical studies like the "Gospel of Barnabas," "The Torah," etc.

I've also since got some new Muslim girlfriends over the Internet. Whilst searching the net, I came across an Icelandic Muslim site: www.islam.is , and I contacted the writer. We started a correspondence. Around New Year's 2004, I sent her a report I wrote entitled "Islam in Iceland 2003," which I am submitting to the Saudi Government, she suggested we three work on the translation of the Qur'an from Arabic to Icelandic (Kóraninn), as she also speaks Arabic. So it seems that we will be three Icelandic Muslim women working on translating the Arabic Qur'an. For those of you looking for a good English version, I've heard the Muhammad Asad translation is also very direct, but I myself have yet to get hold of it.

I did however buy an incredible amount of reading material in Kuala Lumpur last summer. It's a new Muslim's Mecca for books. I really stocked up! My husband, son and I stayed a month in Malaysia. What an incredible place! Of Islamic areas, I had only been to the Arab Middle-East and here was a whole new Islamic world in South-East Asia! The experience was wonderful to say the least. I had always been fond of Islamic art and architecture, and all of Malaysia is both an indoor and outdoor museum! Under the former Muslim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Islam had a revival. He wants to unite all the Islamic countries, not just in a so-called Islamic Union, but he also wants one currency, a gold dinar. What a visionary! Islam needs more men and women like him!

I always try to be positive, so I think it's a very exciting time, the 21st century! If someone like me can become Muslim, there's hope for anybody! The friends that I have discussed religion with recently know that I have become Muslim, and without fail, they have been extremely supportive. I was a bit surprised that they were not shocked. They said they knew one day I'd find my niche (I'd been searching so long), and they were happy for me. Some even call me by my new Muslim name: Núr, which means light. I also still use Anna Linda, because it's the name my parents gave me and it represents part of the person I was for 36 years. Núr is just the continuation of me!

So ends my story: "Journey to Light," a journey which is, in fact, just beginning!

Maa is-salaama wa Allah makum!

Núr


"Road to Islam"
by Amina

My name is Amina and I reverted to Islam on January 31. 1999. This is the story of my road to Islam, as written in 1999, a few months after my conversion.

I was born in Iceland in 1976. My family belongs to the state church of Iceland, which is Evangelical Lutheran (Protestant). However, although religion was always present to a certain extent in my life it never played a very large role in my upbringing. When I was very young I attended Sunday School regularly, I went to summer camps which were run by religiously affiliated organizations and my grandmother used to come to me and tuck me in before I went to sleep and say prayers with me. However, my family never attended church regularly and in everyday life religion was not an issue. In Iceland it is a tradition within the church that you go through “confirmation” around the age of fourteen. By that time you are considered an adult and should affirm your faith and the baptism that your parents did for you at a very young age. When I had to make the decision whether to do this or not I remember thinking whether I should or not, whether I believed enough to do it sincerely or not. My conclusion was that I believed in God and that was more than most others that go through the confirmation do and I felt that if I didn't go through it I would be rejecting God, something that I could not imagine doing. While preparing for the confirmation we had to attend classes with the priest and go to church regularly. I tried to continue going to church after these classes and the mandatory attendance to church ended but somehow it just didn't feel right. Going to church “didn´t do anything for me”. So, for the next years I thought very little about religion and its effect on my life. I would often pray to God but that was about it. I did not go soul searching or research different religions, I was quite content with things the way they were. I mean, after all, I believed in God, wasn't that enough?

Islam has very little presence in Iceland and I didn't know very much about it growing up. In school I was never taught about other religions than Christianity along with a little bit about Judaism in relation to the history of Christianity. Growing up I remember Islam mostly as being referred to as Mohammedanism and Muslims as Mohammedans, and even today people use these words more often than the words Islam and Muslims. I have even seen it several times in the major newspaper in the past month. My knowledge of Islam was thus minimal and came mostly from what I had read and the media. Overall it was not a pretty picture, but despite reading all these horror stories such as Not without my daughter and other similar books as well as the horror stories in the news, Alhamdulillah I did not become prejudiced against Islam and kept my mind open. One of the major reasons for that is probably due to my correspondence with an Icelandic girl who was an exchange student in Indonesia while I was an exchange student in Venezuela. In her letters and after we returned home she told me stories of her life and experience in Indonesia, which was all very positive and showed me a different view of Islam and Muslims than the books I had read and the media portrayed. However, personally I didn't really come into contact with Islam until I went to study in the United States in the fall of 1997. I went to the United Sates on a one year Rotary scholarship program and in my University there was a guy from Egypt, who was a part of that same program. We became very close and through my relationship with him I became interested in Islam. He often used to tell me things about Islam and I'd watch him practice Islam. Little by little I became interested in Islam, I started asking questions and debate Islam with him and then I started to research on my own, first on the internet and then by reading books about Islam, including a a translation of the Quran.

My research started for real last spring and continued over the summer while I was back home in Iceland and then in the fall when I went back to the US to finish my studies here on my own. For a long time the only person I had discussed and debated Islam with and asked questions about Islam was my friend from Egypt, but in December last year I stumbled upon a chat about Islam on the internet where I met some really wonderful Muslims that I chatted with and asked questions and they helped me a lot. Talking to someone else, someone neutral was really important to me. When I first started researching Islam I was very excited and I was discovering so many wonderful things about Islam that I didn't know about and in a way I just got hooked so to speak, I could not stop thinking about Islam and I just wanted to read more and more. But for a long time I was torn, there were many issues that I didn't understand and many that I had a hard time accepting. For a period of time I went through a phase where I tried to find anything negative about Islam, I guess to convince myself that I didn't have to become a Muslim, because to be honest I was terrified and confused and it seemed much easier to just continue living my life the way I had been, than accept the truth and change my lifestyle. I was really confused during this time. One moment I'd feel that Islam was the truth and all I wanted was to submit to God and become a Muslim, but the next moment I would find everything wrong with Islam, it was like in the cartoons, having an angel whispering into one ear and a devil whispering into the other. But finally I managed to stop listening to the “little devil” and see clearly that Islam is the truth and that all I wanted was to submit myself to God and live my life as a Muslim. I was chatting with a Muslim sister that I had met at that first chat in December I, when I decided that it was time to take my shahada. I had already made plans to go to a sisters halaqa the next morning (we were chatting in the middle of the night) and I told her I was going to take my shahada then, but that I wished I could do it immediately. So she decided to see if that was possible and found three other Muslim sisters she knew online and we all met in a chat room and I ended up taking my shahada on the Internet.

Since becoming Muslim I have gone through both very happy times and difficult times. I am continuously struggling with learning more about Islam and how to be a good Muslim as well as trying to keep strong despite negative reactions from my family and friends. All I know is that I made the right decision and I thank Allah for guiding me to the truth.

Islamic Centers and Organizations

The Muslim Association of Iceland,  Ármuli 38, 3rd floor (entrance from Selmúli) 108Reykjavik, ICELAND. Phone: 354-8951967, Email: salmannt@gmail.com, islam@islam.is web: www.islam.is General Activities: The Sunday children school, Women's meetings are held regularly from September to May with occasional meetings during the summer. Tafseer studies.

Muslim Owned Business

References
Islam in Iceland ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Iceland   , October, 2008).
Info please ( http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107624.html ,  October, 2008).
Islam Finder ( http://www.islamicfinder.org/cityPrayerNew.php?country=iceland    , October, 2008).
Islam and Icelanders - Communication-Understanding  ( http://www.afs.org/afs_or/news/local/3416  , October, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Iceland, October 2008.