Sweden has been a second home to Muslims since the 1960’s when the first industrial workers from Turkey arrived.
Today, they comprise 4.4%, or roughly 300,000 in this country of 9 million – and hail from every continent.
For three days several thousand people converged in the capital Stockholm under the banner of Muslim Family Days, to listen, discuss and reflect on the many changes taking place around them.
Ric Wasserman has the story.
As I walk through the massive exhibition hall, various languages drift in and out.
Somali, Turkish, Malay, Bosnian, Arabic, Pashto…
Young and old are here in the thousands for the Muslim Family Days get together, held during Easter week here in Sweden. The activities at the venue are as varied as the languages.
Families gathered to listen to Salahuddin Barakat, the Imam of the southern Swedish town of Malmö, where the topic was child rearing.
“Be consistent with your children, or else they’ll become confused,” he tells the crowd.
One of the main organizers of the event was the group, Swedish Young Muslims.
Born in Sweden, 27-year-old board member Kaula Shinoty’s parents were granted political asylum from Tunisia. She grew up realizing that she had to struggle to be accepted.
“There’s something called structrual racism,” says Shinoty, “They can be very suspicious of you, more than if I was a Swede.”
Though a very egalitarian society, Swedes may have lower expectations for those they perceive as “outsiders”.
Even if they’re born in the country. Starting from the classroom, foreigners, especially girls with head scarves, are discriminated against, says Kaula Shinoty.
“If I would say to my teacher, ‘I want to be a doctor’, the answer would be: ‘But isn’t that difficult?’ If it was a white Swede it would be: ‘Oh really, that’s really good for you!’” she says.
All the more necessary to be active in the Swedish Young Muslims, says Kaula – to combat discrimination and to help one another. Assert your rights as a woman – it’s important to make inroads, even within the Muslim community.
Kaula is on board of the Islamic Association:
“I’m the only female on that board and I’m the only female that was ever on that board,” she adds.
The Muslim women’s self-defense class drew 30 young women. It wasn’t long before they learned the basics of boxing.
The wave of anti-Muslim sentiment after the terror attacks in Paris and Belgium has put a number of Muslims here in Sweden on the ready for personal defense – if necessary.
Seventeen-year-old Saga got off to a good start:
“I didn’t know we would really learn to box,” she says, “I want to do it again.”
If anything, the Muslim Family Days was a manifestation of solidarity in the spirit of “yes we can”.
It’s time to normalize our presence in society… time to push back Islamophobes, says popular TV personality Behrang Miri.
Clothing designer Mariam Moufid won the Muslim Icon Award for her hijab fashions for a leading Swedish clothing chain.
Outside the event a recent report has shone light on how the Muslim community is discriminated against in the media.
The report revealed the majority of newspaper articles written about Muslims in Sweden cover violence, hate and negative stereotypes.
But what’s the solution? I asked panel member Lamia el-Amri, chairman of the European Forum for Muslim Women – an organization that defends Muslim women’s interests in society.
“It’s important that we organize,” says el-Amri, “We have to learn journalist handicraft and take contact with those journalists that are more neutral so we can show what we see reflects reality.”