Royal mosque visit sparks criticism

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Queen Sonja donned a head scarf, opened an exhibit at the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) and visited its newly opened mosque in Oslo this week. The ICC is ideologically tied to a fundamentalist Islamic organization, and now some politicians and human rights activists are questioning the royal visit.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that the ICC confirmed that it gets its ideological inspiration from the fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami. The group advocates an Islamic state in Pakistan, among other things, and is widely viewed as an extremist organization.

Laila Bokhari, a researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI, described Japaat-e-Islami as a fundamentalist and conservative movement. The ICC itself has advocated a man’s right to have four wives, says Hege Storhaug of Human Rights Service.

“Queen Sonja can hardly have been aware over which ideological platform ICC stands on when she spoke to the gender-divided gathering on Monday,” Storhaug told Aftenposten .

Per Sandberg of the Progress Party, which normally defends the royal family, said the queen can of course visit anyone she wants. “But having said that, I would have wished that the queen hadn’t legitimized a mosque with radical views,” Sandberg told Aftenposten . “She could just as well have visited a mosque with more moderate views.”Palace spokesman Sven Gjeruldsen said the queen visited the ICC and its mosque after having received an invitation to open an exhibit there. “In general, I can say that the royal court doesn’t comment on the background or reasons for a royal presence,” he said.

Queen Sonja’s visit marked the first time a member of the royal family had visited a mosque in Norway. She met with Imam Mehboob ur-Rehman at the ICC and several muslim women, was shown around the mosque and officially opened an exhibit featuring Islamic art and culture.

She also held a brief speech, saying that the exhibit “undoubtedly offers insight into Islamic history, art and culture, and I hope it can help build understanding, tolerance and mutual respect.”

The ICC itself claims it works towards “understanding and cooperation among various religions and cultures through dialogue and knowledge.”