Thousands of mobilized Muslims and Christians alike marched through the streets of Oslo on Monday, expressing what one Muslim cleric called “collective disgust” for violent extremism in the name of Islam. “Not in our name,” the crowd claimed in the major demonstration that was called an “historic turning point” as diverse participants “stood together” against terrorism and brutality.
The demonstration brought together the imams of major mosques in Norway and representatives for major Muslim organizations with the acting bishop of Oslo and other Christian clergy, Members of Parliament, the leaders of all of Norway’s political parties, the mayor of Oslo and the prime minister. Many of them made appeals both on the public square of Oslo’s multicultural district of Grønland and in front of the Norwegian Parliament.
Perhaps most important, several noted, was how “ordinary Muslims,” as many called themselves, mingled with “ordinary Norwegians.” Commentators claimed it was a breakthrough for integration.
“Together against terror, together for peace” read the signs carried by many of the marchers. “No IS – Not in my name” read others, referring to the brutal extremist organization now calling itself the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.
The demonstration was initiated just last week by young Norwegian Muslims who say they got fed up by the “extremist propaganda” also spouted by another group in Norway that was roundly condemned through nearly three hours of appeals on Monday, Profetens Ummah. One young woman speaker wearing a hijab referred to their “nauseating idology” while others repeatedly accused the group, which has held poorly attended demonstrations in Oslo itself, of spreading hate, advocating violence and misusing Islam.
“We took back the city from neo-Nazis, we took back the city from a terrorist, now we must take back the city from extremists,” said Yousef Assidiq of the think tank Minotenk in his appeal at Grønlandstorget. He said he’d been spat upon by people associated with Profetens Ummah on his way to Monday’s demonstration, but was heartened to see so many people show up for the protest march. Police estimated the crowd size at around 5,000.
Representatives from Pakistani, Somalian and Iraqi groups were just some of the speakers, as Sunni Muslims also mingled with Shiites. The imams linked arms as they led the march, and the acting Bishop of Oslo Anne May Grasas was given a prominent place among them. Several of the imams spoke, with one urging all Muslims to continue taking a stand against extremism and violence after the demonstration was over. Akhtar Chaudhry, a former vice president of the Parliament, cautioned the crowd not to think “the job is finished when this is over. The work begins today.”
The silent majority spoke up
Many acknowledged criticism that Norwegian Muslims have been too passive, or scared, by extremists, and silent too long. “Finally we have a chance here to express what we believe,” one young woman. Another claimed that “this is not about a conflict among religions, but between madness and reason.”
Top government officials including Finance Minister Siv Jensen and Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who’d started her day speaking at a major oil industry conference in Stavanger, were waiting at the Parliament Building when the thousands of marchers started streaming into Norway’s historic Eidsvolds Plass, the plaza in front of the Parliament. There they listened to more appeals, also from the bishop and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre who said along with many others that they were proud of the big turnout. One young woman commented that she’s so tired of having to clarify to non-Muslims that neither she nor any of her friends and family support Islamic extremists. Others asked to be accepted as both “practicing Muslims and good Norwegians.”
Solberg ended the lengthy demonstration by saying it “warmed” her heart to see so many people and such diversity gathered together for a common cause. She claimed the nation was united on Monday against extremism.
“This is all about what we all believe in: Democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and human dignity,” Solberg said. “We have seen evil. Today we distance ourselves from that, with our voices and our hearts. We stand together.”