Fighting extremism among themselves

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The muslims who formed a ring around a synagogue in Oslo on Saturday are part of a growing movement in Norway that’s standing up to the minority of extremists amongst them. They’re tired of having to be on the defensive, and are now making public and sometimes loud statements that the extremists are hijacking and perverting the Islam they know.

An estimated 1,300 people formed a "ring of peace" around the synagogue in Oslo on Saturday, at the initiative of young muslims. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

An estimated 1,300 people formed a “ring of peace” around the synagogue in Oslo on Saturday, at the initiative of young muslims. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

“It’s important for me as a muslim in Norway to show solidarity with Norwegian Jews,” 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad, one of the organizers of Saturday’s “Ring of Peace” around the synagogue, told newspaper Aftenposten. The event, which sprung out of a social media movement following last weekend’s attacks by an Islamic extremist in Copenhagen, attracted an estimated 1,300 people who held hands and stood around the synagogue, while many others filled the street outside to show their sympathy and support.

“There are extreme persons in all groups,” Arshad said. “Muslims can’t take the blame for everything that goes wrong.” No more than Jews in Norway, she noted, can be held responsible for actions taken by the state of Israel. She, like many muslims and other Norwegians, strongly objects to Israel’s actions in Gaza and its occupation of Palestinian territory, as have many Norwegian Jews, and won’t blame local Jews for them.

The synagogue in Oslo has been a target of vandalism and even a shooting in the past, and is now under armed police guard. Synagogue officials welcomed the young Muslims’ initiative and were pleased by Saturday’s turnout.

It followed a massive demonstration against extremism in Oslo last year that also was initiated by young muslims disgusted by the brutal acts of terrorists and mass murderers in the name of Islam. Faten Mahdi Al-Hussaini, one of the organizers of last August’s march, is now spending a year traveling around the country to speak at schools and take part in public debates about the best way to prevent radicalization and extremism. The 19-year-old woman told newspaper Aftenposten recently that it has been both “liberating and exhausting” to raise her voice against extremism. “It’s a battle but a huge responsibility,” she said.

Arshad has been accused of “selling her faith for a pat on the shoulder from those who Allah describes as disbelievers” by Ubaydullah Hussain, another young Muslim who often speaks on behalf of the controversial group Profetens Ummah in Oslo, which has condoned violence and advocates sharia law. “He hung out in my childhood home along with his family, and then he landed in the wrong milieu,” Arshad told Aftenposten, claiming that she doesn’t fear him or other extremists. “I laugh at messages from Ubaydullah Hussain and don’t answer them.

Young Muslims at the Minhaj ul-Quran mosque in Oslo after extremists attacks on a school in Peshawar that were condemned. PHOTO: Minhaj ul Quran Norge

Young Muslims at the Minhaj ul-Quran mosque in Oslo after extremists attacks on a school in Peshawar that were condemned. PHOTO: Minhaj ul Quran Norge

Other muslim groups in Oslo and elsewhere around Norway are also urging tolerance, with young sufi-muslims mounting efforts “to take back our religion from the extremists.” The sufi-oriented Minhaj ul-Quran Mosque in Oslo, one of the city’s largest, has become a gathering place for anti-extremists. Samina Ahmed, age 26, stood recently under a banner reading “Love, peace, knowledge” at the mosque, distributing literature against terrorism and suicide bombing. She told newspaper Morgenbladet that her goal is to counter “disinformation” about religion that flourishes on the Internet, and prevent more young muslims from being drawn into extremist circles.

“This started a few years ago and we are very active on social media now, where we know many young people are,” said Ahmed, adding that she was part of a group in her teens that “tried to brainwash me. They wanted me to only pray and isolate myself from society. Then I came to Minhaj.” She wants to help others do the same.

More mobilization
Asked whether she feels that muslims are mobilizing against extremism that has led to terrorism, she told Morgenbladet “yes, I feel that’s so. The extreme groups are few. We sufi muslims represent the real majority.” Mosque leaders and the mosque’s youth group Minhaj Ungdom are also making concerted efforts to spread their peaceful interpretation of Islam, with its new website featuring articles entitled “The Road to Good Deeds” and calling their efforts to promote peace “another type of jihad.”

Norwegian government leaders, who also have launched several efforts against extremism, have encouraged local muslim leaders to take more proactive measures against extremism, and are grateful the calls are being heard. “It’s important for us to show our support and gratitude towards the muslim youth in their fight against prejudice,” Jan Tore Sanner, the government minister in charge of municipalities in Norway, told Aftenposten as he stood outside the synagogue Saturday evening. He called the ring around the synagogue “a symbolic and strong demonstration that shows unity and fellowship across religious lines.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund