Norway’s crown prince, the president of the Parliament and the leader of the Supreme Court were among those paying tribute to Shabana Rehman at her state funeral on Tuesday. She was a pioneer even in death, becoming the first Norwegian of immigrant background to be so honoured.
“She was a powerful force who changed our society, who changed us,” said Norway’s government minister in charge of culture and equality, Anette Trettebergstuen, after bowing to Rehman’s coffin that was covered with brilliantly coloured flowers. She added that Rehman, who died of pancreatic cancer just before New Year, was “among the bravest among us” as she broke barriers in her fight for freedom for all and challenged “men who want to control women.”
Robert Mood, a retired general who’s served as a UN envoy in the Middle East and later headed the Norwegian Red Cross, picked up on that theme while also speaking at Rehman’s funeral. He noted how he spent a career preparing and leading men into battle but claimed Rehman was “one of the bravest people” he’d ever met. She carried on her own battle, he said, for women’s rights and against “negative social control.” That led to various threats against her, he noted, especially after confronting men in the Pakistani immigrant community who “used religion” in attempts to silence her.
While hailed for her bravery in her fight against repression, others noted that she could also be afraid at times. One of her oldest friends and colleagues, Zahid Ali, said Rehman could be especially afraid of the consequences of things she’d said or done, and had to tolerate the harassment and even death threats directed at her. The social commentator, author and performance artist became steadily more comfortable, he said, on stage. She became perhaps best known for literally lifting the controversial Mullah Krekar off his feet, but as editor and commentator Danby Choi told the hundreds attending her funeral inside Oslo City Hall’s grand reception area, she lifted all of Norway.
She was hailed for inspiring thousands of other women who suffered oppression if they didn’t conform to cultural norms within their families or communities. Parliament President Masud Gharahkhani, who grew up in an immigrant family from Iran and has been actively supporting demonstrations for freedom in their homeland, noted how Rehman used humour as her own weapon and “gave social control a face. Few have done so much,” he said, as Rehman did, even though she was only 46 when she died.
Trettebergstuen noted that Shabana Rehman “gave us a new view of what it is to be Norwegian” as the country continues to emerge as a far more diverse society in which solidarity remains highly valued. Many pledged to continue her work as “a freedom fighter” and preserve her “archive of ideas.”
“Now it’s up to us,” concluded Christian Lomsdalen who led the funeral ceremony on behalf of the non-religious Human-Etisk Forbund (Norwegian Humanist Association).