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Islamic Society (01 Jun 2010 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Of Norwegian Imams and mosques

By Farhat Taj

The Norwegian-Pakistanis came as labour migrants in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s from certain specific villages in Pakistan. Most of them came from class-based and hierarchical communities, where there is little participation of citizens in the state affairs. Pakistan has been under the military rule most of the time and many people have little opportunity to interact with anyone in the formal state authority. Moreover, the labour migrants had limited educational skills and in Norway, their Norwegian language command remained poor. Resultantly, they indulged themselves in hard work and for social interaction began living in close proximity with other migrants. For a common place of socialisation, they opened up mosques in rented buildings. They now required imams to lead in prayer and take care of the mosque. This led to the practice of ‘importing’ imams from Pakistan. 

It is important to mention that religious leaders in the sense in which Christianity understands the concept, is alien to Islam. Islam, at least Sunni version, has no organised clergy. The Norwegian government with limited knowledge of this fact supported the mosques and imams in the same way they supported the State Church and Christian clergy in the light of the state-church alliance in Norway. Thus the government helped the mosques and imams to acquire a religious authority and socio-political influence that they never had back in Pakistan. 

In Pakistan most mosques have no state support whatsoever. Every local Muslim community builds and maintains a mosque through donations. The community appoints an imam who is given boarding and lodging out of donations by the community. A higher educational qualification, secular or religious, is not required of an imam. It is enough that he can read the Arabic text of Quran and knows the method to lead the daily five-time Muslim prayers. The imam’s tasks in the mosque are usually cleaning the mosque, making sure that prayer mats are rolled out, that call for prayer is made etc. The Imam has a low socio-economic status and depends on the community for his subsistence. The community provides his family a house near the mosque. Also, he is invited to homes to ritualise the marriage and funeral ceremonies. He is paid for such services. The mosque itself is strictly a place of worship, segregated from the socio-political activities. This does not necessarily mean that people are secular. This means that socio-political issues are handled at other platforms rather than a mosque. 

To elaborate my point, I will give an example: A Norwegian prime minister went to an Oslo mosque to express his condolence to the Norwegian-Pakistani community after the devastating October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. 

In Pakistan, for a similar purpose, the prime minister would have gone to a town hall, a cricket stadium or any other place that could accommodate the intended big crowd. A mosque would be the least probable place for the purpose: prime ministership is too high a status for a mosque. 

Upon arrival in Norway, the imams are elevated to the position of religious leaders by the local Muslim community, and the state provides them all the appurtenances for the position. 

The Muslim communities ‘import’ imams from villages or towns in Pakistan. More often than not, the imams are graduated from madrassas (seminaries), where a centuries-old curriculum is taught. 

Some of these madrasas are accused by media, even by the government of Pakistan, for preaching jihad (holy war) against the non-Muslim and those fellow Muslim who do not fit into their narrow version of Islam. Further, these imams often have no exposure to a multi-religious milieu. Also, the imams often do not speak the Norwegian language thus unable to effectively communicate with the second generation Muslims who grew up in Norway. 

The results are obvious. Political disputes over mosques (in 2006 two groups came to fists at the Central Ahl-e-Sunnat Mosque, Oslo); disagreements between the imams and the Norwegian Muslims (e.g. some Norwegian-Pakistan imams issued a decree that chicken slaughtered in Norway is not halal. Many Muslim restaurant and grocery shops owner and Muslim chicken eaters rejected the decree), and giving an inflexible interpretation of Islam that attributes evils of the world to non-Muslims and the ‘wayward’ Muslims. All this is not helping the inter-religious harmony in Norway. 

Further, some Norwegian-Pakistani mosques conduct faith-based arbitrations in family law disputes. This is a disputed territory linked to the ongoing debates in the West about the compatibility of Islamic family law with women’s civil rights. Some features of the Islamic family law, like polygamy, man’s unilateral right to divorce, rules of property inheritance and custody of child, are not compatible with the women’s civil rights in the Norwegian law. Thus some mosques may be the venues that hinder women’s access to the rights sanctioned in the Norwegian law. In Pakistan, mosques have no role in the resolution of the family disputes, which are resolved at family level or taken to the court of law. 

Moreover, in Norway a mosque is organised like a church. For example, access to a mosque is through membership-an idea clearly borrowed, out of economic consideration, from the Norwegian State-Church relationship. The Norwegian state finances every registered church and mosque at the rate of per head per member. Mosque-membership is a completely alien idea to Pakistan where mosque is a house of God that belongs to all Muslims. Anyone, any time can come to the mosque to pray or stay overnight. A traveller who cannot afford a hotel can stay at mosque and is served food by the community (in towns, this practice is almost disappearing but on countryside, it goes on). In Pakistan most of the mosques have no state funding. In Norway, mosques compete with each other to increase their membership in order to have an increased financial support by the state. 

In addition to this, the mosque, like a church in Norway, is responsible for the burial rituals of its members. In Pakistan, funeral rituals are performed part at home and part at any open space that would accommodate the funeral crowd, and finally the crowd follows the coffin to the graveyard for burial. Interestingly, funerals at the Norwegian mosques have a better gender balance unlike Pakistan where women are not supposed to offer funeral prayers. Muslim women in Norway participate in all the funeral ceremonies at mosques and accompany the dead body to the graveyard. Many people wear black dress and bring flowers to the funeral ceremony. In Pakistan, women mourn a death at home. There is no particular funeral dress and only the close family member arrange for the flowers. Thus the Muslim funeral ceremonies in Norway have been adapted to some features of the Christian burial ceremonies.

Farhat Taj is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at bergen34@yahoo.com


URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/of-norwegian-imams-and-mosques/d/2926


  • The contrast between Norwegian mosques and some of the mosques in Britain with their Salafi imams who preach hate, violence and pedophilia is striking.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin -

  • Limited knowledge of the general Pakistani Muslim public about their own religion leads to this confusion. Having said that, we must bear in mind that since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the US Admin has instigated a "clash of civilizations" and a "West vs Islam" propaganda which actually masks the capitalist expansionist agenda. Religion is a popular tool used by incompetent governments to confuse their public on matters of real concern, i.e. policies and practices of corrupt governments both in the North and in the South, that either siphon public monies or invest it to further the arms race which lines individual pockets. Coming back to the Masjid and its purpose, if you check closely then the purpose of the Masjid is not just a "place of worship" but for community bonding, inculcating the "help thy neighbour" practice and strengthening of the societal fabric so that it can enable societies to protect themselves from social evils and contain "crime'. That is why it is only the Farz or obligatory prayers that are encouraged to be performed in the Masjid. The remaining Salah can be completed at home. Of course I am of the Sunni community and speak in the broadest of terms. But thank you, Farhat Taj, I am an admirer of your writings and appreciate your sincerity and commitment to the cause of humanity and social justice. wassalaam Ayesha Khan

    By Ayesha Khan -

  • Basically they are not imams and they should not be called imams at all,they are MULLAS. They are the product of the conspirators against Islam,the aim was to take the muslims away from the real Islam,QURAN and mulla is successfully doing the job.now we have our own factories throughout the muslim world,its a franchise or chain which we call madrassa,s and there they produce a good bulk of mulla,s everyyearthen they spread in different directions and play the roll against the real Islam and Quran.Come ,unite and work together to deminish them and find the way to reach to the real teachings of Quran.

    By Siaj -

  • “In Norway a mosque is organised like a church”The above gives an impression as if it is only in Norway that the Mosque is organized like a Church. Mosque is a house of worship only today all over the Muslim world and as such is a CHURCH. The difference is only in the quality of the Clergy/ Priests.The problems listed in the article are common, particularly to Muslim Diaspora and the illiterate folks import these Clergy from Religious Mad-rasas, to the detriment of the whole community in the country.The solution is for the enlightened educated Norwegian Muslims ( and there is no shortage of them) to lobby the government not to allow people bellow a certain Norwegian standard of education in the country for church duties and make sure that these priests are not given the status of community leaders.Now that Farhat has identified the problem the remedy should be implemented.A Rashid Western Australia.

    By A Rashid -

  • I wonder if someone ever writes about this problem

    By Ibrahiam Tirmazi -

  • Farhat Taj sahiba ,untiring struggle to educate and teach us become value worth human biengs ,so that no body point at us as pakistani mad cap voilant alliens ,live with dreams to impose 7th century's medivialism and obscurantism through the barrel of AK-47 but would accept us is part and parcel of the civilized human polity .Too difficult but realy very honest and great worthy task ,she is doing for so long . I wish her well and success with good health in her these endeavors of scoicalisation of the too narrow minded mulla vast community.

    By Dr shafik -

  • Sister Farhat Taj,Salam,I agree with you what you are trying to explain the situation of Mosques in Norway, Pakistani Imams are not qualified, even they get 6-8 years study in Islamic Madressah, Dars-e-Nizami, Wafaq-ul-Madares and Tanzeem-ul-Madares. Those nonsense Imams are all over the world. I hope you will agree with my point of view for example : if one child goes to Public or private school, and one goes to Islamic Madresah, Islamic school's student completes 8 years study and gets certificate, and the same time public school or private school's student completes 8th grade, graduated from Islamic Madresah becomes scholar and Mufti issues all sorts of decrees and plays with your religion, even though religion is a sensitive issue, but he has authority to play with. Is this possible that public or private school 8th grade passed can get clerical job ? The Answer is NOT AT ALL !!! why ? because he has to complete his college education before even thinks any Public sector or Govt. Job. Subhanallah ! what a beautiful thoughts of Islamic schools !If you critcise them, they will issue a decree " you are Kafir, you are out of the circle of Islam, Imam is out of the ground should not be criticised. There are so many issues you discussed about one is churches and Mosques are look like the same, really I didn't understand this,probably they get donation from the Narwegian Government, but still Mosques should not look it chruches. Also another Issue that women go to funeral prayer in the mosque, yes women can participate funeral prayer if the funeral prayers is performing in the Mosques not in the graveyard, but funeral prayer is optional for ever man, and not mandatory for women. Wa-salamo Ala Manitaba Al-Huda.regards,Dr. Hafiz Khan (New York)

    By Dr. Hafiz Khan -

  • I do not disagree with Ms Taj, but obviously what she says is common knowledge, not only in Norway but everywhere Pakistanis live. We are obsessed with religion and yet indulge in everything that is not allowed in the faith. Our Islam boils down to visiting mosques and make sure that women are kept a few steps behind men and obey the orders. Tolerance is not taught in mosques and most of the conversations amongst 'men' are the evil influence of western societies. I have lived in the west and appreciate how they respect others, including their women and children. Nobody influences to subjugate children in the name of family and honor. I have visited Norway and found it a great place and very friendly. When we landed and took a taxi, the taxi driver happened to be a paki and did not charge me the fare. When i insisted he said you are my 'elder' and welcome. In the hotel we stayed, another Pakistani did not charge me for coffee and cakes for the same reason (He was in charge of Restaurant).

    By Sharif -

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