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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Imam Khalid Latif's Reflection on Demark: A Must Read

as'salaamu alaykum

I had the opportunity to visit Denmark this past week alhamdulillah and below are some of my thoughts from the visit that I had written in the morning before my flight. 
I am going to be leaving Denmark in about 9 hours inshallah. Its around 3am here and I am still jetlagged so I figured now would be a better time than any to collect some of my thoughts lest i forget them. I had come to Denmark last May for a couple of days and had the opportunity to get a minimal understanding of what life is like here for Muslims. This time around, my stay was for about 5 days and it was a lot more enlightening.

It’s still remarkable to me how difficult it is to be young and Muslim in much of the world. The Muslim community here now is often referred to as “The Ethnic Minority” . They are made up of immigrants of various backgrounds, including mostly Pakistanis, Moroccans, Turks, Palestinians, and Albanians. The situation as I have observed it here now is seemingly a lot more serious than during my first visit. Aside from the day to day experiences that one would assume surface in regards to identity issues, it seems that isolation and marginalization, in conjunction with socio-economic influences, has lead many young Muslims in Denmark to gain a sense of entitlement and empowerment by turning to the streets. Gang violence, drug usage and dealing, amongst many other things have begun to increase. I have been told that since last august, there have been about 61 reported shootings in Copenhagen and these shootings are becoming more frequent. To give an example, after the Jummah prayer this past Friday in Copenhagen, I attended a janazah prayer of a 19 year old boy who had been shot in the head recently. That evening, as we returned from a program in a town called Odense at 1am or so, we received news of a 25 year old boy who had been shot 4 times in the back. The next day, returning from a city called Århus, we received news of another young man who was shot and killed. All of this took place within the immediate vicinity of where I was staying. This daily violence has raised great concern amongst the general public and has simultaneously given more reason to a society that is already at odds with Islam all the more reason to believe that it cannot be compatible within its respective context.

Aside from the day to day street violence, domestic violence seems to be at a high as well. One of the seminars that I spoke at was at the Danish Police Academy and here I had the opportunity to meet with many of the higher ranking officials in their Police Department. A woman by the name of Susanne Stenberg who works specifically with what they call “honor crimes” (those crimes that deal with young men and women being physically abused for engaging in activity that would violate the cultural honor code of their parents) gave a presentation focusing on her work. One of the most striking statistics that she cited was in the past year about 440 cases of domestic abuse related to “honor crimes” that took place in Denmark had been reported to their police department. If one were to even assume that around 40% to 50% of people reported cases, and that would be an extremely high estimate in my opinion, we could estimate then there roughly 900 to 1000 instances a year of domestic violence in Denmark alone in the Muslim community. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to describe my feelings towards this. If anyone is interested in my thoughts on DV, you can listen to a khutba I gave at the IC on it some time ago here

Through the lectures and workshops I conducted while I was here, I probably met with several hundred Muslims of various ethnic, cultural, and professional background , all of whom called Denmark their home. Frustration is seemingly very apparent. I would not be sympathetic in any way to those who are committing domestic violence, but I can see how the frustration arises amongst those who have turned to the street for a sense of belonging. Its hard for us at times to find a comfortable place in the Muslim community where we can fit in and belong without have to compartmentalize our identities. Either we don’t know how to fit in or we just don’t feel comfortable letting others around us fit in and still be a little different from us. These young Danish Muslims, like many young Muslims around the world, learned many things explicitly and implicitly during their processes of socialization concerning Islam. Most definitely they were shown and taught how to be Muslim. The problematic thing is that they weren’t shown and taught how to be a Muslim in Denmark. Interestingly enough, many of us were similarly taught how to be Muslim as well, but not how to be a Muslim in America.

The immigrant population that came into Denmark differed from the immigrant population that had come into the United States in that many U.S. immigrants came as a mix of white collar and blue collar positions, working as doctors and engineers as well as cab drivers and restaurant workers, while the immigrant population in Denmark came only as blue collar workers. Similar to the U.S. experience though, these immigrant groups established centers that became highly ethno-centric, meeting the immediate needs of the generation that established them, but not always taking into consideration the needs of the generations that would come after. Many of their children have broken dreams and few aspirations as they become more and more disenchanted by being unprivileged minorities amongst a privileged Danish Society while at the same time not knowing how to fit into the Muslim community that they have grown up in.

But amongst all of the confusion, frustration and anxiety, I met people who not only wanted to change things or who spoke about the necessity of change, but were laying down the groundwork for actively changing things. I gave a lecture at the Copenhagen Business School to about 150 Muslim graduate students, most of whom were the children of immigrant workers, and was later on told that the Medical School, the Law School, and other professional schools have even larger Muslim populations and are growing every year. They are looking to education as a key part of the process of empowerment and are beginning to explore opportunities for passing on the same desire for education to those young people who find themselves on the streets. These young men and women are looking to establish social centers, sports activities, after school programs, etc. in hopes of offering an alternative. They are looking to become a part of the social and political frameworks that govern how Danish Society is run in hopes of establishing and strengthening a Danish Islam. All they need is encouragement and support, someone telling them they can in fact change the situation that they find themselves in and that they don’t have to settle, be passive, or indifferent to the way they are perceived by the society at large.

To everyone in Copenhagen, Odense and Århus, my thanks and appreciation for the hospitality that you gave to me, for your openness in sharing your respective stories with me, and the opportunities for growth and development that you presented to me. You have a unique opportunity to be amongst those who define what it means to be a Muslim in the Danish Context. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by.

To everyone back in the States, we have to realize the immense opportunity we have to better the global understanding and perception of our deen. We don’t have the same obstacles that others have and we have to begin to mature in our conversations and our activism so that we can really effectively improve our situation. Alhamdulillah, it might not be bad, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to make it better.

To my community at NYU and my family, people here are making du’aa for you and know much of what it is that you all are doing. Every time I travel I realize how truly blessed I am to be part of this community and I am grateful that you all allow me to work, serve, and be with you. You are helping to set a precedent for people here and inspiring them to do more with themselves. Keep making moves inshallah and don’t be complacent with anything that might be perceived as success.

May Allah give all of us and the entire Muslim community tawfiq in all of endeavors and May He guide and bless us all. Ameen.
 "All our dreams will come true - if we have the courage to follow them." ~ Walt Disney

Imam Khalid Latif
New York University
Islamic Center at NYU
371 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10014

Tel: 212.998.4712

NYPD: New York Police Department
Tel: 212.248.0950
Pager: 917.788.0280


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