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Muslims in Norway: Value Discourses and Interreligious Dialogue. Tidsskrift for islamforskning vol. 8, 1: 2014, s. 137-161.

Muslims in Norway: Value Discourses and Interreligious Dialogue. Tidsskrift for islamforskning vol. 8, 1: 2014, s. 137-161.
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  Tidsskrift for Islamforskning, The Nordic Welfare State, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2014 137 Muslims in Norway: Value Discourses and Interreligious Dialogue Oddbjørn Leirvik Abstract    This article discusses value discourses among Muslims in Norway in the light of  political frameworks and public debates. It particularly analyses Norwegian  Muslims’ relation to values associated with the welfare state and gender equality, and the role of interreligious dialogue in Norwegian society. Among the findings are, that while generational changes contribute to some young Norwegian  Muslims’ identification with institutionalized Norwegian values and practices related to dialogue and gender, others choose to identify with strongly conservative values, not least concerning gender; and others again, although very  few, identify with Islamic political extremism. In order to understand the socio-political position of Muslims in Norway and prevailing value discourses among citizens who identify themselves as Muslims, it is necessary to  bear in mind some special features of Norwegian society such as the egalitarian tradition, the welfare state legacy and the strong position of feminism in Scandinavia. 1  Another influential feature is the still prevailing state church system which implies that Muslim organizations  —  like other registered faith communities  —  receive financial support from the state. 1   In the field of education, the egalitarian ‘one school for all’ system seems so far to be supported by the Muslim community. Reflecting both Muslims’ priorities, relatively strict policies towards religious schools and the fact that the issue of Muslim private schools is a controversial one in general society, there are presently (2012) no private Muslim schools in the country. Cf. ‘ Sier nei til muslimske skoler  ’ ,  Aftenposten  17 April 2012.  Oddbjørn Leirvik, Muslims in Norway Tidsskrift for Islamforskning, The Nordic Welfare State, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2014 138  Norway may also boast of a relatively strong culture of dialogue, at least between leaders of the faith communities. The climate in public debates about Islam, however, is markedly different  —  influenced by Islamophobic discourses in general society and confrontational identity discourses in some Muslim circles. In tune with the general aim of this volume  —  to investigate the dynamic relationship  between Islamic and public institutions and values (cf. the introductory chapter)  —  I will try to elucidate some relational   aspects of Muslim identity discourses in Norway, as they have developed in the framework of the welfare state and in organized dialogue with Christian and Humanist partners. Islam in Norway Muslims in Norway either trace their Norwegian roots back to labour immigration from the 1970s, or they have come as refugees and asylum seekers from the late 1980s onwards. An estimate built on figures from 2008 indicated that at that time more than 160,000 Norwegian residents were Muslims by cultural background (Daugstad and Østby 2009). With additional immigration during the last few years, this means that Muslims (counted by cultural background) constitute perhaps 3.5% out of a total  population of 5 million. The estimated figure (in 2012) of at least 180,000 ‘ cultural Muslims ’  should be compared with the more exact number of registered Muslims in Norway. In 2012, 112,000 (about 60% of those with a Muslim background) had signed up for membership of a Muslim religious organization. Approximately half of these are resident in Oslo, which means that at least 8% of Oslo’s populatio n (total population: 590,000) are now members of a Muslim organization. The percentage of Oslo residents with a Muslim  background is obviously much bigger. A survey among youth in Oslo, conducted in 2006 among 15  –  17 year old school pupils, showed that 17.6% stated Islam as their religion; up from 13.2% in 1996 (Vestel and Øia 2007:162f). Concentration in certain urban areas implies that certain districts of Oslo have a majority of Muslim pupils in  primary schools.  Oddbjørn Leirvik, Muslims in Norway Tidsskrift for Islamforskning, The Nordic Welfare State, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2014 139 But how should Muslims be counted? Underlying the different types of figures cited above (Muslims by background or membership) one might find different perceptions of what constitutes a religious identity: Is it (as in traditional societies) a matter of cultural  belonging, or (as in modern societies) of organizational affiliation and of personal choice? All these dimensions of religion  —  as cultural heritage, as faith community, as personal conviction  —  should be borne in mind when discussing the social role of a particular religion and its adherents in a given context. In what follows, the main emphasis will be on organized expressions of Islam in Norwegian society, although cultural and individualized aspects of religion will also be considered. Among Muslims who first came as labour immigrants and have later enjoyed family reunion and had children in Norway, by far the most numerous group are those with a Pakistani background numbering 32,700 in 2012. In the same year, Turks made up 16,700 and Moroccans 8600 of the immigrant population. Among those who have come as refugees and asylum seekers, the Somalis (29,400) and the Iraqis (28,900) were the most numerous groups, followed by Iranians (17,900), Bosnians (16,300), Kosovo-Albanians (13,700) and Afghans (13,200). 2  The combined effect of the variety of Islamic immigrants and organizational impetuses from Norwegian society (including the possibility of financial grants; see below) give a high degree of intra-Muslim pluralism. Along with organizational pluralism, one may also observe the competing patterns of folk Islam versus different articulations of normative Islam. Whereas representatives of folk Islam have often tried to retain the totality of their inherited cultural conventions and religious convictions, the second generation has felt the need to redefine the relation between culture and religion. Many of them take pains to distinguish between ‘ culture ’  and ‘ religion ’ , in order to articulate an Islamic identity which is both universal and amenable to re-contextualization. As we 2  Numbers from Statistics Norway,  Oddbjørn Leirvik, Muslims in Norway Tidsskrift for Islamforskning, The Nordic Welfare State, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2014 140 shall see in the following, some striking examples can be cited of the younger generation of Muslim leaders in Norway identifying central ‘  Norwegian ’  values as ‘ Islamic ’ . The growth in Muslim organizational life has largely taken place from the late 1980s and onwards. Whereas in 1980 no more than 10% of those with a Muslim background had actually organized themselves as Muslims in Norway, the relative numbers rose to 50% in 1990 and (as we have seen) perhaps 60% in 2012. Muslim congregations can now be found in all Norwegian counties, with the largest concentration around Oslo. Among the 40 or so Muslim prayer rooms in Oslo, most of which are located in converted flats, factories or office premises, four mosques are  purpose-built  —  all of them by Norwegian-Pakistani organizations. This implies the Oslo is home to more purpose-built mosques than any other Nordic city. Most Muslim organizations in Norway are still ethnically based, but this is slowly changing. From the mid- 1990s, separate youth and students’ orga nizations have been formed, fully independent of the national background of the young Muslims’ parents (Jacobsen 2002). Separate women’s organizations have also been established, and in 1993 the Islamic Council of Norway was formed as a national umbrella organization now comprising the majority of Sunni Muslim congregations in Norway. The political authorities have gradually established a regular communication with the Islamic Council, and from 2007 the Council also receives a financial grant from the government. In terms of religious practice, there is still a lack of reliable sociological data. However in 2006, 27% of the Muslim respondents said in a Gallup opinion poll   that they attended ‘ religious ceremonies together with others ’  on a monthly basis or more frequently. 3 The 3   ‘ TV2: Holdninger til integrasjon og internasjonale konflikter blant muslimer i Norge og den norske  befolkningen generelt ’ , TNS Gallup, Politikk & Samfunn, April 2006 (  Oddbjørn Leirvik, Muslims in Norway Tidsskrift for Islamforskning, The Nordic Welfare State, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2014 141 opposite figure of 31% stating that they never took part in such activities indicates a high degree of polarization among cultural Muslims when it comes to mosque affiliation and religious practice. In a differe nt survey of immigrants’ living conditions from 2005-6, in which different groups were asked to state the importance of religion in their lives (Tronstad 2008), the Pakistani and Somali group are found at the higher end, followed by the Turks, with Bosnians and Iranians at the other end of the spectrum and Iraqis somewhere in the middle. When asked how often they took part in religious meetings organized by faith communities, Pakistanis, Somalis and Turks again placed themselves at the top with Bosnians and Iranians at the bottom end. As regards methodological approaches to Muslim attitudes and practices, the basic question is of course whether Muslim pluralism can really be captured by means of organizational mappings or survey questions about collective practices. Jacques Waardenburg notes that in post-modern societies, religious identities have become increasingly personalized and plural in nature: Leaving apart the influence of political and economic power, already the complexity of modern societies means that people now participate in several identities which are often juxtaposed to each other rather than being put in an hierarchical order (Waardenburg 2000: 159). Immigrated Muslims participate in the post-modern, Western reality of plural identities. Whereas some scholars tend to focus on the problems that young Muslims in Norway face when torn between seemingly irreconcilable expectations, Sissel Østberg has focused on young Muslim believers’ well developed compete nce to handle what she terms ‘ an integrated plural identity ’  (Østberg 2003). Plural identity implies the simple fact that irrespective of religious belonging, people share (or are divided by) such factors as gender, cultural affiliations, musical preferences, a passion for football, or more importantly, political convictions that run right across cultural and religious divides.
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