Islam in Sweden

History

During the eighteenth century, Sweden formed an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. This, coupled with the fact that the Swedish king Carl XII lived under Ottoman protection from 1709 to 1714, made the Swedes interested in Islam. Soon, Sweden granted freedom of worship to Muslims. During the eighteenth century, many dissertations about Islam were written at Swedish universities.

The Baltic Tatars were the first Muslim group in modern Sweden. The faith arrived in the country primarily through immigration from countries with large Muslim populations (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Somalia) in the late 20th century. Most Muslims in Sweden are either immigrants or descendants of those immigrants. The majority of them are from the Middle East, especially Iraq and Iran. The second largest Muslim group consists of immigrants or refugees from former Yugoslavia, most of them Bosniaks. There is also a sizeable community of Somalis. The second largest Arab group are Moroccans, but not all Muslims  from Iraq or Morocco are Arabs; among them are Kurds and Berbers, too.

There are several mosques in Sweden with notable ones in Malmö and Stockholm.

In recent years Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, has come to play an important role among Swedish Muslims, especially among the younger generation. The major Sufi orders exist in Sweden, such as the Shadhiliyya, the Naqshbandiyya and the Nimatullahi.

Demography

Although there are no official statistics of Muslims in Sweden, estimates counts 300 000 – 350 000 ethnic Muslims in the year 2000 (i.e. anyone who fits the broad definition of someone who belongs to a Muslim people by birth, has Muslim origin, has a name that belongs in the Muslim tradition, etc. ), roughly estimated close to 100 000 of which are of second-generation. Of the first-generation Muslims, 255 000 are thought to be Sunni, 5 000 Shi’ites, no more than 1 000 Ahmadiya, Alevi and other groups and probably no more than 5 000 converts – mainly women married to Muslim men. In 2009 a report made a statement that there are 450 000 to 500 000 Muslims in Sweden, around 5% of the total population, and that the Muslim Council of Sweden reported 106 327 officially registered members.

Such numbers does not imply religious beliefs or participation; Åke Sander claimed in 1992 that 40-50% of the ethnic Muslims in Sweden could reasonably be considered to be religious, and in 2004, based on discussions and interviews with Muslim leaders, concerning second-generation Muslims born and raised in Sweden that it does not seem that the percentage they consider to be religious Muslims in a more qualified sense exceeds fifteen percent, or perhaps even less. Sander re-stated in 2004 that we do not think it unreasonable to put the figure of religious Muslims in Sweden at the time of writing at close to 150 000.

Conversion

There are no official statistics on the exact number of Swedish converts to Islam, but Dr. Anne Sofie Roald, a historian of religions at Malmö University, estimates the number of converts from the Church of Sweden to Islam to be 3,500 people since the 1960s, with an increase in recent years due to increased Muslim immigration. Dr. Roald further states that conversions are also occurring from Islam to the Church of Sweden, most noticeably by Iranians, but also by Arabs and Pakistanis, who have fled totalitarian regimes with strong religious oppression.

The first known convert to Islam was the famous painter Ivan Aguéli who was initiated into the Shadhiliyya order in Egypt in 1909. It was Aguéli who introduced the French metaphysician René Guénon to Sufism. Aguéli is more known among Sufis by his Muslim name Abdul-Hadi al-Maghribi. Other well-known Swedish converts to Islam are Tage Lindbom, Kurt Almqvist, Mohammed Knut Bernström and Tord Olsson. Lindbom, Almqvist and Olsson are also initiates into various Sufi orders. Bernström translated the Quran into Swedish in 1998.

Associations

The beginning of national Islamic (Sunni) institutions in Sweden dates back to the creation of FIFS (Förenade Islamiska Församlingar i Sverige) in 1973-1974. In 1982 and 1984 two splits, due to internal rivalries, cultural differences, personal conflicts and funding, brought to the creation of SMF (Svenska Muslimska Förbundet) and ICUS, today IKUS (Islamska Kulturcenterunionen i Sverige). Others national institutions are BHIRF (Bosnien-Hercegovinas Islamiska riksförbund), founded in 1995 by Bosnian refugees, IRFS (Islamiska Riksförbundet), also since 1995, and SIA (Svenska Islamiska Akademin), founded in the year 2000 by the former ambassador Mohammed Knut Bernström, with the task of establishing in the future an Islamic university in Sweden, charged with imam education. SIA also publishes since February 2001 the periodical Minaret in Swedish. The present editor-in-chief of Minaret is Mohamed Omar.

On a lower level, specific Islamic organizations targeting specific groups have been created as well. SMUF, today SUM (Sveriges Unga Muslimer), is the greatest youth Muslim organization since 1986, but there exist also the women association IKF (Islamiska Kvinnoförbund i Sverige), the youth association IUF (Islamiska Ungdomförbundet i Sverige) and the imam association SIR (Sveriges Imamråd). IIF (Islamiska Informationföreningen) is a member association of FIFS aiming at providing information about Islam in Sweden; 1986-2000 it published Salaam, whose editorial board has always been dominated by women, mainly Swedish converts.

National and target organization have also created umbrella organizations in order to simplify their relationships to the state. FIFS and SMF have created in 1990 SMR (Sveriges Muslimska Råd), of which SUM is also member. The IKUS umbrella organization is named IRIS (Islamiska Rådet i Sverige) and includes also IKF, IUF and SIR. Above all, IS (Islamiska samarbetsrådet) deals with financial issues with the Commission for state grants to religious communities (SST); it includes FIFS, SMF, IKUS, ISS and SIF.

The following are some of the Islamic associations in Sweden:

Political controversies

The Muslim Council of Sweden (SMR), an umbrella organization for Swedish Muslim organizations, has been involved in several controversies. In 2006 Mahmoud Aldebe, one of the Board members of SMR, sent letters to each of the major political parties in Sweden demanding special legislation for Muslims in Sweden, including the right to specific Islamic holidays, special public financing for the building of Mosques, that all divorces between Muslim couples be approved by an Imam, and that Imams should be allowed to teach Islam to Muslim children in public schools. The request was condemned by all political parties and the government and the Swedish Liberal Party requested that an investigation be started by the Office of the Exchequer into the use of public funding of SMR. The Chairman of the Board of SMR subsequently stated that it supported the demands made by Aldebe but that it did not think that the letter had been a good idea to communicate them in a list of demands.

Although the Board of SMR did not condemn Aldebe the letter has caused conflict within the organization.

SMR has also been accused of being closely allied to the Swedish Social Democrat Party, which has been criticised both inside and outside the party.

Swedish social anthropologist Aje Carlbom and parliamentarian Abderisak Aden, who has founded the Islamic Democratic Institute (Islamiska demokratiska institutet), have both stated that they believe that at least part of the leading members of SMR support Islamist ideologies and are influenced by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

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