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Experiencing Islam in Oslo

In the age of globalization, there is no such thing as a totally homogeneous society. Norway, despite the stereotype of blond-haired, blue-eyed Nords, is no exception. While other Europeans, including Swedes and Poles (the two largest migrant groups), call Oslo home, the city played host to Pakistani, Somali, and Bangladeshi immigrants in more recent years. Following the Second World War, the capital city of Oslo has played host to Pakistani, Turkish, Somali, and Bangladeshi immigrants, as well as immigrants of various European states. All about the neighborhood of Grønland, the influence of the non-European communities can be seen on every street corner, from Kebab shops to imported fabrics. Included in these features is the importance of Islam to the residents of the neighborhood, and Grønland’s Islamic Cultural Center caters to this need and more.

Founded in 1974, the Islamic Cultural Center originally served recently arrived immigrants from Pakistan. As time progressed and new immigrant groups arrived in Oslo, the Center began fulfilling more needs. For instance, sermons throughout the week are given in multiple languages, including Somali, Arabic, and Urdu. The migration status of many of the Center’s members has changed as well, with many of them being two generations detached from the original immigrants and many of them are Norwegian citizens. Despite this, some members of the community maintain the national identities of the previous generations. We were talking to a member of the Center, Aya*, who told us that his son views himself as being Pakistani despite having never been to the country.

Aya’s story became more interesting when he discussed the diaspora of his family members. While his immediate family is in Norway, he has extended family in Canada, the United States, and Pakistan. For his son to feel more connected to Pakistan, despite being a natural-born Norwegian citizen and having visited both the US and Canada, is interesting. The notion, however, has not been uncommon during this trip. I saw the same kind of fluidity during an interview with a migrant from Southeastern Europe. She described both her origin country and Norway as “home”, and Aya’s son, though he received his knowledge of Pakistan from tangential sources, has a similar kind of fluidity. Much like my Balkan interviewee, he too is integrated into Norwegian society. What reinforces this mindset, based on what Aya related to me, are outside forces (friends, society, etc.) that see his ethnicity.

While the focus of the Center is first and foremost its immediate members, it must also provide outreach to the entire Norwegian community. Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have created an image of Islam in the minds of some Europeans that is frightening and destructive. Aya again provided us with a personal example of this phenomenon. When Anders Breivik committed his terrorist acts in Oslo and Utøya on July 22, 2011, no one knew about the perpetrator(s) identity. Many assumed that the act was the work of Al-Qaeda. Aya received calls from Norwegians that could have been viewed as being accusatory, assuming that it was a member of his community that committed the act. When Breivik was identified, many of those earlier callers apologized for the earlier communications.

The mission of the Islamic Cultural Center, while not overtly tied to migration, is like that of the other migration services that I have experienced while in Oslo. Whereas the services of the Health Center for Undocumented Migrants heal the body, the Center heals the soul of long-time residents and newcomers alike. In this mix of old and new, one can see how identities are molded through both the experience of migration and the passing of time. Likewise, one can also experience the perceptions that are applied to migrants from the outside, be they flattering or damaging.

 

*Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

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