By Nina Berglund
A wide range of Muslims living in Norway are gathering for the first time to mount a major demonstration next week against Islamic extremists both in Norway and abroad. “We’re tired of seeing (extremist groups such as) IS and Profetens Ummah dominate the debate,” said one of the organizers of the demonstration, 28-year-old student Thee Yezen Obaide. An Iraqi group, meanwhile, is also challenging the spokesman for Profetens Ummah in court.
Ubaydullah Hussain was indicted on Tuesday for inciting murder and terrorism. His lawyer said Hussain denied the charges, and freedom of speech was at stake.
Obaide launched the idea of a mass mobilization in Oslo following news of the horrific brutality used by the extremist group IS, formerly ISIL, in Syria and Iraq, and how IS attacks other Muslims. “It goes against what we Muslims believe,” Obaide told newspaper Dagsavisen. “What’s happening in Syria and Iraq is a bloodbath. IS does not represent Islam.”
He and many others have also been alarmed by some Islamic extremists in Norway who spread what he calls “IS propaganda.” He wanted “to send a signal” that the vast majority of Norwegian Muslims reject the violence and the utter lack of respect or tolerance shown by IS and its small group of followers in Norway who grab the most media attention. “We just can’t accept this, nor that anyone threatens Norway, the country where we live and want to live peacefully together, along with everyone else,” Obaide said.
Now Obaide has been joined by top politicians, the imams of major mosques in Norway and the Islamic Council (Islamsk Råd Norge, IRN) to organize a demonstration that will begin at 5pm Monday in the central plaza of Oslo’s Grønland district (Grønlands torg). More than 750 people had signaled their participation by Tuesday afternoon.
“Ethnic white Norwegians shall know that they are not alone in being scared (by the extremism),” Abid Raja, a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party (Venstre), told Dagsavisen. “We ordinary brown, liberal Norwegian Muslims are just as scared.”
Raja said that if fear and hatred against Muslims and Islam rises in Norway, “it’s because of (the local extremist group) Profetens Ummah and people who don’t dare stand up to them and IS.” Raja, an attorney who also has worked for Norway’s foreign ministry, claimed they “must be frozen out completely. The extremists must realize that 100,000 Muslims in Norway distance themselves from a few hundred extremists. They must realize that they are completely isolated from the Muslim community.”
Some alleged members of Profetens Ummah have spread IS claims of executions, including that of American journalist James Foley, via Norwegian social media, with one encouraging viewers to “enjoy” the video of Foley’s beheading. Ubaydullah Hussain, the controversial leader of the group who has been indicted earlier for making threats, has not responded to media requests for further comment after telling VG TV earlier this week that he supported IS’ executions.
That sparked heated reaction within the Iraqi community in Norway and among many other Muslim groups. On Wednesday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that an Iraqi council in Norway (Rådet for det irakiske samfunnet i Norge) was reporting Hussain to the police for inciting terror and supporting a terrorist organization. The Iraqi group also claims that Hussain threatens Norway’s national security.
Islamic Council defends its role
Raja stressed that several individual Muslim leaders have clearly distanced themselves from the extremists, but criticized the Islamic Council for failing to do the same. The secretary general of the council, Mehtab Afsar, denied that the council hasn’t been tough enough against extremism. “We are part of arranging this demonstration and will encourage everyone to join in and support it,” Afsar told Dagsavisen. He also claimed the council works hard to prevent hatred and violence, often through direct dialogue with youth and school visits, and through seminars and conferences.
Basim Ghozlan of the Rabita mosque in Oslo, which some of the Norwegian extremists fighting in Syria are known to have attended, also planned to take part in the demonstration against extremism. “I want to stress that extremism has no religion,and that Muslims must fight together against any form of extremism, especially those who use our religion’s name, Islam, to carry our gruesome acts,” Ghozlan told Dagsavisen. Hossam Belkilani, chairman of Rabitas youth organization RUN, also encouraged all Muslims to take part in Monday’s demonstration. “We distance ourself from IS and its acts,” Belkilani said.
Imam Noor Ahmad Noor of the mosque at Fjell in Drammen said the “99 percent of all Muslims are very opposed to IS.” The atrocities IS is carrying out in Iraq “greatly upsets the vast majority of Muslims. It’s all about human life, and the homeland,” Noor told Dagsavisen. Many Muslims in Drammen were also planning to travel to Oslo for the demonstration, including politician Yusuf Filani, also of the Liberal Party.
“This is also all about defending our fellowship and our common values,” Filani said. “It’s great to see that it was young, ordinary Norwegian Muslims who took the initiative to mount this demonstration. We can’t let Profetens Ummah get away with misusing Islam.”