SHARIA IN DENMARK
By Judith Bergman
- Documentary filmmakers in Denmark conducted an undercover investigation, with hidden cameras, into claims that imams are working towards keeping parallel societies for Muslims within Denmark.
- Abu Bilal, imam of the Grimhøj mosque, told Fatma that her husband is entitled to take another wife. Fatma is not allowed to deny her husband his “sexual rights,” even when he is violent.
- The imam of the Hamad Bin Khalifa mosque gave Fatma the same answers she had received in all the other mosques: She must not take a job without her husband’s permission, and even if her husband continues to beat her, she must not contact the police.
- Umm Abdullah told Fatma that she should only meet with Danish people in order to tell them about Islam. This is necessary, she said, to save the Danes from hell, and the only reason Muslims should interact with Danes.
The issue of parallel Muslim societies has sparked renewed debate in Denmark after a three-part television documentary, “The Mosques Behind the Veil” was aired at the beginning of March on Danish TV2.
The documentary consists of an undercover investigation into claims that Muslim imams are working towards keeping parallel societies for Muslims within Denmark.
The filmmakers had two young Muslims — brought from outside Denmark — go undercover in Gellerupparken, an area best described as a predominantly Muslim ghetto in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city. For three months, the two lived as a fictitious couple, Fatma and Muhammed, while visiting eight different mosques in Aarhus, Odense and Copenhagen — the three largest cities in Denmark — with hidden cameras. The goal was to hear what imams say behind closed doors about Danish law and authorities, gender equality and general contact with Danish society, such as Muslim women participating in the Danish job market. There are approximately 140 mosques in all of Denmark.
The film is similar in concept to the British BBC Panorama documentary, “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Councils,” which aired in April 2013. The BBC went undercover to document the discrimination practiced in British sharia councils against Muslim women. (The existence of British sharia councils were no secret to the British; the Danish film, it turned out, documented a Danish sharia council for the first time).
For the purpose of the documentary, Fatma was given a personal cover story — based on real-life dilemmas — for which she would seek advice from the different imams: Her husband is violent, and she does not wish to have sex with him. She cannot get pregnant and his family has found a second wife for him. She consulted with a Danish girlfriend about the violence, which has left her bruised, and the girlfriend told her to go to the police.
What do the imams think she should do?
The series begins in the Grimhøj mosque. The mosque has been in the Danish headlines for years, especially since police statistics in 2013 showed that 22 out of the 27 Muslims from Aarhus who left to fight with Islamic State in Syria had frequented it. The head of the mosque, Oussama El Saadi, has, in fact, said that he hopes the Islamic State will win and that there will be an Islamic world government. The imam of the same mosque, Abu Bilal, was sentenced last year in Germany for inciting hatred against both Jews and non-Jews, and fined €10,000.
Abu Bilal, imam of the Grimhøj mosque in Denmark, was fined €10,000 last year in Germany, after being found guilty of inciting hatred against both Jews and non-Jews. (Image source: MEMRI video screenshot)
Fatma, during her visits to the mosque, learned from imam Abu Bilal that married women who commit infidelity should be stoned to death, and that Muslims who leave Islam may be killed. He makes no reservations about these teachings. She also learned that young children who refuse to pray should be beaten (a woman asks the imam specifically, how she should conduct those beatings). Fatma was also informed that a woman may not take a job without her husband’s permission.Abu Bilal, imam of the Grimhøj mosque in Denmark, was fined €10,000 last year in Germany, after being found guilty of inciting hatred against both Jews and non-Jews. (Image source: MEMRI video screenshot)
Abu Bilal further says that her husband is entitled to take another wife. Fatma is not allowed to deny her husband his “sexual rights,” even when he is violent. When she asks the imam if she should involve the police, the answer is an emphatic “no.”
Officially, the spokesman of the Grimhøj mosque, along with spokesmen from three of the eight mosques, professes that the mosque respects Danish law. But behind closed doors — on hidden camera — he advocates polygamy and beating children. He also instructs Fatma to go back to her abusive spouse and to let him commit what amounts to rape.
Fatma attended three other mosques in Aarhus, one of which publicly claims to be “moderate.” All of the clerics gave her the same answers. Some told her that violence is not allowed, but made it clear that there is nothing she can do. The imam at the Fredens mosque added that she might be able to obtain a divorce, if necessary, from their sharia council.
Muhammed, reporting what he experienced in the mosques, told TV2 news that he had been warned in the mosques against the Danes; informed that they were kuffar (unbelievers), and that he should avoid them and their social functions, such as birthday parties. One imam told the couple that they should “not melt into Danish society,” but simply surround themselves with other Muslims.
In Copenhagen, Fatma consulted the leader of the female section of the Islamisk Trossamfund mosque, Umm Abdullah. The claim at Islamisk Trossamfund is that it is in contact with several thousand Muslims every week, and thus among the biggest mosques in Denmark. Umm Abdullah tells Fatma that she must not go to birthday parties; there would be, she says, alcohol and mixed male and female company — and she should only meet with Danish people in order to tell them about Islam. This is necessary, says Umm Abdullah, to save the Danes from hell, and the only reason why Muslims should interact with Danes. When Fatma asks her about her personal problems, Umm Abdullah tells her that she must not contact the police about the violent husband. “Why should you become a laughing stock in front of the infidels?” she rhetorically asks.
Fatma also went to see the imam at the Hamad Bin Khalifa mosque in Copenhagen, better known in Denmark as “Stormoskeen” [“the big mosque”]. Named after the former emir of Qatarand fully sponsored by him, it opened in 2014. The organization behind the Hamad Bin Khalifa mosque, the Danish Islamic Council, has claimed that the people who operate the mosque have chosen a moderate interpretation of Islam that is compatible with Danish society.
On camera, the spokesman from the Hamad Bin Khalifa mosque confidently assured the journalists from TV2 News that the mosque thoroughly respects Danish laws. He even assured them that women enjoy even better rights than men.
When Fatma spoke to the imam of the Hamad Bin Khalifa mosque, however, and filmed it with a hidden camera, she was given the same answers she had received in all the other mosques: She must not take a job without her husband’s permission, and even if her husband continues to beat her, she must not contact the police. This most “moderate” of all the Danish mosques also advocated polygamy, and the right of the husband to his wife’s body, even when she might prefer to refuse him.
One of the questions Danes are asking themselves after viewing the documentary, is whether Danish Muslims actually listen to the imams and do what they say. According to a poll conducted in October 2015, 40% of all Danish Muslims believe that the law in Denmark should be based solely on the words of the Quran and 77% believe that the Quran should be followed to the word. Ten years ago, the figure was 62%. The poll showed that 50% of all Danish Muslims pray five times a day; ten years ago, the figure was 37%.
While the working assumption has been that with time, Muslims would become less, not more, religious, these numbers fly in the face of the wish that Muslims might be comfortably assimilated into Danish culture.
At the end of the documentary, Fatma and Mohammed visit the sharia council — which, since the documentary aired, has been dismantled, but others are believed to exist — at the Fredens mosque in Aarhus. Here, Fatma pleads over ten times for a divorce from her violent husband, but the council refuses, telling her to go back home and try again.
These were exactly the same responses as those given by the imams of the British sharia councils in the BBC Panorama documentary from 2013. Genuinely abused women pleaded in vain for divorce, and sometimes had to wait for ten years to obtain it. The answers they received from the imam were identical with the answers that Fatma heard from the eight different imams in Denmark: Go back to your violent spouse and try to work it out.
TV2 presented the secret recordings to all the mosques that had been investigated, but the mosques refused to comment on them.
Instead, 31 Danish mosques and Islamic organizations decided to react to the exposure of their goings-on by collectively condemning the way that TV2 had portrayed the Islamic organizations in the documentary. The organizations held the TV station responsible for the “way that it was destroying the integration that the organizations had worked on for the past 30 years in Denmark” and claimed that “Danish Muslims are an integral part of Danish society and play a positive role in integrating Muslims into Danish society.” They also reaffirmed that “Muslims have a right to seek advice about Islam, Islamic rules and Islamic sharia in Denmark.”
The ongoing public debate that has followed the broadcast, shows — unsurprisingly — that neither politicians, opinion makers nor so-called “experts” have any workable plans for how to deal with what the TV documentary revealed. Some have suggested that imams get a special university education or go through a licensing process. Others have suggested closing the Grimhøj mosque — an act that would doubtless be regarded as provocation, and one that would not solve anything in other, similar, mosques. Still other observers have suggested looking more closely at possibilities in the Danish constitution for dealing with the problem. One thing is clear: Denmark is as far away from solving this problem as the rest of Europe — and it is not going to get any easier.
- “All the bullying happens in Arabic… The hierarchy of the Arab boys creates a very violent environment. … I have filmed the particularly vile bullying of a Somali boy. You can see the tears in his eyes. They are destroying him; it is very violent. “ — From a dissertation by Jalal El Derbas, Ph.D.
- Danish teachers are the least respected and are spoken of in denigrating and humiliating terms.
- “I am not saying that all the Arab children did ugly things, but we witnessed on a regular basis… using derogatory Arabic language towards Somalis and girls.” — Lise Egholm, former head of the Rådmandsgade school in Copenhagen.
- Whether Danish parliamentarians wish to acknowledge this problem or not, they are up against far wider issues than that of religious incitement in mosques by radical preachers.
After the television documentary, “Sharia in Denmark“, embarrassed Danish authorities by revealing how widespread the preaching of sharia is in mosques in Denmark; the Danish government, in May, concluded a political agreement about “initiatives directed against religious preachers who seek to undermine Danish laws and values and who support parallel legal systems.”
“We are doing everything we can without compromising the constitution and international agreements,” Bertel Haarder, the Minister for Culture and Church, said about the political agreement.
The agreement centers on a number of initiatives, which are supposed to compensate for the detrimental effects of all the years in which sharia was allowed to spread in Denmark while most authorities paid only scant attention to what was happening. Part of the new effort, therefore, will be the mapping of all existing mosques in Denmark.
It will now be obligatory, according to the agreement, for all priests, imams and others who are not part of the Church of Denmark, and who wish to be able to perform weddings — as well as for foreign preachers who apply for residence permits — to learn about Danish family law, freedom and democracy. At the end of the course, all will have to sign a statement that they will accept Danish law, including freedom of speech and religion, gender equality, freedom of sexual orientation, non-discrimination and women’s rights.
The government will examine how to create more transparency in foreign donations to faith communities in Denmark, including controlling and, if necessary, preventing such donations. As part of this work, on May 4 the government presented a law making it a crime to receive funding from a terror organization to establish or run an institution in Denmark, including schools and mosques.
Another element in the political agreement is the establishment of national lists with the names of traveling foreign (non-EU) religious preachers who will be excluded from entry into Denmark on the grounds that they are a threat to public order in Denmark.These named preachers will not be granted an entry visa and will be denied entry at the border. In addition, a non-public list, containing the names of such preachers who are EU citizens, will be established. The purpose of this list is to create awareness of the existence of these preachers, as, due to EU rules on free movement, they cannot be denied entry.
The final component of the agreement is the criminalization of certain speech. According to the agreement, it will become illegal explicitly to support terrorism, murder, rape, violence, incest, pedophilia, the use of force and polygamy as part of religious training, and whether or not the speech was made in private or in public. Both the activities of religious preachers and the activities of others, who speak as part of religious training, are included in the criminalization.
The political agreement is expected to become law when the Danish parliament reconvenes after the summer vacation.
Danish parliamentarians are aware that it will be difficult to measure whether these initiatives have any effect — how do you measure whether religious preachers are indeed not explicitly supporting terrorism, murder, rape and pedophilia, unless you place them under constant surveillance? But lawmakers are nevertheless confident that the new initiatives will have an effect.“This will have an impact on what people put up with from their religious leaders.” Culture and Church Minister Bertel Haarder says.
Another parliamentarian, Naser Khader, who appears more realistic, says,
“We are well aware that more initiatives are needed. But this stops hate preachers from coming to Denmark, preachers who only want to come here in order to sow discord between population groups and who encourage violence, incest and pedophilia.”
While Danish politicians have taken yet another step on an uncertain road that may or may not succeed in stemming the rise of sharia in Denmark, other problems abound, which compound the impression that this initiative will not amount to much more than a symbolic band-aid.
A recent Ph.D. dissertation by Jalal El Derbas, as reported by the Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, shows that in several Danish schools with Arab students, the latter, mainly boys, use Arabic as a means to sexually and racially harass and bully other students as well as their teachers, especially girls, Somalis and ethnically Danish teachers, who do not understand the insults hurled at them in Arabic.
According to the article, El Derbas was shocked when he went through the video footage of 12- and 13-year-olds in two different Danish public schools with a majority of pupils with minority background. The purpose of his Ph.D. was to examine the possible causes of why bilingual boys — who speak both Danish and Arabic — continue to lag behind other Danish students. He wanted to see what those bilingual boys actually do in the classroom. The footage was taken over five months and it displayed a world characterized by hierarchy, sexual and religious harassment, bullying and racism, in which the first language of the students, Arabic, played a central and leading role. According to El Derbas:
“I could see that the students used Arabic as a secret code and they only used it negatively to disturb the schoolwork. If they did not want to do the work, they simply shifted to Arabic. The schools were very flexible and allowed the students to use Arabic both inside and outside the classroom. But all that this freedom accomplished was that the students shifted from Danish to Arabic if they were getting into a fight and if there was a teacher nearby whom they did not want to understand what they were saying.”
The video footage also revealed a hierarchy consisting of sexual harassment and racism, because the Arab boys consider themselves higher-ranking than girls and Somali students.
“All the bullying happens in Arabic. All the ugly and mean words are uttered in Arabic. The hierarchy of the Arab boys creates a very violent environment. I have video footage of severe sexual harassment against Arab girls and I have filmed the particularly vile bullying of a Somali boy. You can see the tears in his eyes. They are destroying him; it is very violent.”
According to El Derbas, Sunni and Shia Muslim strife is also imported into the grounds of these Danish schools. With the majority of the boys being Sunni Muslims, they look down on the Shia Muslim students and a teacher who is a Shia Muslim is called “Satan” or “witch”, whereas a Sunni Muslim teacher is addressed courteously as “uncle” or “aunt”. Danish teachers are the least respected, and are spoken of in denigrating and humiliating terms.
El Derbas, stressed that the pupils come from ghetto areas, saying:
“Many of the teachers have given up on engaging the parents in any way, but if this is to change it has to happen through the parents. Maybe it would help if the parents took turns of being present in the classroom to see how their children behave. Most of them [the parents] are not working or studying anyway. I think that could lead to an improvement. Because no parents will accept that their children behave in this manner”.
The results of the dissertation come as no surprise to Lise Egholm, now retired, but who for 18 years, until 2013, was the head of Copenhagen’s Rådmandsgade school, which has many Arab students.
“I am not saying that all the Arab children did ugly things,” says Egholm, “but we witnessed on a regular basis exactly the phenomenon of using derogatory Arabic language towards Somalis and girls… Back then the biggest group of children in the school was Arabic speaking, and the words which in Arabic mean ‘whore’ and ‘f— your mother’ they all knew.”
In a written statement to Berlingske Tidende, Minister of Education, Ellen Trane Nørby, wrote,
“It is never all right to bully, whether this happens in Danish, Arabic, or in a third language. That is why I have initiated a large initiative, which has as its purpose to prevent and combat bullying. The teachers have to signal very strongly that there has to be room for all children and that you have to treat other pupils with respect. If some pupils do not understand this and speak in ‘code language’ or use a language that excludes and bullies other pupils, the schools must intervene. Danish is the language used for teaching in Denmark, and pupils should not be excluded or bullied because of parallel languages in school”.
However, what the minister of education fails to mention is that the problems with this kind of behavior are not likely to remain inside the school, but will inevitably spill into the streets. Then what? No amount of lists of radical religious preachers and laws is going to change that fact.
Whether Danish parliamentarians wish to acknowledge this problem or not, they are up against far wider issues than that of religious incitement in mosques by radical preachers. Notably, El Derbas’s findings have not caused any debate remotely resembling that, which was caused by the “Sharia in Denmark” documentary. They should.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.