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Sweden's rising Muslim tide

Home to one of Europe's most Muslim cities, the country may also be host to increasing radicalism.

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As a group of Swedish Muslims begin their midday prayers in a mosque still blackened by smoke from a recent Molotov-cocktail attack, Bejzat Becirov, director of Malmo's Islamic Center, is talking urgently.

"I'm afraid the same thing will happen here as in Paris," says Mr. Becirov, a Macedonian immigrant who opened Scandinavia's first mosque in this city in southern Sweden in 1984.

Malmo, which has one of the highest percentage of Muslims of any western European city, illustrates the challenges facing a continent whose native population is increasingly wary of a rapidly expanding and often discontented Muslim population.

But while the mosque has been a target for attacks since its founding, there is increasing evidence that Islamic militants are gaining a foothold in Sweden by successfully exploiting racial tensions and Muslim anger over economic underachievement, and ghettoization.

Bosnian authorities arrested a Muslim Swede in Sarajevo in October for possession of explosives while Islamist websites published several inflammatory but unsubstantiated claims in late summer that a mujahideen training camp has been established in southern Sweden.

Meanwhile moderate Muslims like Becirov, whose progressive mosque is a place where Sunnis and Shiites praying side by side, are increasingly under fire from both Swedish nationalists who see them as dangerous representatives of radical Islam and Muslim fundamentalists who see them as selling out to Western ideas.

"It's been like hell on earth to deal with this whole process," sighs Becirov, displaying Swedish press accounts of the last firebombing of the mosque Oct. 21.

But although the attacks on Becirov's mosque have generated support from Muslims in Sweden and abroad, many Malmo Muslims are turning to increasingly radical forms of Islam - in some cases alienated by Becirov himself.

"This mosque is no good," says one Palestinian refugee who works nearby. "The imam, he is no good. He says one thing and he does another," he says, accusing him of un-Islamic activities, such as drinking alcohol.

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