Since I was curious what else imam Chendid said, I sat down to translate the interview. My Danish is quite basic, and I would appreciate if any Danish speakers let me know of anything I got wrong.
The interview was really over when I asked the imam if he knew any Muslim jokes. Just so we can demonstrate to people that Muslim really have a sense of humor. He laughs in defeat and turns off the recorder. "No, not Muslim," he says with an accent with a touch of gravity that I think again why we had the Mohamed crisis.
"Muslims don't joke with their religion. But I can bring many other jokes. Let us say, that there are about the Moroccans, because then they affect me."
With a big grin he start telling about Saddam Hussein, who wanted to fire rocket from Morocco's coast to the USA, but when he pressed the button, nothing happened. "There was just so many Moroccans, that grappled with them, that they couldn't take off. They wanted so much to go to the USA,"
"Or what with this here, which is older, now people certainly have rules about it. A young Moroccan marries a sixty year old rich woman. She's in love and insists on meeting his parents. In the end he gives in and they walk through Rabat's streets. She stumbles and falls. Another Moroccan comes past and says, "help your residence permit to it feet now."
The imam laughs so that he must hold his belly, and I ask dumbly, where the woman comes from. "She's Danish" the imam says and laughs more. We say goodbye and at the exit Mostafa Chendid says with a poker face, "Remember now to write nicely. Otherwise you are dead."
That can really be called humor. I think. I hope.
And supposedly it is precisely this passionate repartee, combined with an agreeable voice, a pair of friendly eyes and an inflexible belief in conservative Islam that has made Mostafa Chendid the natural choice for Dortheavej's new sheikh, like it is called, when one don't just preach like an imam, but also have authority to issue fatwas.
The job isn't easy: the predecessor Abu Laban remains Denmark's most famous imam and was the only in the land who managed to put together 1000 people for Friday prayer every week at Dortheavej. And that wasn't just Sunni Muslims from Arab lands; also Pakistani Muslims found a way. At the same time, it was doubtlessly Abu Laban's making that the Islamic Society in Denmark (Islamisk Trossamfund) was frequently labeled by journalists and researchers as one of the biggest associations in Denmark, despite its membership of about 800.
Certainly there are many more who have heard of the Islamic Society then of the Muslim's Joint Council (Muslimernes Fællesråd), the first Muslim umbrella organization, that was founded last autumn and currently counts more than 8,000 members.
It doesn't include the Islamic Society and according to Weekendavisen's intelligence that is intentional: Many of the member organization are quite tired that Muslims during the Muhammad crisis were lumped together with people such as Naser Khader or Abu Laban.
For the time being Mostafa Chendid seems however like he could continue to be the media imam in the same format as Abu Laban, if he wants. The association "Women for Freedom" have already complain about him to the Equality Ministry after he said to Jyllands-Posten on International Women's Day that all women - not only Muslims - should go with a headscarf.
A dozen such comments a year and he will be Denmark's most famous in an instant. But Mostafa Chendid says that he doesn't want to be known for this. "I am tired of the media always looking at Muslims, as if we stand in opposition to Danish society. My goal is that Muslims shall not be seen as a foreign element in society, but be a natural part of it. And no, I didn't say that Danish women will be forced to go with a headscarf. I said to journalists, that a headscarf was an obligation from God, since this is according to the Koran, but that doesn't mean that I said that a women with a headscarf is a better person than a women without one," he says during the interview.
We do the interview in a secluded place filled with files, brochures and heaps of paper. The imam sat down two meter from me in the most far off place, and I can't stop thinking if that is, because he thinks it is inappropriate to be alone with a strange women. I keep my jacket on, as that is most respectful.
"But you can't say that it a provocation to say such on Women's Day? I can certainly also just go round and say that I don't like that imams have such big beards and that they should shave them off?"
"Yes, you can say that, and I can then shave it off or keep it. That is permissible in a democracy. But you should just remember that it is not only imams that have big beards, it is also some old communists, who have one. But incidentally I don't understand why it is so provocative just when Muslim women go with a headscarf. When nuns do it in Denmark, is that a symbol of chastity and holiness. Nobody asks Mother Therese to take off the veil. Some Danish women feel free if they show themselves. Why don't Muslims have a right to go with a veil if it makes them feel free? The veil is a signal that they are not for sale."
"But men are also not for sale? You go around and tempt freely! Why don't you cover yourself?"
Mostafa Chendid grins disarmingly. "We do that too! Just see my beard! No, let me mention America. Every half minute there is a new rape. When a woman struts about, then it tempts men, and the headscarf server to protect them. But I also want to say that Western women aren't so equal as you perhaps think: they have it very hard. They are forced to work. We don't force our women to work. We don't forbid it, but the husband doesn't order her to join the labor market. I am sad when I see a women on a bicycle with two children at 6 AM bringing one to the nursery and the other to kindergarten. I don't wish that for any woman."
"From America to Denmark. I don't wear a veil. But therefore I am not raped. There aren't rape cases every other minute here. Either at work or in the streets. Are Danish men not real men or what?"
"As starting point men have the tendencies. But don't forget that we find ourselves in a cold land. And don't forget that your culture is different than ours. Moreover, I don't say that all men are unable to control themselves. Maybe it revolves around just five-ten percent of men who can't control themselves, but that is also sufficient. Incidentally I am tired of hearing that Islam oppresses women. If Muslim women are oppressed then it isn't based on Islam. Then it is based on tradition. It isn't the religion's fault."
We don't get further with that question: Mostafa Chendid is neither to be led nor driven. To the question if it isn't wrong that there shall be four male witnesses to a rape before the woman can get recognition for a crime, he says that it is just rubbish. It's not like that in any Muslim country, he maintains, and if it has ever been it was never legitimate by Islam. According to the Sharia a doctor's statement or bruises serve as evidence. It is only when a woman is suspected of infidelity that four male witnesses are needed. And they certainly only exist if one is unfaithful in the street. The law is merciful, he assures.
Neither my surprise that women don't have a place in mosques, but are directed to hear the imam's preaching through a loudspeaker outside the building, gets him to falter. "The Muslim's prayer position is now such that men can't concentrate in the mosque if a woman kneels there," he says. And on that point he is probably right.
And because the imam is both funny and obliging, I suddenly get the inspiration, that he then must understand why the Muhammad cartoons were found by most Danes to be completely harmless. Then I ask him about it. I ask what is really the matter with portraying the prophet with humor. But there the party is over. The imam's face is obscured by dark clouds and he waves deprecatorily with his hand. It is clear that he thinks it deeply provocative that I can in any way mention the word humor in the same sentence as the prophet.
"There are words I will not dream of using towards you as my guest in the Islamic Society," he says, "I will stop myself from using them, even if they are a part of my culture, just because it is insulting and disrespectful. If I told a joke about your mother, you will be angry. Why? Yes, not because of anything else but because she is your mother. For Muslims the prophet means much more then your parents. But you don't understand it."
"But the Christians will say that God is great, he is much too great to be insulted by this sort of thing."
"Yes, I know that, he will not be insulted. But we are insulted."
"But then we certainly lose our tradition for cartooning; it becomes restricted because now Muslims live in Denmark?"
"Why is that? I can make cartoons of everything else than of our prophet. Why is it so essential for you tradition?"
"Why, there are also cartoons of the pope. Should the Catholics then also have a right to protest if we make jokes of the Pope or Jesus?"
"The pope can answer for himself, if he wants. If the cartoons are an important tradition in Denmark, then people can, as far as I'm concerned, draw cartoons of whatever people want, just not when they desecrate our religion. Not that I will encourage it, but I will respect that there is a tradition in this land. But regarding Jesus then I will say that when Kvickly made sandals with the motif of Jesus we approached them at once and demanded that they be taken back. Jesus is in our hearts, not under our feet, we say. And when Kvickly refused, we turned to the police and asked to demonstrate. We wanted to defend Jesus! He is also our prophet. But then the sandals were taken off the market."
"I understand that you say that because you are a Sunni Muslim. I had heard that the Shiites don't have an image-prohibition. And they are also Muslims."
"Yes, that is true, that Shiites for example make images of Ali (The Sunnite's 4th caliph and Shiite's first imam). That we respect. Because when they make depictions of Ali it is as the most beautiful person in the world and that holds also if they make depictions of the prophet, that we are against because it is the prophet's message and his compassion and goodness that are essential and not his person. But the Shiites don't make cartoons, do they?"
"But you agree that the result of the Mohamed crisis was that the newspapers here don't depict the prophet?"
"Yes, that is one of the positive results. But not the only one. It was also positive that the Muslims here went the diplomatic way and didn't resort to violence. The risk was great otherwise. "We didn't want to bomb as in London. And the young people are volatile, they aren't satisfied with arguing by writing or talking, as I do. This was why we went round in the Middle East, to avert a bigger catastrophe. If we just sat here, then they themselves would have gone into action."
"Can't you understand that it was a shock for many, that Muslims became so angry? I imagined that people that had escaped here from Muslim countries, came because they wanted to be free from living in a strict religious society? But that wasn't the case?
"No, these people fled poverty and dictatorship. They love their land, it is the ruler they don't like. Naturally people love the place where they were born where their family lives, the flavors of the fruit, yes even if they don't smell good, people love it. You don't love your mother because she is the world's most beautiful, but because she is your mother. People love that which is a part of themselves. It isn't a question of good or bad. We fled from a dictator and it is completely ok that Danish society demands that people shall educate themselves, be able to speak the language and have a job and obey the law. But it is not ok to demand that people shall betray their own religion," says Mostafa Chendid, who himself attempts to live up to his own demands.
He has worked as a taxi-driver. And speaks good Danish - so good in fact, that he never wants to switch over to English if he gets a little more exercise. But currently he is self-conscious: many of the leaders in the Islamic Society speak better than him and as a new spiritual leader it is important to build up authority that isn't handicapped with failing language.
Mostafa Chendid doesn't his that the growing up generations of Muslims don't want to stay taxi drivers, if it's up to him. They will be doctors, engineers, yes, all together have professions which get respect in Danish society. In that way he hopes that the day will come when Muslims will take part on equal footing with other educated people in the debate about society, and not only on the religious issue.
"Today it is certainly wholly inconceivable that I can come with a message how people can solve society's problems, even if I have a good proposal," he says, "Try to imagine how upset people will be if I arranged a conference on how to avoid pedophilia in Danish society. What's that got to do with me, the Danes will say. That we will maybe settle ourselves."
That gets me to ask what he really thinks of the authorities conflict with Ungeren [The radical left youth that were evicted of their club by force]
"I think that they will respect the authorities' decision, the municipality's decision to sell the house was certainly not spontaneous, it came a after longer entanglement around the house. The municipality estimates that it wasn't a place for young people and I trust that they were correct. The youth should too, and they should respect the law."
"But it is very good, that you say that. But there is also a court's decision, which says it was ok, that Jyllands-Posten can publish cartoons of Muhammad, then.. "
But now Mostafa Chendid gets angry. "Next question. I will not discuss it more. Just say that there is an exception for every rule. And if such cartoons anger 1.4 billion Muslims, then.."
"Yes, I would just like to know, why we hear all the time of the 1.4 billion. I myself say that people shouldn't anger all Muslims for a small thing, but why do you do that then?"
"Because we as Muslims naturally feel spiritually tied with the whole Muslim world! It is certainly not different for you. During the caricature crises newspapers in France, Germany and Spain and other places published the cartoons. Wasn't that perhaps a supportive action? I hold the same. when Isla Perejil by Morocco's coast was suddenly a subject for a dispute between Spain and Morocco, then the EU sided also with Spain. It is the same," he says indignantly, and so we drop the topic.
Instead Mostafa Chendid explains why he think that many Western intellectuals mistakenly are skeptic about Muslims.
"It reminds them of the middle ages, which was Europe's childhood. It was a bloody childhood and because Islam had its golden age at that time, they think, that Islam stands for barbarism and resistance against knowledge and intelligence. But that is completely wrong. If we were against civilization, why didn't we bust then the pyramids, that were built before Islam? Muslims conquered Egypt in the 600s and let the pyramids stand. The same can't be said for Europeans that wrecked the Mayan, Inca and Aztec empires, when they colonized Central and South America. The thing is, that Islam stood for progress and new knowledge from about the 700s to the 1400s," says Mostafa Chendid and his eyes shine with enthusiasm.
Many of the thinks which Europe holds as the most accomplished, were inspired by Muslim thinkers. Thomas Aquinas loaned from Averroes in Morocco. The blind poet John Milton took his Lost Paradise from Abu-l-Ala al-Maari and Machiavelli's Prince was a copy of something which was written two hundred years before," he continues, "there were lights in Cordova's street in Andelus when people walked in mud up to the knees in Paris, like Anatole France describes it. Think, that the Muslims left behind more than a million books on medicine, astronomy, cosmology, about everything, since they followed Mohammed's commendment that they shall go out and seek new knowledge. No, it was the Chrisitan churches which stood by the reaction, it was they who didn't accept Giordano Bruno, Copernicus and Galilei; weren't these thinkers inspired by Muslims? We laid the basis to the science that Europe today builds on.
"The Greeks were also involved"
"Yes, but as Martin Bernal showed in his big work "Black Athena", the Greek civilization stemmed from Egypt and Babylon. Therefore I have never accepted that there should be several civilizations: there is just one!," says Mostafa Chendid.
And adds hopefully, that maybe one day the Muslim world will succeed in undergoing the renaissance, that was Europa's portion, when the Islamic world domination came under ascendancy rivalry, idleness and decadence.
The way goes through education. and from Dortheavej in Copenhagen Mostafa Chendid imagines doing it.
Source: Weekendavisen (Danish)
Denmark: Women should stop tempting men, Denmark: Muslim women hide rape, Norway: Minority women lash out at feminists, Norway: "Western women are set back"