The number of Norwegians who are converting to Islam has doubled in the past ten years.
Karima Solberg says that the newest trend is for more ethnic Norwegian boys to convert, and that friendship gets them interested in Islam. Solberg, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and is a former board member of the Islamic Council of Norway, teaches about Islam in Norwegian in the mosque "Det Islamske Forbund" in Oslo.
Several years ago most converts were 18-20 years old, but now its often younger people, between 14 and 16. During the last Ramadan in September, a group of about ten young teenagers visited the mosque together with young Muslim friends.
Several posts on the islam.no site are written by Norwegian converts in their early teens, who write that they don't dare tell their parents that they have begun to fast and pray to Allah. Solberg says she has recently met a Nowegian girl who told her that she snuck out to Friday prayers with the hijab hidden in her bag.
Norwegian teenagers can choose their own religion after they're 15. Before that their parents decide in which religious community to sign them up. But Solberg says that there's no age limit for converting. A 14 year old can be old enough to make such a decision even if he must be 15 for officially changing religion.
Converting to Islam through friends is common in France, the Western European country with the most converts (about 100,000). So called "Islam de copin" or "buddy-Islam" has also increased in Sweden and Denmark in the past few years while the trend is newer and the numbers lower in Norway.
Det Islamske Forbund has two study groups about Islam in Norwegian, where especially many converts go. The community has about 200 ethnic Norwegian who have converted.
Manager Basim Ghozlan says that there aren't that many, but that the number is increasing, especially in the past three years. Friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims is one reason, but also the general focus on Islam in the media has contributed to increased interest.
Religion historian Kargi Vogt, one of Norway's top experts on Islam estimates there's about 1,000 ethnic Norwegian converts to Islam. There are no accurate surveys, but several experts think the number has at least doubled since 1995, when a study showed there were about 500 ethnic Norwegian Muslims. There are no exact numbers about how many 14-15 year old had converted.
The interest is increasing. Even if the news about Islam often has negative connotations and deals with themes such as honor murder, terrorism and war in the Middle East, the focus brings many ethnic Norwegian to begin to learn more about Islam. They then find another side of the religion. Even if "buddy-Islam" is increasing, Vogt thinks that group where conversion had increased the most in the past few years are students and others who have read about Islam and so look up the Muslim community.
Mariam Javed, head of the Muslims student society, says that she knows many ethnic Norwegian who converted in the past few years. They become interested through friendship with Muslims. It's inspiring, since converts often learn more about the religion than those who have inherited Islam.
In the past it's been mostly Norwegian women who became Muslims after a love relationship to Muslim man. Converting due to marriage is still the most extensive.
The two movements who attract the most new Muslims in Europe are the Sufi, spiritual movement and the more radical Muslim communities, says Kari Vogt. In Denmark 'new Muslims' are among the most extreme. A smaller group of converts had terror plans, and a larger group was very active in the demonstrations against the Muhammad cartoons.
Vogt says that in Norway only a few are attracted by radical communities, but a small number are attracted by radical groups.
Last week Norwegian security service (PST) head Jørn Holme warned against extreme Muslims who are trying to recruit youth to terrorism. But converts are not generally a concern for the PST. PST spokesperson Martin Bernsen says that religion is not their focus. For a convert to attract attention they must be planning serious crimes.
Source: VG (Norwegian)
See also: Norway: The radicalizing of a Norwegian kid, Norway: Norwegian youth target for jihad recruiters