Oslo: "They've taken my religion and are using it in a way that scares me"

Oslo: "They've taken my religion and are using it in a way that scares me"

The course series "Da'Wah - how to hold dialog with non-Muslims", has been held every Friday in a classroom at Oslo University College since winter. Islam Net is the organizer. The course, about spreading Islam, is free, but requires registration.

On Friday, May 7, VG visited the course, with permission from Rector Sissel Østberg. VG wanted to be present and write about the course.

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com

VG's reports were, however, turned down by Islamic Net's head Fahad Qureshi, when we presented ourselves. Following that, Qureshi failed to respond to repeated requests by email and phone.

The ongoing missionizing at Oslo University College has led to several meetings between Islam Net and leaders of the student parliament.

Rector Sissel Østberg says that missionizing will not be allowed on school grounds.

"We are in a problematic area," she says.

Østberg got a few reports from individuals who had contact with Islam Net which they saw as intrusive.

"It concerns students who were strongly encouraged to attend meetings, and felt very uncomfortable. Such pressure will not be accepted. I've spoken to Islam Net about it, and we totally agree on this point."

Østberg thinks some of the things which had been publicized about Islam Net in recent months are very unfortunate for the school. [ed: for example, lectures blaming the Jews and the US for 9/11, or defending a husband's right to beat his wife]

"I'm thinking of several meetings which had been, and which were associated with Oslo University College. We can't allow incitement to violence and also on this points there's agreement between the management of the College and the leadership of Islam Net".

A young Muslim who went to several of Islam Net's events, told VG that he thinks there's pressure on Muslim students:

"They have a monopoly on being the Muslim association for students in the college. But after participating in a wide variety of events, I feel they've taken my religion and are using it in a way that scares me," says the student.

In mid-May the student parliament invited Islam net to a meeting.

"We recommended that they have a separate administration for the student organization, so that we know who we're dealing with. They've done this," says Erik Yven, of the student parliament.

22 year old Fahad Qureshi is meanwhile still listed as the manager of both the national association Islam Net and Islam Net Student in Oslo.

In December Islam Net told multicultural net-magazine Xplosiv.no that the mission courses had rapidly increasing demand and that ten people had converted in the last two lectures.

Rector Sissel Østberg stresses that the school will not accept the school's premises being used for meetings which incite to violence, or other violate Norwegian law.

"We've made it clear to Islam Net, and I don't perceive that there's any disagreement on this point," she says.

Østberg doesn't hide the fact that she thinks some of Islam Net's activities are unfortunate, but will not prevent the association form running activities on school grounds.

"As long as it's an association which is approved by the student parliament, and they don't violate Norwegian law, we have no basis to prevent them from holding meetings," Østberg told VG Nett.

Q: If you, as rector, think some of the activities are unfortunate, don't you have a responsibility to intervene?

"We intervened, and we are in dialog on how these activities should be run, but we can't engage in censorship. We have both freedom of speech and freedom of religion in Norway. We don't intervene against Christian association which hold prayers and other preachings in their meetings either, and the same rules apply to everybody," she says.

Q: But not everybody can hold meetings freely on college grounds?

"No, that's why we're concerned that Islam Net will distinguish between the activity of the student association, and other meetings in the network's initiative. We are in dialog with Islam Net about this, and we're trying to clean up," she says.

She meanwhile makes it clear that the school won't allow missionizing on school grounds outside the association meetings, and stresses that the school won't accept students being subject to pressure to participate in meetings either.

"If we receive complaints from students, it's natural that the student parliament sends an observe to the meetings, to clarify what kind of activity is being run," she says.

The head of the Norwegian Parliament's education committee, Marianne Aasen (Ap), urges the rector to stop all missionary activity at the school. She thinks the school legitimizes the association's activities by allowing meetings on school grounds.

"It's good to have meetings where political and religious ideas are discussed, but meetings intended to convert people to a certain faith is something else. The college shouldn't be a venue for such activities," she says.

"The school should encourage religious practice through student priests and prayer rooms, but it's something else to have active missionizing activity. The school's management should prevent that from happening," she says.

Q: But it's a voluntary matter if students want to participate in the meetings, and expose themselves to this missionizing?

"Yes, but this doesn't belong on school grounds. There's no reason for such activity to take place under the school's wings," says Aasen.

The Ap (Labor) representative, doesn't see any need, however, for stricter political regulation of activities on education sites, and says that each school should decide what types of activities should be allowed, as long as they allowed by Norwegian law.

Source: VG 1, 2 (Norwegian)

Update: Fixed various typos.

For more on Islam Net:

* Norway: First conversion course

* Oslo: Imam blames 9/11 on US in college lecture

* Norway: Preacher defends husband's right to beat wife

* Sweden: Muslim Youth group invites hate preacher to annual conference

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