Norway: Proposal for Norwegian-only religious services

The Progress Party have launched another controversial idea, taking the desire to have better Norwegian skills for imams in Norway and instead proposing that all religious services in the country must be conducted in Norwegian.

Progress Party politician Per-Willy Amundsen emphasizes that though the debate about better integrated imams inspired the idea, the new proposal is for all faiths.

Amundsen is the immigration policy spokesman for what is currently Norway's most popular political party, and leads his party's immigration policy committee.

"We are considering a requirement that religious communities that receive state support conduct their services in Norwegian," Amundsen said. Amundsen admitted that much of the motivation behind the proposal was due to "the attitudes to be found in mosques", but that it should apply to all.

After being asked what would happen to the Swedish Church in Oslo, Amundsen said a possible solution would be to hold services in a language that the majority of the nation understood, so Swedish and English would be acceptable as well.

Amundsen said exceptions could be made when congregations had foreign visitors, and did not see the proposal as coercive, saying that faiths had the option of giving up their state financial support.

Political reactions

Reactions were largely negative, though Conservative Party politician Kari Lise Holmberg said she understood the attraction of having services in Norwegian, but felt the suggestion was problematic due to freedom of expression.

"We demand that imams learn Norwegian and social customs, that is fundamental," Holmberg said.

Labor politician Arild Stokkan-Grande said that while it was important to stress that one should speak Norwegian in Norway, the invasion of religious services was not desirable.

Socialist Left politician Rolf Reikvam rejected the suggestion.

"We want to see the service held in the language that the religious community understands," Reikvam said.

Religious leaders react

Basim Ghozlan of the Islamic Association in Oslo said that such a measure would leave many of those attending services in mosques unable to understand what was being said, and he foresees a gradual and natural shift to Norwegian over time.

"The next generation will increasingly use the Norwegian language as their first, and Norwegian is already used in conversations and documents today," Ghozlan said.

Anne Sender of the Mosaic Religious Community in Oslo said that rabbis used Norwegian in services today but that it was impossible to change the language of rituals and reading of holy scripture.

"It cannot be the task of the state to decide how we practice our faith, and I think this suggestion by the Progress Party is silly. There are other ways to solve integration and communication problems," Sender said.

The Oslo Catholic Diocese said it was important to hold services in several languages, according to those attending, information chief Stian Erdal said. Erdal called the proposal a "completely unacceptable" attempt to intervene in the practice of religion.

"This would especially affect the Jews and Muslims who have many of their holy scriptures in Hebrew and Arabic. I hope and expect that this will not be carried through," Erdal said.

Source: Aftenposten (English)

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