Norway: Asylum shelter removes mosque

Norway: Asylum shelter removes mosque

Muslims at the Kongsvinger national shelter won't get their own prayer room any longer.  The premises might become a billiard room.

The decision caused strong reactions among the more than 70 people who live in the shelter.

"About 80% of those who live at the shelter are Muslims.  In addition, there are many others who come here to pray every Friday," says Alaa Madi, throwing out his arms in resignation.

In what was a holy room for many just a short time ago, there is now painting equipment. The shelter manager decided that the place would serve as a social room instead, maybe with a billiard table, and the work is in full swing.

'Do you want a prayer room or billiard?" asks Madi.

"Prayer room" is the answer in unison from the many male residents who came to give their opinion.

Alaa Madi doesn't live in the shelter, but is a spokesperson for the local Muslims.  The Kongsvinger man, who knows many of those who live in the shelter, points out that they have no other prayer room or mosque in the district.

"Is there no freedom of religion in Norway?  Christian Norwegians certainly have many churches they can use, we have nothing."

Most of all the Muslims want their own activity center outside the shelter, where they can offer their own activities for children, women and their own mosque, where they can also help asylum seekers become integrated in Norwegian society.

"We turned to the municipality to get help finding our own premises.  We can do everything ourselves, it shouldn't cost the public  anything," says Alaa Madi.

There is now a room at the Konsvinger national shelter for meditation and reflection.  The room is religiously neutral.

"Regardless, here there's far too little place.  Besides which we can't use a room with such books," say the Muslims, and show the front cover of Jane Fonda's workout book for pregnancy, birth and recovery.


"We can't give preferential treatment to a group of resident and are just following the rules," says the manager of the shelter, Jon Ivar Bergersen.

He says the reason the Muslims lost their prayer room is an inspection by the Directorate of Immigration (DI).  The directorate made it clear that the prayer room is unacceptable by the current regulations.

"My intention isn't to spoil it for anybody.  At the moment we can't allow such groups to take the law into their own hands," says Bergersen to Glåmdalen.

"We have freedom of religion and there is permission to pray, but at the same time this is a private issue.  The Muslims belong to different groups and some of the residents might have fled the Islamic faith, therefore we will be careful," says the shelter manager.

He also says that women don't have access to the prayer room.  The women residents were furthermore harassed if they went in.

The shelter manager also says that outsiders go into the shelter and that this isn't allowed due to security reasons.

"If we had allowed, for example, Jewish asylum seekers to use their own room and decorated the walls with icons, would that have caused strong reactions from the Arabs," points out Jon Ivar Bergersen.

The manager thinks it's a good idea if the Muslims would get their own activity center or mosque and supports this initiative.

Source: glomdalen 1, 2 (Norwegian)

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