Oslo: The Muslim Christmas hero

Oslo: The Muslim Christmas hero

Norwegian-Pakistani Jamil Syed ensured that over 30 people could celebrate Christmas Eve this week, when he arranged an evening filled with traditional Christmas food, Christmas presents and Christmas activities at the Furuset Forum arena in Oslo.

"I think it's a pity that singly people who have nobody to celebrate Christmas with, celebrate alone. There are many elderly, newly divorced and lonely people who come here to celebrate Christmas. Many of them have no family left or nearby, and Christmas as a starting point is about delighting each other and celebrating together with somebody," says environment therapist Jamil Syed.

Through several weeks of planning, Syed published invitations in the newspaper Akers avisen and with posters which were hung up in the neighborhood. The whole of Oslo was invited, but most who came were elderly people from the Grorud Valley area (Groruddalen). It's the tenth year in a row in which Syed arranges Christmas Even in the neighborhood. Egil Stokke has been invited since 1998.

"I'm impressed by Jamil and what he'd gotten to. He does exactly what our politicians are responsibility for, and he does it so generously. It's also good to see that he, with a minority background, accepts other religions than his own," says Stokke, who doesn't have any family members left other than his ill wife.

In the past Syyed had to use money from his own pocket to ensure that lonesome people would get to celebrate Christmas. This year he got financial assistance from the neighborhood, Furuset church and the Betanien association (Norwegian Methodist).

"This year we have very good finances and it's nice to see that it's going ahead. It's an important event that the municipality should have supported many years ago. It's good to give people another possibility for an alternative Christmas," says Syed

(Syed. top, and some of his helpers)

Syed got a lot of help from his family. His wife and three children have helped for many years. In addition this week he had help from over 15 people who contributed to the event, and were Syed's small helpers this week.

Kalle Holt (43) was there for the second time, and contributed by serving food and playing the guitar.

"I'm newly divorced and therefore have nobody to celebrate Christmas with. I think it's nice to help and could ensure that others also avoid celebrating Christmas alone. When I'll go home later this evening and lie down on the sofa in my jogging clothes, I'll feel a good feeling coursing through my body. That's what Christmas is all about," says Holt.

For Lykke Stavnes (24) this was her first time. "It's somebody like Jamil I look up to, and it's extra special when somebody who doesn't celebrate Christmas, takes the initiative so that others get to celebrate. For me Christmas Eve wasn't a traditional celebration in my family and it's therefore good to use my time to help others," she says.

For many of those who come to Furuset Forum this week, Christmas is an emotional time. When Christmas is a tradition that puts the family in focus, it's had for many who don't have family or friends.

"My son preferred celebrating Christmas together with his stepbrother's family. My ex-husband is dead and I have only this one son," says Øydis Doxrud (62), who celebrated Christmas at the Forumet for the first time.

"If it hadn't been for my friend who was here, I would have probably not come. It's strange to celebrate Christmas alone together with strange people. But this is nice, since I was prepared to celebrate the day alone, says Doxrud.

She knows many who still celebrate Christmas alone. Most are elderly people.

"It's strange to see how many celebrate such an important holiday alone, and that many of them are elderly. In my culture, I'm used to having the children take care of the elderly family members," says Sahra Jaber (16).

Muslim Sahra chose this year to use the Christmas vacation, together with more youth from the Furuset youth forum, to help Syed with the Christmas event. She thinks it's important to show that minority youth at Furuset care about the elderly in society.

"Furuset has done much for the minority youth here in the neighborhood, and it's good to be able to give something back," says Jaber.

Though Jamil Syed is both Pakistani and Muslim, he's lived in Norway since 1973 and learned much about Norwegian culture. In the decade that he's been having a Christmas feast for Norwegians he's also learned much about Christmas traditions. This week he ensured that the invited guests got their wish list filled.

"I prepared Christmas pork ribs, sauerkraut, pinnekjøtt (dried mutton ribs) and rice cream," says volunteer chef Bjørn Gulbrandsen.

Pakistani rice and meat stew and chicken were served next to the Christmas food. Syed's wife was responsible for the Muslim food.

After people were full, everybody went round the Christmas tree while singing Christmas songs. Several times the Norwegian-Pakistani man stopped to talk on the phone.

"You're on the way, you say?" he says and looks round the place for Iraj Shakari (25), who's dressed up as Santa Claus.

"Ho, ho, ho. Are there any good children here? I mean, are there any good people here?" says Iraj Shakari.

Source: Dagsavisen (Norwegian) + more pictures

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