Finland: Stories of the second generation

Finland: Stories of the second generation

Interviews with second generation Somali immigrants in Finland (one is actually Ethiopian), this article actually seems to throw quite a lot in. I added sub-headings to make reading easier.

The first story is rather interesting - Assafe was an Ethiopian Christian, but in Finland he felt closer to the Somali Muslims than to the Finnish Christians.

The Convert

The depth of the devotion of 23-year-old Hunde Assefa is apparent just looking at him, as he walks with his veiled wife and four-year-old son on the street. Hunde has a thin beard, he is dressed in white, and on his head he has a Muslim cap. This indicates that he is more devout than his average co-religionists in Finland.

Hunde was born in the late 1980s in Finland, and has lived here his whole life. But when he is asked about his identity, he does not emphasise his Finnishness.

“My primary identity is that of a Muslim. In other respects I am international. My roots are in Ethiopia, I was born in Finland, and I have attended international schools”, he says.

Hunde could also be called a second-generation immigrant. The members of his family were originally Ethiopian Christians. Hunde converted to Islam six years, so it is no wonder that he is very religious, as converts often tend to be.

Hunde was 18 years old when he accepted Allah into his life. One reason for this is that as a teenager he spent much time with Somali immigrants.

“It was during comprehensive school that the development of a foreign identity began. When Somalis and other foreigners started coming to Finland, there was no doubt that I belonged to them.”

Hunde is a young man who weighs his words carefully. He adheres to the teachings the fairly conservative Shafi’i school of Islamic law, and he follows Sufism, which focuses on the purification of the soul.


Hunde does not follow Western popular culture: “The lyrics of popular music are what they are. I don’t watch much TV either, as it affects the soul.”

If things go well, Hunde will attend an Islamic university some day. For instance, there is an interesting school in Yemen - the moderate Dar Al Mustafa.

“Many students from the West have gone there. When they have returned they have done many good things in their communities.”

There are at least 45,000 Muslims in Finland. Most of them are Sunni. There are only a few thousand Shia in Finland. Most have arrived after the early 1990s. First came Somalis, then Iraqis, Kosovars, and Afghanis. A small Tatar minority settled in Finland already in the late 19th century.

Now many of the children of Muslims who immigrated to Finland in recent decades have grown up. Some of them have become secularised and Westernised, while many live very devout lives dedicated to Islam. But what kind of an Islam do they believe in?

The Radical

There has been very little Islamic radicalism in Finland, but it is the second generation of Muslim men who are seen as a high-risk group all over western Europe. For instance, in Britain and France, many in the second generation of immigrants have become embittered, radicalised, and have isolated themselves from society.

The story of Abdillahi Farah Muhamed, who lives in Pähkinärinne in Vantaa, is a sobering one. The first six years of his life he lived in the family of a camel herders in Somaliland. Now at the age of 21 he already looks like a young person from the Helsinki region, wearing big headphones and a woolen cap.

Abdillahi was sent to Finland in 1996 to flee the war. He had never even heard about Europe. He saw snow and the sea for the first time. People lived in white cubes. The sounds that buses made was strange, because Abdillahi had never heard of natural gas.

“In the schoolyard I was called an ugly black, or I was asked if I was a rubber boat refugee. I will never forget it”, Abdillahi recalls in a restaurant of a hotel in Vantaa.


In 2007 Abdillahi fled the problems he was having to Germany for six months, to stay with his half sister. The trip changed his life. Abdillahi cannot say which things led to other things, except that it was the providence of Allah. When he returned to Vantaa he became a fundamentalist with a capital F.

Now he believes in the very conservative interpretations of Sunni Islam. Some of his thoughts are confusing, such as his views on evolution: apes are descended from people who sinned against Allah millions of years ago, and Allah turned them into apes.

Or on the roles of men and women: “The biggest problem in Finland is that Somali women here think that they are free to do what they want. They have deprived men of the honour of being responsible for everything that a woman eats, what she wears, or what the women are taught.

Still, Abdillahi is no hooded warrior of the faith. He has just started to work at a day-care centre in Vantaa. Previously he has had a job as caring for mentally disabled people in Rinnekoti in Espoo. He is a polite young man, but in his faith he is very extreme. “A lone wolf”, as he says himself.


The Neo-Fundamentalists

Tom Kankkonen, a journalist for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), wrote in his book Islam Euroopassa (“Islam in Europe”), that the spread of the hard-line Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, which is akin to Salafism, which is practiced in Finland, is seen as something of a threat. There are already a few hundred of these neo-fundamentalist Sunni in Finland, and they operate in communities such as the Helsinki Muslimikoti (“Muslim Home”), the Iqra association, and the Salafi Forum on the Internet.

“These kinds of groups all over Europe feel that it is most important to create an island of Islam isolated form the rest of society”, Juntunen says. However, he notes that the religious interpretations of the groups do not necessarily have anything to do with security threats, even though Salafism might serve as a motivator for radicalism.


The Youth Worker

Youth worker Mohamed Xadar Mukhtar Abdi has a clear mission: to keep Somali young people on the straight and narrow. To keep them away from khat, alcohol, and other bad habits. Mohamed works at the Kanava association, which offers help to immigrants.

“Many are on the verge of dropping out of school. Then there are young people who have already fallen”, says 25-year-old Mohamed.

“Some have broken their family ties. They do nothing. They just sleep during the day and see their friends at night. Khat is the worst people stay awake all night, and the next day goes completely crazy.”


“From late last year, one of the biggest concerns here in Kanava has been that many Somali young people are losing their jobs”, Mohamed says.

“After getting splashed with too much mud, it becomes easier for a young person to be recruited to some [hard-line Muslim] organisation.”

Some of the Somalis who were interviewed for this story, such as the young Abdillahi, believe that there are “quite a few” supporters of al-Shabab in Finland. However, they emphasise that the support does not mean that they support terrorism, but rather that some of Finland’s Somalis represent the same clans that are in the majority in al-Shabab.

Sunnis vs. Shi'ites and Saudi money

Relations between Finland’s Sunnis and Shi’ites have cooled over the past decade. Researcher Marko Juntunen sees this as a reflection of the sharper division in the entire Muslim world. After the WTC attacks in September 2001 there has been radicalisation in the whole Muslim world. What happens in Iraq or Iran between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites has repercussions all the way to Finland.

“The [Salafist] Muslimikoti association in Pitäjänmäki is circulating some quite extreme Arabic language anti-Shi’ite material on the Internet”, Juntunen says.

The schism is a sensitive issue in the Finnish Muslim community. The dispute is made worse by the fact that the hard-line Sunni Saudi Arabia is actively engaged in missionary work, which has been taking place even in Finland since the 1980s.

“The Saudis began to direct money toward Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian [Shi’ite] revolution. The Saudi administration feared that the Islamic activism on the street would topple governments all over the Middle East”, Juntunen says.

At least three Finnish mosques and one community have received money from Saudi sources. For instance, Helsinki’s Islam Centre in East Pasila. There is disagreement among Muslims on the degree to which the money is conditional on the assimilation of religious doctrine prevalent in Saudi-Arabia.


The head of anti-terror activities at the Finnish Security Police (SUPO), Lasse Anttila, sees no need to worry about Muslim money coming in as such. Nor is he concerned that a few dozen Muslims have travelled from Finland to study in conservative universities in Saudi Arabia in the past decade. It might even reduce radical tendencies.

“People with radical thoughts have become more moderate during their studies, and rejected their previous extremist ideas”, Anttila says.

“The problems are related more to recruiters operating near the official institutions of learning, who try to recruit students into violent, radical activities. We have spoken to some who have gone to study so that they might recognise this possibility.


One can hardly envy young Muslim men who have come to Finland from Africa or the Middle East. How are they supposed to prove their willingness to assimilate?

One way is to become an artillery man at the Vekarajärvi garrison, as 25-year-old Mohamed Abdirashid Awad did.

“I was the only dark-skinned person at that time, even though it was Finland’s largest garrison. All the others were from Heinola or somewhere, and there were some who probably had never seen a dark-skinned guy. But I got some friends there”, Mohamed says, sitting in his regular café in Helsinki.

Now he is studying to be a surgical nurse, and he has a job selling hamburgers. He watches hockey on television, and goes to the mosque to pray. He often has a friend, 26-year-old Aden Ahmed Hassan with him.

Aden has also moved ahead in Finland, although he has sometimes failed to get a job when he spoke his name on the telephone. Now he is studying at the Hanken School of Economics (as a child he was placed in a Swedish-language elementary school), he is a member of the Swedish People’s Party, and he has a job as an airport security inspector.

“We know everything about this culture.”


“It is easier for Russians and Estonians to get ahead”, Aden says. “I would like to know why that is.”


Source: HS (English)

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