This all transpired days before a right-wing extremist, Brenton Tarrant, mercilessly slaughtered over 50 Muslim worshipers in New Zealand.
Denmark is home to over 300,000 Muslims, making Islam the largest minority religion in the country. However, with the rise of right-wing groups such as the Danish People’s Party, Muslims in Denmark feel polarised and under siege. Consistently, Danish lawmakers have approved laws that fundamentally disregard the rights of its Muslim citizens. From the banning of Halal meat in 2014, to the prohibition of the Niqab in 2017, to the nonsensical assimilation laws introduced in 2018 – Muslims in Denmark are being systematically attacked and their rights diminished.
In recent weeks, members of the congregation that attend Imam Ali Mosque in Copenhagen expressed their outrage on social media after learning that certain right-wing politicians and groups have called for their mosque to be shut down whilst also publicly vilifying Islamic clerics associated to the Mosque. This all transpired days before a right-wing extremist, Brenton Tarrant, mercilessly slaughtered over 50 Muslim worshipers in New Zealand. Undoubtedly, this tragedy impacted millions of individuals around the world, but particularly those that live in countries where intolerance has become a norm, where right-wing ideologues are provided with platforms to spew their hate, and where demagogues are validated to dehumanise minorities, irrespective of the consequences – such is the case in Denmark.
The Imam Ali Mosque is the largest Mosque in Denmark and was opened in 2015. It regularly facilitates interfaith events. The Mosque provides plentiful opportunities for schools to visit the vicinity for tours and educational classes. Over the years, clerics from Imam Ali Mosque have been frequently invited to deliver lectures in various universities and venues around the country to discuss several topics of interest, and through these activities they have become increasingly popular on a national level. Despite the noble efforts of those leading the Mosque, politicians such as Martin Henriksen and Inger Stojberg have actively been using their platforms on social media to marginalise, dehumanise, and stigmatise all those associated to the Imam Ali Mosque.
Martin Henriksen, an MP who represents the Dansk Folkeparti publicly declared “We need to tear down the Mosque [Imam Ali Mosque]”. This came after Shaykh Mohammad Khani, a cleric who serves at the place of worship was accused of being an “Iranian spy” – an accusation that seeks to ultimately alienate Mohammad Khani and the Islamic institution at large. Henriksen is the same MP that shamelessly mentioned during a parliamentary debate that Muslim immigrants are a “problem” and later in a separate interview stated “The more [people] in Denmark with Muslim background, the greater the threat to Danish identity”. Shaykh Mohammad Khani, who is a dual-citizen, attempted to contact another Parliamentarian by the name of Lars Aslan Rasmussen to discuss the intensifying situation surrounding Imam Ali Mosque, however MP Rasmussen quickly dismissed his attempt for dialogue and threatened to block him. Danish media outlets seized the opportunity to use sensational headlines for their inaccurate stories, which can be read here, here and here. It is paramount to understand that at a discursive and socio-cognitive level, anyone with political influence that seeks to polarise and socially exclude an entire group of citizens must be held responsible by international bodies before the group at risk of isolation are met with further hostility and brutality, especially with the rise of far-right terror attacks against Muslims.
An official statement was released on the Imam Ali Mosque Facebook page on 9th March 2019, essentially declaring that the mosque is being accused of being affiliated with Iran in a bid to discredit them. An excerpt from the statement can be read below:
“…Their argument is that our work is being dictated and ruled by Iran despite the fact that they have no single proof of this, and so far, there has never been a single indictment that we are spying for Iran. Never has a single person associated with the mosque ever been convicted of this…
As Shia Muslims, we follow a number of jurists, including some of those who live in Iran and others who are not, such as Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. These scholars are experts in Islam, and this concept is something that goes far beyond the Islamic revolution in 1979…
All legal scholars, without exception, believe that as Muslim in Denmark, they are obliged to comply with the Danish laws and regulations, and any breach of these is considered a breach of the rules of Islam as a Danish citizen has committed himself to respect it Danish legislation. We never hide our opinions and have always worked actively to strengthen the cohesion of society, both locally and nationally. We have held countless inter-religious conferences and had numerous meetings with both the Copenhagen police, as well as the police intelligence service. Therefore, we do not see these many accusations and accusations as anything but a desperate attempt to destroy a beautiful piece of work that has helped to break down prejudices and strengthen the peaceful coexistence in Denmark.”
Furthermore, this sustained campaign against Imam Ali Mosque has been building up progressively, and the initial indicators appeared in the final quarter of 2018 after a list of “hate preachers” that have been banned from entering Denmark surfaced, and the list included two Shia Muslim scholars that visited the Mosque for educational purposes. Shaykh Mansour Leghaei and Shaykh Hamza Sodagar, two clerics that have both been prohibited from entering Denmark. It is imperative to recognise that these incidents are not isolated, and the categorical violation of the Muslim community in Europe is a result of the unremitting onslaught against Islam perpetrated mainly by politicians and mainstream media outlets. For years politicians in Denmark have been fixated on castigating Muslims, and it is upon activists and community leaders around the world to call on human rights organizations to intervene to counter this rhetoric, as indubitably the Muslim population in Denmark are endangered.
To conclude, the European Islamophobia Report that was published in 2018, stated that in 2016 there were a total of 56 Islamophobic incidents that were reported, and the National Police declared that 20% of the hate crimes committed targeted Muslims – making Muslims the most targeted group, especially considering that Muslims make up 5% of the population in Denmark. There is no doubt that the anti-Islam rhetoric fuelled by bigoted politicians has manifested through these incidents. Politicians such as Kim Hammer from the Danish People’s Party who said, “Muslims destroy the Western world”, and Inger Stojberg that recently declared “on several occasions I have said that I would like to see mosques being closed in Denmark…” or that Muslims are a “danger while fasting” have indisputably fostered an environment of hate and efficaciously paved way for extremists to attack Muslim citizens in Denmark, whether it’s through social media or in person. Foreign Minister, Inger Stojberg’s consistent hate campaign against Imam Ali Mosque has not only endangered the attendees of the Mosque, but the entire Muslim population of Denmark, and the consequences of this loathsome campaign will be fatal.
As a matter of urgency, we call on activists and leaders with a conscience around the world to speak out against far-right politicians in Denmark and support the vulnerable Muslim community of Denmark.