By hiring Nikab-wearing Leyla Hasic, Islamic Council Norway has taken a clear stand in a controversial debate. Norwegian Muslims neither are represented nor served with this decision. There are only a few Muslim women living in Norway who insist on dressing up in public in Nikab or Burka. Nikab-wearing women can answer for their choice, but by hiring one of them, IRN fails Muslim minority in Norway who are fighting a fierce battle for more dialogue and understanding.
Islamic Council Norway represents few dozen mosques and have been sort of a rest-cushion for both; the mosques and for the Norwegian authorities, who need a competent forum to represent Muslims in debates, decision-making process and on various different forums. Due to this, the IRN gets public money to run its organization. It is accepted as an umbrella organization for Muslim religious organizations. Islamic Council has no other role than to defend the Muslims ‘ case and give them a voice in the public debate. IRN has previously failed the Muslims in Norway due to its controversial decisions and by internal disputes and conflicts.
Muslim religious organizations organize prayers and offer facilities to for religious rituals. They do not have any cooperation between them because they represent different sects and religious definitions of Islam. They do not follow changes in the society they live in and rarely participate in public debates. The few, who claim that they are working for a better and more harmonious social climate, are active missionaries and take credit for getting more people to convert to Islam.
Norwegian Muslims have no expectations from religious organizations and mosques. On the other hand, Imams did not define their roles in the society. Many mosques get their religious leaders and imams from their respective home countries. They also invite religious scholars from other continents, who like themselves do not have any knowledge of western societies and their demands. Their only method is to speak in reference to Quran and religious historical events without making them relevant in today’s life and environment. They fail to present Islam as modern faith who can answer the challenges of our times. Debate about wearing Nikab, Burqa and Hijab in Western societies is also one issue that Muslim leaders in Norway do not offer any radical approach. Many questions go unanswered.
It is strange that the secretary general of the Islamic Council Norway, Mehtab Afsar, is surprised on the questions from journalists about the hiring a Nikab-wearing woman. He responds by referring to the principles of freedom of expression and equality for women. And argues that it is important what one has in head and not what she wears on her head. This argument reflects that he is unable to understand the strong reaction of the society and Cultural minister. The issue is not about Nikab-wearing women’s right to work but about the competence of an organization who claims to work for making bridges between people.
Debate around Islam in Norway is focused on the question of integration. Afsar and his colleagues in Islamic Council fail to act in a way that could bring people together. They instead create misunderstanding by its actions. The question is what signal IRN wanted to send to the society and the Muslims living here by hiring a woman who insists wear Nikab.
Forceful reaction from many commentators and politicians is not unexpected. It is rather genuine and needed. Muslim leaders do not want to debate the core issue of hiding ones face in an open society. This action of few is a challenge to identify someone and can be a security risk. IRN should have addressed the issue instead of arguing a bad case on her part.
Islamic Council have failed to fulfill its task to be a responsible inclusive voice for Muslims in Norway. It is their duty to help Muslims with the integration in the society. It is hard to believe that IRN shall exist on State funds just to make sure that Muslims get Halal meat and to send a Muslim representative to different occasions. For Norwegian journalists and other government officials, its been easy to relate to IRN, because they find someone who can speak Norwegian. Not an easy task if one calls a mosque in Oslo.
If the mosques and Muslim organizations want their voice heard in the society, they need to manage recruiting youth and make them leaders. People, who are born and raised here, can understand and reflect better. If Muslims want an umbrella organization that represents them in the society, why the government should specifically fund it? Mosques have shown economic capacity by building many expensive mosques in the city. Hence, they have not been able to come together and build an organization that truly represents Muslims in Norway, and can speak with authority about important theological questions.
One cannot agree more in what the member of Norwegian Storting Abid Raja said that IRN practically has played out its role as a serious contributor. Norwegian Muslims are better served without this kind of Islamic Council that neither can anything about Islam or about the society.