Aje Carlbom is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Malmö, and here is what he had to say about the situation in Sweden, where Saudi Arabia is the foreign promoter of the spread of Islam in the Swedish society, to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Samhälle:
Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has actively spread its interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism or Salafism, worldwide. It is the most literal version of Islam and affects many young Muslims, who regard society as a place to Islamize, writes social anthropologist Aje Carlbom.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström was criticized by Saudi Arabia for their involvement in its internal affairs. For the Saudis themselves however, there is no problem to interfere in other countries' political and social affairs.
Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has been actively proselytizing, on a global level, for their particular interpretation of Islam: Wahhabism or Salafism, as its become known as in later years. It is the most literalist version of Islamic interpretations (Sunni) and has influenced the thinking of many young Muslims in recent years.
The Saudi mission is organized by the Muslim World League (MWL), one of the largest NGOs with 30 offices on five continents. The main task of the MWL is to sponsor the spread of Islam in the world. The latest Swedish Quran translation, "Koranens budskap" (the message of the Quran), was partly financed with the help of Saudi capital.
An important part of the mission has been to finance the construction of mosques. The great mosque in Malmö, Islamic Center, was funded by Saudi Arabia and Libya when it was built in the early 1980s. A relationship that changed a few years before the "Arab Spring" when the World Islamic Call Society bought the mosque. It is a Libyan, competing organization, which was established by the country's then dictator Muammar al Gaddafi.
The organization World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) is included in the MWL, who has spread its Islamic propaganda in different languages ??long before the Internet became a platform for it. Well known among those who study the spread of Islam, is the series of brochures that has been published by WAMY in recent decades.
The series tackles different subject areas in which the reader is persuaded to turn to Islam to find the meaning of life. MWL / WAMY has offices in London, whose aim is to "introduce Islam" in the UK and contribute to, as they say today, "dialogue" with the surrounding society. Another objective is to "correct the false image" of Islam, that is perceive to dominate how Westerners view Islam.
The Saudi mission has been very successful among many young Muslims in Sweden and other European countries. A common hypothesis is that young people are suffering from an identity crisis that makes them uncertain about who they really are. They find it hard to identify with the family's cultural and religious values and do not feel really at home in the Swedish liberal way of life.
But for an increasing number of young people, the solution to the difficulties is to search for Islamist groups and networks where they find religious and social community. In recent years, many young people has perceived Salafism more attractive than the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb out-Tahrir extreme teachings.
In Sweden, the term "violent radicalization" has had a major impact. The Islamist part of the term refers to the Salafists who develop in a militant direction and turn into jihadists. As a political movement Salafism is divided into groups that advocate violence and those who are opposed to it.
Violent young people is of course an integration problem for the democratic society. But even non-militant Salafism is a problem for young Muslims prospects to participate in society. These live in a "mental ghetto," which avoids contact with people who do not share their group's outlook. Separation from the majority society is a positive value for young people in the movement.
The young people who are drawn into the ideological world of salafism is on the search for "true" Islam. Young people feel that the Saudi interpretation provides an unambiguous teaching with clear instructions from god on how one should behave as a Muslim.
Salafists are developing a categorical approach to their environment where many normal activities become taboo. A contributing factor to the success of salafism is that Saudi Arabia (and Yemen) offered free religious education. After the examination, students have traveled around the world with the message of how Islam should actually be interpreted. Salafists have a relatively high status among Muslims in general, thanks to the uncompromising religion they practice.
Young people who are active in Salafist groups consider the community as a place to Islamize. Swedish United Dawa Center (SUDC) does missionary work, both on the streets and on the Internet. They invite prospective followers to spread Islam by learning a special "sales techniques" which is to "control the conversation and avoid difficult situations."
The packaging of the message often goes on to highlight the benefits of Islam over other doctrines. An important issue is the role of women in society. Salafists and Islamists know it's hard to convince skeptical Westerners, and therefore chooses to emphasize the rights of women who strictly follow the Salafists moral codes.
Women have the "right" to be supported by their men, as long as they live up to the primary duty to take care of children and the household. SUDC addressed their mission to sports clubs, the Swedish Migration Board, schools, politicians, the police and the public at large.
It is not just Saudi, or Salafist, organizations who do missionary work for Islam in today's world. The Islamic term for missionary work is dawa which literally means to be "called" to Islam. There is no reaction to discrimination but is part of the offensive strategy that Islamists uses to spread Islamic ideas and make people sympathetic to the religion. All Islamists perceive dawa / missionary work one of the religious duties. For Islamists, Islam is a universal message that should benefit everyone.
They believe that most problems facing humanity would be solved if everyone converts to Islam. It is expressed bluntly in the scripture that understanding Islam (partly funded by the then Swedish Immigration Board) where the Islamists say that the two most important tasks is "the duty to protect and serve the Muslim community in the immigration countries" and "the duty to bring Islam on the non-muslim society ".
To do so, the goal is to build a public structure of Islamic activities and gain interpretation precedence over the question of what Islam is. An important part of this work is to spread a positive value loaded image of the religion. A variety of academics, journalists, Islamists, politicians and activists are involved in this ideological activity. Many, without knowing it.
Globalisation has meant that Islamism has become part of the political reality of the secular nation-state. International and national organizations compete to gain influence by spreading their ideas among both non-Muslims and Muslims.
Surprisingly, this is an area that is largely devoid of journalistic coverage. It is high time to change it if we want to understand the social and political processes going on in Salafist and other Islamist-inspired Swedish adolescents.
Aje Carlbom is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology and teaches Religious Affairs at the Malmö University.
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