May 16-17, 2012
Two undercover women with niqab (face veil) approached Sweden’s ten largest mosques equipped with hidden cameras in order to inquire about issues of polygamous marriages, domestic maltreatment, and nonconsensual marital sex. Aired by the Swedish state television’s (SVT) controversial investigative program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) showed that the mosque representatives gave advices which were contrary to the Swedish laws.
In six out of the ten visited mosques the woman who posed as maltreated by her husband who had married several wives received advice not to report her husband to the police. The woman was accompanied by another veiled woman, a hidden camera equipped reporter, who posed as her supportive friend. In one mosque the answer was too vague to call either way, in another there was a conflict of opinions and in two mosques the advice was to report the husband’s abuse to the authorities. The overwhelming opinion given in the mosques was that the man had right to marry several wives simultaneously under certain conditions. Only one respondent argued that polygamy is disallowed in Sweden and that the man should obey by it.
These opinions and advice were given either by imams at these mosques or by someone who had a role as a family counselor. The host of the SVT program, a well-know reporter, Janne Josefsson, approached the two biggest mosques (in Stockholm and Uppsala) with the recordings from the women’s visit the official stand-point on issues of domestic abuse was that the mosques must abide by the Swedish law in these issues. In Uppsala, the chairman of the association disassociated himself from the person who gave the advice to the woman not to report her husband. It was later reported that the supposed imam in Uppsala was only a occasional lecturer at the mosque and not the regular imam or representative of the mosque. The recording from the program showed the man in Uppsala instructs the woman not to report her husband to the police but instead to seek solution to their problems between themselves. At one point he asked her to approach her husband through an apology, that is if she had done something wrong.
In Stockholm, the women had met with an imam who defended the general right of a husband to marry more than one wife and advised the supposedly maltreated woman not to report the incident to the authorities. The recording in this case showed that he had suggested to the woman to increase her efforts in showing affection to her husband, this after she claimed that she loved her husband very much and did not intend on leaving him in any case. He said among other things, “Do not deny him your love so he might change (to be kinder).” After seeing the recording showed to them by the program host, the board of trustees of the organization in charge of the Stockholm’s main mosque chose to start an internal investigation in regard to the reported counsel given by the imam.
Mohammad Fazlhashemi, a professor of history of ideas at the University in Umeå argues that the program had showed that several of the imams have given advice which clearly goes against the Swedish law. He himself was featured in the program as commentator of these events by reading written transcripts of the conversations from these various mosques. “What these men (imams) had said to the women clearly violates their human rights”, he adds. He is strongly critical of the imams (in the program) who do not follow the Swedish legislation. He links the alleged violations with some of these mosques receiving government approved financial support. “As the mosques have received state support they have also acknowledged their obligation to follow Swedish law and the basic democratic principles.” He continues, “Now there is a need for self-examination. They need to clean up.” Mohammad Fazlhashemi, himself a Muslim, believes that the outmoded mosque-representatives support the anti-Muslim forces’ ideology, including the Swedish Democrats (extreme-right wing party with 20 seats in the parliament). “This confirms their hateful view of Muslims. This is extremely unfortunate that they (i.e. the six mosque representatives) live up to the Islamophobic prejudices.”
In the long run, Fazlhashemi argues, there needs to be a state sponsored university program for imams where religious leaders are educated giving them opportunity to expand their competences in fields of feminism, democracy, legislation etc.
Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the board in Islamic Council of Sweden, and Mahmoud Khalfi, the chairman of the board in Swedish Imam Council have been quick to distance themselves from the controversial statements made by the mosque representatives and reported in the program. Omar Mustafa said that “It has been incredibly scary, the things that came up. It is unacceptable to defend violence against women, regardless if we look at the Swedish law or the Islamic values.” He continued, “Force, violence, oppression and fear are inconsistent with the goals of a marriage.” Mahmoud Khalfi, an imam himself, agrees, “Everything (marital relationship) is built on respect and love. Force and violence have no place in the relationship. This is what we lecture and preach about constantly.”
Omar Mustafa’s personal view is that the men who appeared in the program need to be investigated without delay. “It needs to be clear up if these men are guilty of any criminal or/and (professional) misconduct and in case of any violations it is necessary to take necessary measures. However, he is also critical of the tone taken in the program. “They (the program editors) paint a picture that Muslims give conflicting messages (i.e. hypocritical stance). It strives to show that Muslims have two agendas, one public and one private. It (the tone and approach in the program) feels awfully conspiratorial.” Mahmoud Khalfi adds, ”Our official version is always that which we believe in and the message that we preach. However, there are individuals who commit mistakes.”
Additionally, in the light of these recent controversies the Islamic Council of Sweden writes on its webpage (http://islamiskaforbundet.se/sv/), that believing Muslim have “religious duty to respect and obey the country’s laws”. The Council also writes that one of its primary goals is to “work for the human rights”.
Five of the ten mosques (out of about 145 registered mosques in Sweden) featured in the program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) were regular recipients of governmental financial support: Uppsala Mosque, Stockholm Mosque, malmö Salsabil mosque, and the mosque in Järfälla. The Örebro Mosque had received this type of support earlier, however, due to unrelated administrative misconduct; the support was temporarily suspended, this according to Åke Gustavsson, the Secretary General at the Commission for Governmental Support to Religious Communities.