A file photo of Sheikh Zaid Ben Sultan mosque in Stockholm. (IOL)

MALMO, Sweden, February 17, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Muslims in the Scandinavian kingdom of Sweden are, by and large, enjoying tolerance and welfare, despite some practices of job discrimination and attacks on their places of worship.

“Sweden is the best Islamic state now,” imam Adly Abu Hajar told Reuters.

He cited tolerance, welfare and controls on alcohol and prostitution as values shared with Islam.

The Swedish government has recently acted swiftly to prevent what could have been another “cartoon war” when it canceled a contest planned by a Swedish right-wing party on cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The decision followed talks between Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds and political parties in the Scandinavian country.

Jyllands-Posten, a mass-circulation daily in neighboring Denmark, has triggered an outcry across the Muslim world for running 12 cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in September.

The drawings, considered blasphemous under Islam, included portrayals of the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women.

Demonized

Some Muslims, however, have complained of being demonized by the media.

“They make me out to be a Taliban, but they don’t say any positive things like the fact that my kids go to Swedish schools and my wife doesn’t cover her face,” said Ammar Daoud, who works in a small basement mosque in the southern Swedish city of Malmo.

Such misconceptions and stereotyping image have resulted in many arson attacks on the Muslim places of worship in the country.

In 2003, the mosque in Rosengard, Scandinavia’s biggest, was burnt to the ground by unknown arsonists. The worship place was again fire-bombed as soon as it was rebuilt.

Bejzat Becirov, the mosque director who, during the Reuters interview, received an anonymous letter with a lewd cartoon of the Prophet, rejects the media’s portrayal of Malmo as a hotbed of “Muslim radicalism.”

“The problem is not as big as it is made out to be,” said Becirov, who came over from Macedonia in 1962.

“There are some people who come from war zones with so much hate in their hearts and group together, but they must get rid of that hate.”

No Extremism

Many Muslims enjoy an atmosphere of tolerance and welfare in Sweden. (IOL)

Daoud, a softly-spoken Palestinian scientist, agreed.

“I don’t think there is extremism in Sweden,” said Daoud who is angry at the media for portraying basement mosques as extremist Islamic agitators.

He said the increase of the basement mosques in the city was due to lack of enough space in the main mosques.

“It’s a scandal that here in Malmo with 50,000 Muslims there is only one mosque that can fit in only 400 or 500,” he said.

Muslims in Sweden are estimated at some 500,000, with 70% of them attending schools and universities.

Islam has become the second official religion in Sweden after Christianity, despite the fact that the Muslim community is a relatively new one, unlike that of other European countries such as France.