HRS International

“Progressive” Muslim students in Oslo? Look again.

An article in the Oslo student newspaper puts a grotesquely cheery spin on terribly grim tidings.

By Bruce Bawer, HRS

The headline in Universitas, the weekly newspaper of the University of Oslo, was big and eye-grabbing: “Student groups come out against Islamic Council.” And the subhead was no less startling: “Muslim student groups react to the Islamic Council’s statements on the death penalty for gays. For their own part, they take strong exception to the idea of punishing gays with death.”

This certainly surprised me, because last I heard, the major Muslim student group at the University of Oslo, the Muslim Student Union (Muslimsk Studentersamfunn), was no defender of gay people’s right not to be executed. On the contrary, back when Norwegian media darling Muhammad Usman Rana was running the group, he famously refused to comment on a theological pronouncement to the effect that Islam did, indeed, prescribe death for gays. The gist of his reaction was “I’m not a theologian.” This comment, of course, did not harm his standing as a rising star in the Norwegian media and politics. On the Norwegian left today – which is to say, in the Norwegian cultural elite – it’s far more important to be “sensitive” to Islamic belief than it is to support the right of gay people not to be executed.

But the Universitas article, written by Julie Nordby Egeland, was not exactly what the headline and subhead promised. Yes, Egeland reported that in the wake of “vague statements” issued by the Islamic Council (Islamsk råd) during the past month about its position on the death penalty for gays, a group called The Islamic Organization in Norway (Den islamske ungdomsorganisasjonen i Norge, or DIN) had taken issue with the council.

Good for DIN, but I’m afraid I’ve never heard of the group before. (And it may be that Egeland hadn’t heard of them either, because she misidentified them, replacing the word Islamic in their name with Muslim.) “We are asking for clearer answers from the Islamic Council,” the head of DIN told Egeland, and added that “We in DIN reject the death penalty for gays and reject the statement from the Islamic Council.” Judging from all of the material on its website about Ali ibn abi Talib, whom Shiites consider to have been the first imam, DIN would appear to be a Shia group.

Egeland also reported that the head of “the Muslim student group Ahmadiyya” had criticized the Islamic Council “for not taking an active stand against the death penalty for gays.” “It is a stupid statement,” said the head of the group, Hamzah Ahmed Rajpoot, and added that any Muslim who supports the death penalty for homosexuality on religious ground is misinterpreting Islam.

That’s great to hear – but then again, Ahmadiyya, as its name indicates, is an organization of Ahmadiyya (or Ahmadi) Muslims. Egeland should have noted that Shia and Sunni Muslims do not consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be genuine Muslims. Why? Precisely because they hold opinions like this. Instead of armed jihad, Ahmadiyya preach turning the other cheek. Their version of Islam is quite simply too tolerant and peaceful for Shia and Sunni theologians. Throughout the Muslim world they’ve been persecuted and harassed, and the Pakistani government has officially declared them to be non-Muslims. So has the Organization of the Islamic Conference.»

Egeland also interviewed the head of the Norwegian LGBT Association (Landsforeningen for lesbiske og homofile, LLH), Bård Nylund. “Nylund,” she wrote, “considers it gratifying to hear that the Muslim student groups are clear about what they think about punishing homosexuality with death.” Egeland quoted Nylund: “This is good. It shows that they are more progressive than they are on the Islamic Council… this gives us hope for the future.”

Some hope. Not until the very end of her article, in the 19th and 20th paragraphs of a 20-paragraph story, did Egeland tell us two things. First, when she contacted the spokesman for Islam Net, the Muslim student group at Oslo University College (Oslo’s other major institution of higher education, aside from the University of Oslo), he said that the organization did not wish to take a public position on the question. Second, when she contacted the Muslim Student Union at the University of Oslo, they refused to comment.

Now, I would submit that the real story here is in Egeland’s last two paragraphs. Asked for their opinion as to whether gays should be punished with death, the two major “mainstream” Muslim student groups in Oslo chose silence. Why, I must ask, wasn’t that the headline on Egeland’s story? Why was Egeland – or her editor at Universitas – so eager to present very bad news as very good news?

Remember, we’re talking about college students here – educated young people who, we’re constantly being told by the media, politicians, and others, are the hope of Norway. They’re the future leaders of the Norwegian Muslim community; they’re the ones who will modernize and liberalize Islam and lead us all into a bright and glorious multicultural future. Egeland’s story is only one more piece of evidence that this is a bunch of dangerous hooey.

I have a couple of questions. When Egeland spoke to Nylund at the gay-rights organization, did she explain to him that Islam Net and the Muslim Student Union had refrained from commenting on the issue of executing gays? If not, why not? If she did tell him, why did he decide to focus on the positions of DIN and Ahmaddiya rather than on the alarming refusal of the far more high-profile Islam Net and the university’s Muslim Student Union to take a stand? Does everybody in a position of responsibility relevant to this issue feel obliged to turn away from the truth?