From Iceland — So What Is This Reykjavík Mosque I Keep Hearing About?

So What Is This Reykjavík Mosque I Keep Hearing About?

Published August 8, 2013

So What Is This Reykjavík Mosque I Keep Hearing About?
Photo by
Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir

On July 6, the Reykjavík City Council gave permission to build an 800 square metre mosque in Reykjavík, Iceland’s first building constructed specifically as a mosque. It will have a nine metre tall tower, which as phallic symbols go is dwarfed by Hallgrímskirkja’s seventy-four and a half metre tall church tower.

As we all know, the veracity of your religious beliefs is validated by the size of your symbolic penis.

The point is that the mosque will be a fairly modest building, as befits the modest size of the congregation that received the permission. Félag múslima á Íslandi (“The Association of Muslims in Iceland”) has a little over 450 members. Nevertheless, some people in Iceland have reacted to news of a proposed mosque in Reykjavík like 18th Century hemp farmers in a desperate hurry to ride into town who discovered that their only riding horse had gotten into their crops.

They got on their 
high horse?

That they did. In Iceland, letters to the editor are given the space and weight of commissioned opinion pieces, and many a concerned citizen sent in an opinion piece about the planned mosque. Mostly their concerns can be paraphrased as “Muslims are icky, ewwwwww…” In fairness to the wide variety of people who write letters to the editor, some wrote to declare their support for the mosque building.

Please don’t tell me what people who leave comments on newspaper websites say, I like to pretend they don’t exist.

Among those sending unsolicited letters to newspapers was Ólafur F. Magnússon, former mayor of Reykjavík. He accused the current mayor and his political allies of riding roughshod over all other religious communities in Iceland by giving a Muslim congregation building rights for a mosque. He undermined that point somewhat by saying that instead of a mosque, the city should “make plans that a temple of Icelandic paganism should rise on that spot.”

My senses tingle with the premonition that Icelandic pagans would really rather not be there.

Your tingling senses are right. Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið (the Icelandic Pagan Association), said in an interview with radio station Bylgjan that his congregation had secured planning permission for a temple many years ago and were quite happy with their spot.

That must’ve shut up that former mayor.

Think again! In a second letter to a newspaper, Ólafur F. Magnússon doubled down and said some stupid and offensive things I see no reason to repeat. However, one bit of weirdness bears mentioning. At the end of his letter, the former mayor invokes his ancestors from the island of Heimaey, which was attacked in 1627 by pirates from the area of modern Morocco and Algeria. There, and elsewhere in Iceland, they raided and took slaves. He said it was disgusting that religious brethren of those who committed mass murder on that island were given a place of honour in Reykjavík.

Say what you will about that guy, at least he knows his history. And is a racist. Let’s not forget to mention that.

It is dangerous to invoke ancient murders and slave-taking as something to get angry about. Many Icelanders are descended from slaves taken by Vikings who raided in the British Isles in the 9th and 10th Centuries. Those Vikings are, of course, also ancestors to many Icelanders. So if you follow the former mayor’s logic, every time an Icelander treats an Icelander like a human being with the same rights and dignity as everyone else, we should all feel disgusted and angry.

I hope the Islamophobic outrage petered out quickly.

Actually, pretty much, yeah. Though there was a bit of a foofaraw when state radio RÚV broadcast an interview with Ahmad Seddeq, an imam with another, smaller Muslim congregation in Reykjavík called Menningarsetur múslima á Íslandi (“The Muslim Culture Centre in Iceland”), which is generally considered somewhat more conservative than the Association of Muslims in Iceland. In the interview he said a stupid and offensive thing about gay people, which I see no reason to repeat, that was condemned by the Association of Muslims in Iceland.

A conservative religious person says something stupid and offensive about gay people? Who could’ve seen that coming?

No one, no one could have seen that coming. Or everyone. Conservative Christians in Iceland have been saying stupid and offensive things about gay people for quite a while now. If history has taught one thing, it is that idiotic and offensive things can be expressed by people of any creed or skin colour. And if history has taught us another thing, it is that men will use any excuse to build penis-shaped buildings. There are so many already, there is no harm in another one.

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