A new study of Salafism in Sweden, conducted by the Swedish Defence University, paints a bleak picture of the ongoing radicalization of Muslims in Sweden.
The Salaf are the “pious ancestors” during the first three generations of the followers of Mohammed; its ideology has come to be associated over the last few decades with al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as with local al-Qaeda affiliates. According to the study, Salafists, who believe in Islam as Mohammed’s early followers practiced it, tend to reject Western society in favor of a “pure” Islam: “Not all Salafists are jihadists, but all jihadists are Salafists”.
Although the study does not give an estimate of how many Salafists are in Sweden, it does describe how Salafist milieus there have evolved and grown stronger, especially during the past decade, and lists several examples of the influence they wield in different Swedish cities and localities.
“Salafists”, the authors of the study conclude, “…advocate gender segregation, demand that women veil themselves to limit ‘sexual temptation’, restrict women’s role in the public sphere and strongly oppose listening to music and some sports activities”
According to the study, many Salafists also tell Muslims not to have Swedish friends, and refer to them as “kufr“, the Arabic term for a non-Muslim or “disbeliever”. One Salafist preacher, Anas Khalifa, said:
“Does that mean that if you meet a Christian or Jew you should beat him or threaten him? No. There is no war between you and Christians and Jews in your school, for example. You hate him for Allah’s sake. You hate that he does not believe in Allah. But you want from your heart that he will love Allah. So you have to work with them, talk with them, because you want Allah to guide them”.
The Salafists, apparently, have divided Sweden geographically between them. According to the study:
“It is interesting that the Salafist preachers, on which the study focuses, appear to be more in cooperation with each other, rather than rivals. Instead, these preachers seem to divide their da’wa (mission) into different geographical areas…”
The study’s findings from different cities where Salafists are active include:
In Borås, some children will not drink the water at the school or paint with watercolors there, because they say the water is “Christian”. The police report that Muslim children have told their classmates they will cut their throats, while showing them beheadings on their mobile phones. There are examples of “adolescents arriving at mosques at the end of a school day to ‘wash’ themselves after having interacted with [non-Muslim] society”. Care workers [health care, child care, etc.] in the city have testified to how men exercise control over women, checking on them even in waiting rooms. One care worker said:
“I realized that there is a network that controls the women so they won’t be left alone with the care workers. They are not given a chance to tell anyone about their situation. Many women live worse [lives] here than they would have in their former countries”.
This kind of control of women appears to be taking place in practically all the Swedish cities mentioned in the study.
In Västerås, religious influence is mixed with crime. “It could be a bunch of guys coming into the grocery store. If the woman at the cashier is not veiled, they take what they want without paying, they call the cashier ‘Swedish whore’ and spit on her,” said a police officer in the study. Other examples include Syrians and Kurds who run stores and restaurants in the area and are questioned by young Muslims about their religion. If the answer is not Islam, they are harassed. In other cases, boys as young as 10-12 years have approached older women in the area, asking them whether they are Muslim, telling them “this is our area”.
In Gothenburg, according to the study, Salafists told Muslims not to vote in the most recent elections because it is “haram” (forbidden). “They said that on the day of judgment you will be responsible for the actions of all stupid politicians if you vote. They stood at polling stations… At one polling station they waved an IS [Islamic State] flag”, a local official told the authors of the study. According to one imam in the city, Gothenburg has been the capital of Wahhabism (a Saudi version of Salafism) in Europe since the 1990s.
Out of the 300 Swedish Muslims who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, almost one third came from Gothenburg. (In relation to their total population, more people have traveled from Sweden to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq than from most European countries — only Belgium and Austria have a higher proportion). Somali-Canadian preacher Said Regeah, speaking at the Salafist Bellevue Mosque in Gothenburg, has “raised the importance of people being born ‘pure’ and that only Muslims are pure. All are born as Muslims, but it is the parents who shape them to become ‘Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians'”.
The study also reports that non-Muslim business owners have experienced having their facilities vandalized with Islamic State graffiti and that Christian priests have received threats of decapitation. One man, Samir, said, “If you do not follow Islam, people ostracize you. There are parents here who put veils on their three-year-olds. It is unreal. We are not in Iraq”.
Another man, Anwar, was denied service in a Muslim restaurant because he is not religious. He points out that society is letting secular Muslims down: “I don’t need a Bible or a Koran in my life. The only book I need is… the [Swedish] law. But if society isn’t even on your side, what can you do?”
In the Stockholm area, the study estimates that there are currently up to 150 Salafist jihadists. Salafists are especially concentrated in the Järva area, a “no go zone”. Sometimes the jihadist and the criminal elements overlap, and these Muslims terrorize other people who live in the area. One woman said that Salafists and Islamists have come to dominate businesses, basement mosques, and cultural associations during the past ten years, and that “Swedes have no idea how much influence political Islam has in the suburb”. She described how even children are gender segregated and that religious leaders tell women not to tell the authorities if their husband abuses them. “Swedish laws are not applied in the suburbs”.
The study concludes with a critique of Swedish authorities for their apparent inability to link individual radical Muslims to the “environments that form their ideas and in certain cases have facilitated the will to join more radical and violent groups”. The study mentions the following as an example:
“When the then-National Coordinator Against Violent Extremism said that the question of why so many people chose to travel to IS from Sweden was ‘a million dollar question’, it is an illustration of the overall inability of Swedish authorities (with the exception of police and security police) to see that this problem has not emerged from a vacuum”.
This inability — or possibly willful blindness — to see that jihadist terrorism does not emerge from a vacuum, but is nurtured in particular environments is hardly an exclusively Swedish situation. The insistence of so many European and other Western authorities to describe terrorist attacks as instances of “mental illness” illustrate it perfectly.
The authors of the study also mention that schools and other local authorities do not know how to deal with the challenges created by the Salafists. The study mentions, for example, that a Muslim schoolgirl wanted to take off her headscarf to play hairdresser with the other children, but the Swedish personnel did not allow it out of respect for her parents’ wishes. In an example from a Swedish preschool, a little girl did not want to wear her headscarf but the Swedish personnel forced it on her, “even though it felt wrong”, because it was the parents’ wish. Swedish school personnel have also described that they do not know how to act when children want to eat and drink during Ramadan, but the parents have instructed that they must fast.
The study is an important first step in Sweden finally acknowledging that there is a problem, but unless the relevant Swedish authorities — including the Swedish government and the political leaders, who refuse to acknowledge reality in Sweden — read and internalize it, the study will have been done in vain.