ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN ICELAND
Republic of Iceland
38,707 sq mi (100,251 sq km); total area: 39,768 sq mi (103,000 sq km)1
Population (2008 est.):
Capital and largest city
(2003 est.): Reykjavik, 184,200 (metro. area), 114,800
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken
homogeneous mixture of Norse/Celtic descendants 94%, population of foreign
Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic
Church 2%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or
unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4% (2004)
Independence Day, June 17
99% (2003 est.)
GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $11.89 billion; per capita $39,400. Real growth
rate: 1.8%. Inflation: 4.1%.
Iceland, an island about the size of
Kentucky, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and just touches
the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most volcanic regions in the world. More
than 13% is covered by snowfields and glaciers, and most of the people live in
the 7% of the island that is made up of fertile coastland. The Gulf Stream keeps
Iceland's climate milder than one would expect from an island near the Arctic
The earliest inhabitants of Iceland
were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse
people in the late 9th century. A constitution drawn up c. 930 created a form of
democracy and provided for an Althing, the world's oldest practicing
legislative assembly. The island's early history was preserved in the Icelandic
sagas of the 13th century.
In 1262–1264, Iceland came under
Norwegian rule and passed to ultimate Danish control through the unification of
the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (the Kalmar Union) in 1397.
In 1874, Icelanders obtained their
own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union,
as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally
under the Danish monarchy.
During the German occupation of
Denmark in World War II, British, then American, troops occupied Iceland and
used it for a strategic air base. While officially neutral, Iceland cooperated
with the Allies throughout the conflict. On June 17, 1944, after a popular
referendum, the Althing proclaimed Iceland an independent republic.
Islamic History and Muslims
The Nordic country Iceland is estimated to have between 800 and
1000 members by the Association of Muslims in Iceland. The Association of
Muslims in Iceland had 341 members in 2006. The Association itself estimates
there are 800-1000 Muslims living in Iceland.
Most of the nation's Muslims live in or near Reykjavík, but there is a small
number of Kosovar Muslim refugees in Dalvík. The Association of Muslims in
Iceland (Félag Múslima á Íslandi) was founded in 1997. It is headed by Salmann
Tamimi, a Palestinian immigrant.
The community has had its own mosque since 2002. The mosque offers daily and
nightly prayers, which attracts a core group of 30 individuals, with a mix of
local Icelanders and Muslims from all over the world. The mosque also offers
weekly Friday prayers for Juma'a. The mosque is located inside an office style
building on the 3rd floor in the Áramúli section of Reykjavík.
In 2000 the Muslim Association applied to build a mosque in Reykjavik. However,
the city has not approved the plans, saying they are competing.
Nevertheless the number of Muslims in Iceland is growing rapidly.
The Muslim Association of Iceland (only for Sunni Muslims) had 341 members in
2005 according to Statistics Iceland. When it was founded in 1997 it had 78
Now the MAI claims that in total around 700 to 1,000 Muslims are living in
Iceland. It also claims that growing numbers of Icelanders are converting to
Islam, with some 100 converts in recent years. Of course these numbers must be
regarded with some skepticism since they come from an association which may
quite easily see political benefits in exaggerating them. Muslims in Iceland,
for instance, have for some years been calling for the building of a mosque –
preferably in the capital city of Reykjavík. Nevertheless, the figures are
probably not so far from the truth.(
Islam and Icelanders - Communication-Understanding
By Petrina Asgeirsdottir
In the light of the political development in the world AFS
Iceland wanted, as an intercultural organization, to offer an interesting
discussion about how to create a better understanding and cultural awareness
between the western world and the Muslim world. Iceland is a very homogenic
society. More than 90% of the population belong to the Lutherian State Church,
approximately 500 Muslims live in the country.
Our special guest was Dr. Irid Agoes from AFS Indonesia who
traveled to Iceland all the way from Indonesia only for the weekend. Irid had
also meetings with the board and staff of AFS Iceland and had a workshop for
volunteers about The Intercultural Dimension in Our world Today. We sincerely
thank Irid for joining us for the weekend and for her great contribution to our
organization, it was very important for us to have her here.
AFS Iceland held the forum in the Intercultural Center in
Reykjavik, run by the Red Cross. Three lecturers gave presentations. Mr.
Thorhallur Heimisson an Icelandic Lutherian minister talked about Islam in
history and present, Dr. Irid Agoes talked about Understanding Islam
Interculturally and Mr. Salmann Tamimi, the chair of the Muslim association in
Iceland talked about Muslims in Iceland. Salmann is a Palestinan who has lived
in Iceland for many years. Then there was a panel discussion which Elin
Eiriksdottir facilitated. Facilitator of the forum was Petrina Asgeirsdottir.
After the forum AFS Iceland had a reception for the guests.
The forum was very successful, between 90-100 people attended. We
did not expect so many and our only problem was that the assembly room was too
small and there were not enough seats for every-one. An interesting discussion
took place and the people that attended were very happy about this initiative.
The forum was a small step in intercultural relations in a big
world which suffers from a lack of intercultural understanding and awareness of
the leaders of the world.
New Muslim Stories
"Journey to Light"
Bism'Allah al-Rahman al-Raheem
Copenhagen, 7 February 2004
I'll try my best to be clear and hopefully not bore those that read this too
much. I'll start at the beginning...
I was born Anna Linda Traustadóttir to Icelandic/Danish parents in Reykjavík,
Iceland in 1966 and baptised into the Lutheran Church. My family moved to
Vancouver, Canada and then to New York City when I was young. I finished high
school at 16. In 1988, I got my B.A. from McGill University, Montréal, Canada.
Since then I have been travelling around the world, studying and working.
Denmark has been my base since 1990.
In 1997, while studying Arabic in Cairo, one of my English girlfriends, a
born-again Christian bought me a portable Bible, with both the Old and New
Testaments. I was extremely pleased because I had decided that I needed to know
what the Bible was and what was in it. And I felt that I could hardly call
myself Christian without consciously studying the Bible.
In 1998, whilst studying at Damascus University, I read the whole Bible, from
cover to cover, taking notes as I went along. Once I had completed it, I
realised that there were too many inconsistencies, too many things I didn't
agree with. Like the Old Testament's portrayal of God and women, not to mention
all the things that Paul wrote in the New Testament. And when I read about the
holy men, the Prophets, like Noah, Lot, David, etc., I found that I didn't
respect them. I love and admire Moses (from the Old Testament) and Jesus (from
the New Testament). Having already read the Torah, I tried getting a complete
Jewish Talmud, to no avail. I'd always heard that Jews (except for Reformed) do
not recognise someone who converted to Judaism. Also, many, though not all, Jews
are Zionist (those who support Israel). And I am terribly anti-Zionist and
anti-Israel, and so, by default, pro-Palestinian. I also wanted a religion that
would accept a convert. I dabbled with Buddhism but decided this was not for me,
as Buddhists don't believe in God. And I strongly believe in God, always have.
Buddhism is still interesting as an alternative way of life. My mum and I used
to discuss Hinduism and so I was very interested in it, but there are just too
many Hindu gods for me. Therefore Hinduism was out of the question. That, and
the fact that you cannot convert to Hinduism.
When I had my son, Andrés Ómar, in October 2001, I was asked whether he would be
baptised, and even then I refused. I felt that innocent children would surely be
welcome in Heaven, baptised or not. Anyway, how could I introduce him into the
Christian religion when I myself did not call myself a believing Christian,
though I was born and raised as a Protestant? I didn't believe in the Trinity,
in Mary as the "mother" of God, in Jesus as the "son" of God, in Jesus dying to
cleanse us of our sins, in Jesus crying out in Aramaic on the cross: "Eli, Eli,
lama sabakh-tha-ni?" I mean why would Jesus cry out: "My God, my God, why hadst
thou forsaken me?" when Jesus knew he was sent on a mission by God as a prophet
I grew up being one of the most anti-Muslim, anti-Islam people you could ever
meet. This is true: I was. I had also been anti-Arab before moving to Cairo to
study Arabic (I thought Arabic calligraphy was beautiful). I'd grown up in the
States, raised on American movies, which always portrayed Arabs as
fundamentalists, radicals, women-oppressors, religious fanatics, terrorists,
never normal , average people. The large majority of people who are anti-Arab
has never been to any Arab country. The reality there is very different.
In 1999, I went back to Damascus to work at an embassy. There in 2000, I met an
engineer named Mohannad. We married soon after we met. To be honest when I
married Mohannad, I married him because I loved him, even though he was Muslim.
Over time, I realised I loved him because he was Muslim. A good Muslim. I had
meet many Muslims here in Denmark and in the Middle East, and just like in my
life, I've met some nice and not-so-nice Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists,
etc. I thought all those Muslims I'd met were representing Islam. And whenever I
asked Muslims questions about Islam, one thing struck me: Nearly everyone
claimed to be an expert in Islam, even those who gave me, I later found out,
false information. It would have been more prudent just to say: I don't know/I'm
not sure. Yet I never judged Christianity or any other religion by its
followers. Strangely though, I judged Islam by every Arab I meet, even though 1)
not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Druze, Coptic,
Alawite, etc. And 2) most Muslims aren't Arab. Muslims can be Indonesian,
Indian, Chinese, Macedonian, Malay, Russian, Thai, African, Bosnian, American,
Swedish, etc., and of course, Arab. I had been raised not to be prejudiced, but
I was. It took me a long time to realise this.
It's only after countless hours of discussion, and at times arguments (!), with
my husband that I came to be open-minded enough to realise that I didn't have
the full picture.
During Ramadan, November 2002, I asked Mohannad whether he would help me read
the Qur'an in Arabic. He had little time, but I was determined to read the
Qur'an in Arabic with the help of a good translation. When I read the Qur'an,
Islam's holiest book, I thought it was beautiful, so scientific, so
compassionate, so feminist! Nearly all the books I'd ever read about Islam, all
written by non-Muslims, showed Islam in a negative light. Those people who wrote
against Islam sometimes gave partial quotes from the Qur'an, leaving out the
rest of the verse, or they would translate the verses incorrectly, on purpose or
by mistake. I knew enough Arabic to know that what I was reading was unlike
anything I'd ever read.
So much science, so much knowledge that has been only recently discovered. I
mean the Prophet Mohammad mentions: black holes, space travel, DNA and genetic
science, evolution (transformation and mutation), geology, oceanography,
embryonic development, aquatic origins of life... WOW! I had always heard that
the Qur'an was basically just a watered-down version of the Bible, but none of
this was in the Bible! I wondered how someone over 1400 years ago could have
written anything like this! Some of these ideas were only discovered this
century. Then I thought, well, Arab scientists, astronomers, mathematicians,
cartographers were so advanced for that time, maybe some of them got together
and wrote a book, loosely based on the Torah and the Gospels. But then I studied
it further and realised that the Arabic scientific revolution followed the
arrival of Islam. Then I read that Muslims believe that the Qur'an was given to
Mohammad through the Angel Gabriel, and is the continuation of God's word.
Muslims believe that parts of the Torah and parts of the Gospels, that speak of
Jesus' life, are inspired by God, or "Allah" as God is called in Arabic. Not
just Muslims, but Christian and Jewish Arabs also call God "Allah." Muslims
revere Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, in fact, all of the Biblical
Prophets. It is also mentioned that there are other prophets that came to other
nations to help them become better people. It's said that Buddha was one of
these prophets, but that he along with Jesus, never meant for people to believe
he was superior to God, just that he was a messenger of God. They also believe
that the Prophet Mohammad is the last prophet, until Jesus returns to Earth.
It says in the Qur'an that Allah can put a veil over our eyes and a stone over
our hearts so that we can neither see nor feel the message of the Qur'an. Only
when Allah is ready for us to know it, do we understand. On 12 December 2002, I
had an incredible dream that started me thinking and contemplating religion more
deeply. Dreams are very important in Iceland and dream interpretation is
practically a science! I never thought I needed a religion. Religion fascinated
me, but I had believed I was doing fine just believing in God, taking bits from
different religions until I got my own cocktail: "Anna's Mix."
In January 2003, I started looking at the Internet, just doing searches like:
"Islam," "Qur'an," "Muslim," etc. In March, whilst in Reykjavík, I got the
opportunity to speak with one of my best Icelandic girlfriends, a Muslim, and
she recommended a really good English translation (the Abdullah Yusuf Ali
version), to go along with the original Arabic. In April, I received it and
started using it as a supplement.
In May 2003, my Icelandic Muslim friend returned the visit and stayed two weeks
with us. We started talking about the Qur'an. I told her that I wanted to
translate it into Icelandic. She told me it was her dream too. We agreed we
would do it together. We used our time together well, discussing Christianity,
Judaism and Islam all day, every day. She had questioned her Lutheran faith,
considered Judaism, visited Israel ("Occupied Palestine" as far as I am
concerned) twice, and only on her second visit, started to consider the other
side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She got interested in Islam. She had earlier
gone a similar path as I, coming to the same conclusions. Back in 1995, when she
told me she'd become Muslim, I behaved badly: I was extremely negative. Shame on
me for being unsupportive!
Now I found myself seeing myself Muslim. I told my husband about my revelations,
and he questioned me at length. He asked me to wait with changing my religion.
He told me that becoming Muslim would make my life more difficult, that people
who didn't know Islam would treat me differently, that at this time, in the year
2003, and in this world we live in, people would ridicule me. He said I might
lose contact with my family and my friends if I took on the Muslim faith. He
feared that people that didn't know me so well or that I hadn't seen in a long
time, or ever met him, would think he was forcing me to become Muslim. I told
him if that were true, we could not have got married, for when we married, I was
Christian, and had remained Christian up until then. Also, I argued, people who
have known me at all know I am a strong-minded, true feminist/humanist, that I
am opinionated, but not narrow-minded, and that no one can control me...My
parents have tried for years to no avail!
I decided then and there that if friends and family didn't want any contact with
me because I decided to become Muslim, so be it! My religion is mine and I am
proud of my research into Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.
It has taken me years and countless hours of reading and soul-searching to get
to this point. My belief in God is something I have always taken seriously and I
have never been ashamed to declare this faith, even when others ridicule me for
believing in something they say we cannot see. I argue, look around you, how can
you not believe in a supreme being that created everything around us. And for
those of you that view Islam as some kind of cult, it isn't. It's one of the
biggest religions in the world, if not the largest: One in four people on this
planet is now Muslim, and it's the fastest growing religion.
So finally, on 4 June 2003, I decided to officially become Muslim so that I
could go on Hajj to Mecca. I had been searching for answers for a long time,
since my childhood, and by the mid-1990's, I was buying books on different
faiths. Deep inside, I imagined I would find the answers for me. I remember the
first time I heard the "Azan" (the Muslim call for prayer, when a fellow says "Allahu
Akbar" (God is Great) from a minaret at a mosque). It was a bright, sunny,
February Sunday in Cairo in 1997, so church bells were also ringing, but when I
heard the call for prayer, tears streamed down my face, without my realising it.
I wasn't Muslim, but it moved me. One of my oldest and dearest friends, a
Catholic, was in Beirut a while ago, staying at a hotel and woke up to the call
for prayer at 4.30 during her first night in Lebanon. She thought it was so
moving that she also cried.
When I read the Qur'an, I feel it in my stomach, deep in my gut, that this is
right for me. The inspirational beauty of the Qur'an makes me sometimes cry.
It's an all-encompassing way of life. No other religious book ever moved me to
The Qur'an is simply put the most complex book I've ever read. The more you read
it, the more you both understand and at the same time, question. The Qur'an is
meant to inspire you to learn more. Every time you read it, you peel off
different layers of understanding. I am not an expert; I never will be. Even if
I read from it every day for the rest of my life, I will still learn something
new. It's full of mysteries. I still also supplement my Qur'anic studies with
Biblical studies like the "Gospel of Barnabas," "The Torah," etc.
I've also since got some new Muslim girlfriends over the Internet. Whilst
searching the net, I came across an Icelandic Muslim site:
www.islam.is , and I contacted the writer. We
started a correspondence. Around New Year's 2004, I sent her a report I wrote
entitled "Islam in Iceland 2003," which I am submitting to the Saudi Government,
she suggested we three work on the translation of the Qur'an from Arabic to
Icelandic (Kóraninn), as she also speaks Arabic. So it seems that we will be
three Icelandic Muslim women working on translating the Arabic Qur'an. For those
of you looking for a good English version, I've heard the Muhammad Asad
translation is also very direct, but I myself have yet to get hold of it.
I did however buy an incredible amount of reading material in Kuala Lumpur last
summer. It's a new Muslim's Mecca for books. I really stocked up! My husband,
son and I stayed a month in Malaysia. What an incredible place! Of Islamic
areas, I had only been to the Arab Middle-East and here was a whole new Islamic
world in South-East Asia! The experience was wonderful to say the least. I had
always been fond of Islamic art and architecture, and all of Malaysia is both an
indoor and outdoor museum! Under the former Muslim Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad, Islam had a revival. He wants to unite all the Islamic countries, not
just in a so-called Islamic Union, but he also wants one currency, a gold dinar.
What a visionary! Islam needs more men and women like him!
I always try to be positive, so I think it's a very exciting time, the 21st
century! If someone like me can become Muslim, there's hope for anybody! The
friends that I have discussed religion with recently know that I have become
Muslim, and without fail, they have been extremely supportive. I was a bit
surprised that they were not shocked. They said they knew one day I'd find my
niche (I'd been searching so long), and they were happy for me. Some even call
me by my new Muslim name: Núr, which means light. I also still use Anna Linda,
because it's the name my parents gave me and it represents part of the person I
was for 36 years. Núr is just the continuation of me!
So ends my story: "Journey to Light," a journey which is, in fact, just
Maa is-salaama wa Allah makum!
"Road to Islam"
My name is Amina and I reverted to Islam on January 31. 1999. This is the story
of my road to Islam, as written in 1999, a few months after my conversion.
I was born in Iceland in 1976. My family belongs to the state church of Iceland,
which is Evangelical Lutheran (Protestant). However, although religion was
always present to a certain extent in my life it never played a very large role
in my upbringing. When I was very young I attended Sunday School regularly, I
went to summer camps which were run by religiously affiliated organizations and
my grandmother used to come to me and tuck me in before I went to sleep and say
prayers with me. However, my family never attended church regularly and in
everyday life religion was not an issue. In Iceland it is a tradition within the
church that you go through “confirmation” around the age of fourteen. By that
time you are considered an adult and should affirm your faith and the baptism
that your parents did for you at a very young age. When I had to make the
decision whether to do this or not I remember thinking whether I should or not,
whether I believed enough to do it sincerely or not. My conclusion was that I
believed in God and that was more than most others that go through the
confirmation do and I felt that if I didn't go through it I would be rejecting
God, something that I could not imagine doing. While preparing for the
confirmation we had to attend classes with the priest and go to church
regularly. I tried to continue going to church after these classes and the
mandatory attendance to church ended but somehow it just didn't feel right.
Going to church “didn´t do anything for me”. So, for the next years I thought
very little about religion and its effect on my life. I would often pray to God
but that was about it. I did not go soul searching or research different
religions, I was quite content with things the way they were. I mean, after all,
I believed in God, wasn't that enough?
Islam has very little presence in Iceland and I didn't know very much about it
growing up. In school I was never taught about other religions than Christianity
along with a little bit about Judaism in relation to the history of
Christianity. Growing up I remember Islam mostly as being referred to as
Mohammedanism and Muslims as Mohammedans, and even today people use these words
more often than the words Islam and Muslims. I have even seen it several times
in the major newspaper in the past month. My knowledge of Islam was thus minimal
and came mostly from what I had read and the media. Overall it was not a pretty
picture, but despite reading all these horror stories such as Not without my
daughter and other similar books as well as the horror stories in the news,
Alhamdulillah I did not become prejudiced against Islam and kept my mind open.
One of the major reasons for that is probably due to my correspondence with an
Icelandic girl who was an exchange student in Indonesia while I was an exchange
student in Venezuela. In her letters and after we returned home she told me
stories of her life and experience in Indonesia, which was all very positive and
showed me a different view of Islam and Muslims than the books I had read and
the media portrayed. However, personally I didn't really come into contact with
Islam until I went to study in the United States in the fall of 1997. I went to
the United Sates on a one year Rotary scholarship program and in my University
there was a guy from Egypt, who was a part of that same program. We became very
close and through my relationship with him I became interested in Islam. He
often used to tell me things about Islam and I'd watch him practice Islam.
Little by little I became interested in Islam, I started asking questions and
debate Islam with him and then I started to research on my own, first on the
internet and then by reading books about Islam, including a a translation of the
My research started for real last spring and continued over the summer while I
was back home in Iceland and then in the fall when I went back to the US to
finish my studies here on my own. For a long time the only person I had
discussed and debated Islam with and asked questions about Islam was my friend
from Egypt, but in December last year I stumbled upon a chat about Islam on the
internet where I met some really wonderful Muslims that I chatted with and asked
questions and they helped me a lot. Talking to someone else, someone neutral was
really important to me. When I first started researching Islam I was very
excited and I was discovering so many wonderful things about Islam that I didn't
know about and in a way I just got hooked so to speak, I could not stop thinking
about Islam and I just wanted to read more and more. But for a long time I was
torn, there were many issues that I didn't understand and many that I had a hard
time accepting. For a period of time I went through a phase where I tried to
find anything negative about Islam, I guess to convince myself that I didn't
have to become a Muslim, because to be honest I was terrified and confused and
it seemed much easier to just continue living my life the way I had been, than
accept the truth and change my lifestyle. I was really confused during this
time. One moment I'd feel that Islam was the truth and all I wanted was to
submit to God and become a Muslim, but the next moment I would find everything
wrong with Islam, it was like in the cartoons, having an angel whispering into
one ear and a devil whispering into the other. But finally I managed to stop
listening to the “little devil” and see clearly that Islam is the truth and that
all I wanted was to submit myself to God and live my life as a Muslim. I was
chatting with a Muslim sister that I had met at that first chat in December I,
when I decided that it was time to take my shahada. I had already made plans to
go to a sisters halaqa the next morning (we were chatting in the middle of the
night) and I told her I was going to take my shahada then, but that I wished I
could do it immediately. So she decided to see if that was possible and found
three other Muslim sisters she knew online and we all met in a chat room and I
ended up taking my shahada on the Internet.
Since becoming Muslim I have gone through both very happy times and difficult
times. I am continuously struggling with learning more about Islam and how to be
a good Muslim as well as trying to keep strong despite negative reactions from
my family and friends. All I know is that I made the right decision and I thank
Allah for guiding me to the truth.
Islamic Centers and Organizations
The Muslim Association of Iceland,
Ármuli 38, 3rd floor (entrance from Selmúli) 108Reykjavik, ICELAND. Phone:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com web:
www.islam.is General Activities:
The Sunday children school, Women's meetings are
held regularly from September to May with occasional meetings during the summer.
Muslim Owned Business
Islam in Iceland (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Iceland , October, 2008).
Info please (
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107624.html , October, 2008).
Islam Finder (
Islam and Icelanders - Communication-Understanding (
http://www.afs.org/afs_or/news/local/3416 , October, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Iceland,