“Denmark and Islam: Facts and Fiction.”
By Bertel Haarder,
Minister for Education and Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Denmark
The cartoon controversy has focused media attention on Denmark to an extent we have never known before. The Government of Denmark has made all possible efforts to convey a full and accu-rate picture of our response to the issues at hand. Generally, the views of the Government and facts about Denmark have been presented fairly and objectively by the media.
However, several myths, misunderstandings and misrepresentation of fact have been allowed to take root. I feel it is time to set the record straight on a number of issues.
It has been argued that Islam is not recognized as a religion in Denmark – and that Muslims cannot practice their beliefs. Myths have it that for twenty years Muslims have been denied permission to build mosques and that they are not allowed to bury their dead.
Nothing could be further from the truth. All citizens in Denmark have the right to form religious communities. There is no need of approval or recognition by any Government authority. Religious communities are not even required to register. All citizens have a constitutional right to manifest their beliefs in worship, observance, practice and teaching. The Danish authorities do not register such religious communities or their members, and these communities are free to build churches, temples, mosques or other houses for their worship.
Although religious communities in Denmark do not need any official recognition, they may seek approval by the authorities. Not to function as religious communities – but for two practical rea-sons: Firstly, in order to be authorized to conclude marriages with legal effect under Danish law and secondly, for members of these communities to be able to deduct contributions to the community from their taxable income.
The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs has approved around 100 individual religious communities including Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Old Norse congregations. 19 of these are Muslim congregations.
And to set the record even more straight:
- In Denmark as a whole there are about 120 mosques or Muslim prayer rooms.
- In Copenhagen and a number of other cities in Denmark parts of the public cemeteries are reserved for the burial of Muslims.
- Muslim communities are free to establish their own cemeteries according to Danish law, and a large Muslim cemetery in the Copenhagen area is expected to open this year.
- No burning of the Koran has taken place in Denmark. Burning the Koran may constitute a criminal offence and result in a prison sentence.
- In Denmark there is free access to set up Private Independent Schools, which receives gov-ernment funding covering 75 – 80 per cent of their expenses. This includes free access to set up Muslim schools. Currently there are 18 Muslim and Arabic Private Independent schools, with approximately 3500 pupils.
Unfortunately, these are not the only misunderstandings confronting us these days. Denmark is also accused of discriminating against Muslims in the labor market, even though Danish law explicitly forbids discrimination in connection with employment, dismissal, promotion or wage and working conditions with regard to religion as well as race, color, political conviction, age, handicap, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.
It is unfortunate when miscomprehensions or misinformation leads to misunderstanding and mis-trust. This is not what we need if we want to promote dialogue and cooperation. We for our part truly do. Denmark is a tolerant, open and free society. Freedom as well as respect is at the very heart of our society. And don’t take my word for it: Come and see it for yourself!