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The Growth of Islam in Denmark and the Future of Secularism

1. november 2007 - Artikel - af Lars Hedegaard

There appears to be a growing realization among demographers that, despite the anti-immigration policies of the current Danish government, third-world immigrants and their descendants will constitute the majority of the Danish population before the end of this century.

A sizeable segment of this third-world population will be Muslim, and well before the middle of the 21st century, the number of Muslims will be large enough to have irreversibly changed the composition and character of the country

In view of the importance justifiably attributed to the growing presence of Islam in Denmark - of which the 2005 Mohamed cartoon crisis is but one example - surprisingly little is known about the country's Muslim population sociologically, although considerably more information has been produced in the wake of the crisis.

Characteristically, newspapers, private researchers and research institutions and private newsletters have produced the knowledge we do have. The official Statistics Denmark offers little reliable information on Muslims as a group. The politically correct rationale appears to be the claim that Muslims are no different from anybody else and that it would be discriminatory to treat a second-generation Somali any differently from a Dane whose ancestors have lived in the country since the time of the Vikings.

Of course, it has been hard to conceal the fact that "immigrants" or "new Danes" are vastly overrepresented among in the prison population, or that a disturbing number of convicted rapists and other men of violence bear Muslim names. Note 1

Or that Muslims appear to receive vastly more than their fair share of social expenditures. In early 2006, a government-appointed Welfare Commission manned by our best university experts concluded that Denmark's immigration policies cost somewhere between 30 and 50 billion Danish kroner a year - an enormous sum for a country of 5.4 million people.

The government is currently considering ways to increase immigrants' participation in the job market. And no doubt the situation is serious. It is estimated that the number of "new Danes" will triple over the next fifteen years, and, if their socioeconomic behaviour is not brought into line with that of the "old Danes", the welfare state is likely to crumble under the pressure of having to finance a vast third-world population it was never intended to support.

But again, the extent to which these socioeconomic anomalies can be described as Muslim problems is a matter of conjecture. We are basically left to rely on anecdotal evidence. However, it is striking that one never hears of any disproportionate burdens on state coffers caused by the presence of a great number of Buddhist Sri Lankans or Vietnamese, Hindus, Sikhs or Chinese. Nor do we hear stories of second- or third-generation immigrants from these groups filling our prisons. Note 2

Even the number of Danish Muslims is unknown. Statistics Denmark does not keep track of religious affiliation, and estimates vary wildly - anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 or more. In May 2006 the now famous daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten estimated the number of Muslims in Denmark to be 207,000 although it didn't specify the method whereby it came to that figure. Note 3

However, I am inclined to believe that the number - slightly over 4 percent of the population - is correct. It corresponds well with the figure I reached in August 2004 based on a count of male first names. I came to 191,000 as of January 2004 - a figure that had risen 25 percent since 1998. Note 4

My method would also include Danish converts to Islam, as it appears customary for converts to change their first names to something Muslim. One example being the imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen and the well-known agitator for the extremist islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, Musa Kronholt.

Incidentally, the number of Danish converts is insignificant. It was long believed to be around 5,000, but in Spring 2006 the Copenhagen daily Berlingske Tidende reported that the true figure is probably closer to 2,500. Note 5

So we are by no means seeing a mass conversion to the creed of Mohamed.

The problem of inadequate knowledge is compounded by the unwillingness of most politicians, academics, journalists and opinion leaders to use precise language. It is considered politically incorrect to talk about Muslims as a distinct group, which means that in Denmark we use all sorts of nebulous expressions such as "immigrants", "new Danes" and "bilinguals". In that way one lumps together all immigrants, asylum seekers and their descendants from non-Western countries, though very little can be said of them as a group.

This attitude has very serious consequences. Not only are decision-makers and voters prevented from getting a grip on the problems and what can be done to solve them. Equally detrimental to our societal wellbeing, our euphemisms are producing a sort of double discourse - even in Denmark, which is probably the country in the Western world with the highest degree of free speech.

When the academic elite, the press and politicians talk about second- and third-generation youngsters, everybody knows that they are not talking about people from Chile, Russia or Tibet. When we hear of the increasing problems of “bilingual" pupils in city schools, it is well understood that this does not refer to kids whose parents speak Chinese, English or Swedish at home.

We are living with problems very clearly associated with the Muslim zuwanderung (to use Bassam Tibi's excellent expression), Note 6 but whose precise relationship with Islam as a belief system and worldview cannot even be discussed. Merely to ask whether there is such a relationship is considered disqualifying and is usually met with the assertion that Islam is a religion of peace, love, tolerance and understanding - and therefore, by definition, cannot give rise to antisocial behaviour.

This is all very strange. When during the 1990s Serb fighters engaged in mass rapes of Bosnian Muslim women, it was quite acceptable - and of course true - to say that the reason was religious or ethnic hatred. When Christian girls in Western Europe are raped by Muslim men – (the rape of Muslim women by non-Muslims is unheard of - at least I have never heard of such an incident in Denmark), it is explained by poverty and social exclusion.

The politically correct attitude in Denmark - and I believe that the picture is not much different in other European countries - is that "religion" is a strictly private matter that cannot have any impact on people's behaviour as citizens and members of society. This has been detrimental to our integration efforts. It has blurred the fact that non-Western immigrants and their descendants are at least as internally different as are "old" Danes, Swedes and other European populations.

In consequence, no nationally recognized spokesmen for the Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, third-world Christian or other recently arrived communities have emerged. This may be partly because, in many cases, their integration into Danish society has been unproblematic. (Interestingly, this is a powerful argument against the widespread tendency to accuse the Danes of being an especially vile, xenophobic and racist people.)

As a result, Denmark's "ethnic minorities" became synonymous with the country's most vociferous Muslim groups, especially with their self-appointed champions. Until early 2006, we therefore found ourselves in a situation where a few imams - most of whom had amply demonstrated their fundamentalist leanings - and radical ethno-politicians and leaders of Islamic organizations were recognized as the legitimate spokesmen for all Muslims in Denmark (and in practice as the only ethnic representatives ever consulted). Undoubtedly, a great number of Danish Muslims - the so-called "cultural Muslims" or Muslims of liberal persuasion - do not feel represented by the media imams, but little was known of their number, attitudes or aspirations.

Until recently, only outcasts from polite society dared question the claim that the vast majority of Danish Muslims had exactly the same attitude towards their religion as most old Danes have towards Lutheran Christianity, which is still the predominant religion in the country, claiming over 80 percent of the population as members. In sum, the vast majority of Muslims were believed to take religion lightly.

Opinion polls conducted after the explosion of the Mohamed crisis following the daily Jyllands-Posten's 30 September 2005 publication of twelve cartoons of the prophet make this basic assumption highly dubious. Among notable poll findings is that few Danish Muslims appear willing to throw their weight behind the newly-created "Democratic Muslims" group set up by the Radical Liberal and very popular MP Naser Khader at the beginning of 2006. His wide support among non-Muslim Danes does not appear to be matched by support from his organization's natural constituency.

On 6 June 2006, Berlingske Tidende created a stir by publishing a poll showing that Naser Khader's "Democratic Muslims" could count on the support of 14 percent of Danish Muslims and could only boast a paid-up Muslim membership of 1,137 (in addition to 16,000 non-Muslim supporting members). Note 7 Since then there has been a debate as to whether 14 per cent is a lot or very little. Naser Khader himself pointed to the fact that one of the Salafist ring leaders of the imam conspirators who went to the Middle East in order to stir up anti-Danish trouble and were therefore instrumental in creating the post-cartoon crisis, Ahmed Abu Laban, could only count on support from 3 percent of Danish Muslims. Despite this, Abu Laban was acknowledged as the leader of the Danish Islamic Faith Community, claiming to speak on behalf of tens of thousands of families. Note 8

More indicative of Islam's influence was an opinion poll published in late March 2006 by the trade union publication A4; the finding showed that, though only 25 percent of adult Muslims said that religion played a significant role in their daily lives, the corresponding figure for young Muslims was 75 percent. Note 9

The crucial question here is, of course, what Muslims understand by religion. And this begs an even more profound and difficult question: What is Islam? Is Islam a religious faith in the traditional European sense, ie a personal relationship between the individual and God, or is Islam more akin to an all-encompassing ideology that regulates all aspects of human life including politics, the judicial system, philosophy, relations between the sexes, attire, modes of behaviour etc? –To put it more simply, is Islam the same as sharia or can there be a liberal, personalized, moderate Islam that does not lay claim to controlling every aspect of human existence?

Very little is known about Danish Muslims' interpretation of their religion, but surveys conducted in Germany and more recently in Great Britain and the US seem to indicate that vast sections of the Muslim populations equate Islam with sharia, which may fairly be characterized as a totalitarian ideology of the same stripe as fascism and communism. It stands to reason that a sizable segment of Danish Muslims share the sentiments of their German, British and American coreligionists.

It is also important to point out that, regardless of the actual support Danish imams have among Danish Muslims, we have yet to hear from a single moderate imam. Without exception, every imam who has been questioned on the subject has stated that, of course, the full sharia must be implemented at some unspecified date in the future - including punishments such as the stoning of women and the killing of apostates. As is the case in most other places, the sharia is not a set of laws that may be voted in by parliament after Muslims form a majority. Sharia should be immediately implemented; in fact, it is being implemented to the extent that the authorities do not prevent it. Note 10 For that reason Naser Khader, one of Denmark's most popular politicians, has been living under police protection for several years because he has been declared an apostate and should therefore be killed. Among Mr Khader's offenses against Islam is that he has given his daughter a Christian name.

As Bernard Lewis recently explained to Die Welt Note 11 the fact that Muslim religious authorities are claiming the right to punish Danish cartoonists for crimes that are not crimes under Danish law, means that they now consider Denmark to be part of the Dar al-Islam and its population to be dhimmi (ie members of monotheistic minorities tolerated in exchange for subservience to the umma, the Muslim nation) who should be subject to the sharia.

One further point regarding so-called moderate Islam: I have not heard of any credible example of a moderate Islam in Europe that has gained any appreciable following or spiritual influence. If you scratch the surface of so-called moderate religious leaders - and this is certainly the case in Denmark - the difference between moderates and extremists is that the former seek to advance their goals by peaceful means, while the latter will gladly resort to violence. But in both cases the goal is the same: to implement the sharia and to subjugate indigenous non-Muslims to a state of “dhimmitude”.

Two aspects in particular stand out from among recent developments in Danish-Muslim relations.

First, it is increasingly clear that a great many Muslims have never had the desire to integrate into Danish society, but instead have insisted on maintaining their imported culture and, to a certain extent, to transplant the institutions of that culture into Danish soil. It was naive for Danes to have believed otherwise.

The outcome of this "multicultural" - in fact bicultural - society has been a growing separation between old Danes and Muslim arrivals and their descendants - an actual separation becoming more pronounced as time goes by. Yet the ideology of integration, under whose auspices this massive Muslim immigration occurred, would have predicted the opposite.

In spite of the many billions of kroner which the Danish government has spent on "integration" over the past thirty years, our cities and schools - both public and private - are becoming more disintegrated.

Nor is there any indication that those wielding power within the Muslim community are willing to accept conversions from Islam or to grant Muslim women the right to marry non-Muslim men.

There is growing talk of "parallel societies" in Denmark, ie a situation where the country ceases to function as a unitary polity due to the physical, cultural, religious and politico-judicial separation of non-Muslims and Muslims into incompatible, antagonistic enclaves. Such a two-society development would be akin to recent experience in the Balkans and to Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Note 12

The other aspect, closely connected to the Muslim disinterest in integration with Danish society, is the realization that vast segments of the Muslim population may not consider themselves as a minority at all, but rather as part of the 1.3 billion strong world umma. Recent anti-Danish animosity over the Mohammed cartoons throughout the Muslim world has probably strengthened many Danish Muslims’ sense that they are part of the worldwide umma, not part of a minority in Denmark.

So increasingly, it appears, the real future minority in Denmark will be the Danes.

One may well ask if the same is not the case throughout Europe and other parts of the Western world. In particular after the 1979 Iranian revolution, a number of powerful, well-heeled international Muslim organizations (especially the Saudi Wahhabi) have spent billions of dollars (I recently heard a figure of USD $65 billion over the past twenty-five years) in order to ensure their ideological sway over the Muslim diaspora in Europe and elsewhere, and to prevent its integration into the Western mainstream - with amazing success, it should be added.

There appears to be a growing realization among demographers that, despite the anti-immigration policies of the current Danish government, third-world immigrants and their descendants (with or without citizenship) will constitute the majority of the Danish population before the end of this century.13 A sizeable segment of this third-world population will be Muslim, and well before the middle of the 21st century, the number of Muslims will be large enough to have irreversibly changed the composition and character of the country. It has proved impossible to integrate this growing Muslim population into Danish culture, and there is no reason to expect any change as the number of Muslims grows.

This does not mean, of course, that integration could not happen. History is full of surprises. All I am saying is that I know of no example of a sizeable Muslim population successfully and permanently integrating into a non-Muslim host population while adhering to its Muslim beliefs. The burden of proof rests with those who have claimed that the integration of tens of millions of Muslims in Europe would never be a problem, but who have nothing today to show for their claim.

ll Muslim non-integration spell the end of the secular state as we have known it? Most probably. Religion - or, more accurately, Islamic ideology, which knows no distinction between religion and politics - is on the ascendant as the constitutive principle among Danish Muslims. And as Muslim institutions grow stronger, the Islamic deen (ie the all-encompassing Islamic ideology which also includes religion as it is usually defined in the West) is bound to become even more powerful as the organizing principle of the Muslim parallel society.

How will the "old" Danish and nominally Christian population react to this metamorphosis? That will largely depend on what organizing principle will determine the character of the Danish parallel society. Two possibilities stand out: "Danishness" and "Christianity". The former option would probably entail a society founded on a nationalistic or ethnic myth; the latter model might be more ethnically inclusive and stress society's Christian roots.

In either case it is difficult to see how the secular state could survive, because parallel societies within the confines of one nominal geographic entity will not be free to define themselves or to determine their own political systems or modes of governance. They will constantly be forced to maneuver in response to "the other's" long-term objectives and immediate actions - as has been the case in the recent examples of parallel societies such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Northern Ireland and the Basque provinces.

Nothing indicates that Denmark is any worse off regarding the harmonious integration of its Muslim population than other European countries, so we shall probably see the same pattern repeated throughout the continent within no more than twenty to thirty years (the 2005 uprising in the French suburbs is likely a harbinger of worse to come).

Under these conditions the modern system of sovereign territorial states could well break down, although it is impossible to predict what might replace it. It seems highly unlikely that a European Union can fill the void if it remains based on state structures that are no longer able to exert sovereignty over their own territory. The territorial states might not even be replaced by anything resembling a permanent structure or order.

Without order and democratically accountable governments able to deliver justice and good governance, it is also difficult to foresee how the ideals of the Enlightenment can be preserved.


This article was originally published in Kurt Almqvist (ed.): The Secular State and Islam in Europe: Perspectives from the Engelsberg Seminar 2006. Stockholm (Axel and Margaret Johnson Foundation) 2007.

Note 1 - No hard figures on Muslim prison population exist, but in December 2006 a working group established by the state corrections authority provided a good indication. Due to the fact that Muslims make up a steadily growing proportion of inmates in Danish prisons, the group's report recommended that several prison imams be appointed. In typical cases, inmates of non-Danish ethnic backgrounds made up 35-40 percent and in some cares more than 50 percent of the prison population (Kristeligt Dagblad, 21 December 2006).

Note 2 - In 2004, Danish authorities pressed charges against five times as many second-generation immigrants than against ethnic Danes. In Copenhagen three in four minors arrested have immigrant backgrounds (Pernille Ammitzbøll and Lorenzo Vidino. "After the Danish Cartoon Controversy," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007, http://www.meforum.org/article/1437).

Note 3 - Orla Borg and Henrik Vinther Olesen, "Muslim i Danmark: Muslim med måde," Jyllands-Posten 12 May 2006.

Note 4 - Filip Ulrichsen, "Indvandring: Nye tal for muslimsk indvandring," Jyllands-Posten 1 August 2004.

Note 5 - Kasper Krogh and Jesper Termansen, "Angående Muhammed: 2.500 danskere er konverteret til islam," Berlingske Tidende 4 June 2006.

Note 6 - Bassam Tibi. Islamische Zuwanderung: Die gescheiterte Integration. Stuttgart München, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2002.

Note 7 - Kasper Krogh and Jesper Termansen, "Angående Muhammed: Khader mangler muslimsk opbakning," Berlingske Tidende 6 June 2006.

Note 8 - Ahmed Abu Laban died in February 2007.

Note 9 - "Unge muslimer søger identitet i religionen," Ugebrevet A4 No. 12, 27 March 2006 (http://www.ugebreveta4.dk/smcms/Ugebrevet/10046/10658/10666/10667/Index.htm?ID=10667).

Note 10 - At a conference at Copenhagen University 25-26 November 2006, Dr. Rubya Mehdi, who is an expert on Islamic Law at the University's Casten Niebuhr Department, reported that a great number of Danish Muslims are already following the sharia in matters of family law. In view of this reality she suggested that Denmark officially become a "multi-judicial society" (Lars Hedegaard. "Islams dekonstruktion", Sappho (http://www.sappho.dk/Nr.%205%20december%202006/islamsdekonstruktion.html)). In February 2006 a poll conducted for The Sunday Telegraph showed that 40 percent og Britisk Muslims wanted sharia law introduced into parts of the country, while 41 percent opposed it (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/02/19/nsharia19.xml&sSheet=/portal/2006/02/19/ixportaltop.html).

Note 11 - Bernard Lewis, interview in Die Welt, 19 April 2006.

Note 12 - The situation in Denmark is not nearly as far gone as in such neighboring countries as Britain, Sweden, Germany or France. France has several hundred so-called Zones urbaines sensibles, in practice no-go zones where the state cannot excert its influence, See "Atlas des Zones urbaines sensibles" (http://i.ville.gouv.fr/divbib/doc/chercherZUS.htm).

Note 13 - Based on calculations by Copenhagen University demographer Hans Oluf Hansen, reported in Berlingske Tidende, 21 August 2005.

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