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The Islamic Network opened a conversion course for non-Muslims in Oslo Thursday.

“Many Norwegians are turning to Islam,” says the organization.

Board member Fahad Qureshi thinks the course is the first of its type in Norway. It is mainly ethnic Norwegians who want to convert, he told newspaper Vårt Land.

The Network doesn’t want focus on the plan and rejected the request from the paper to be there for the first day.

According to the Network’s site islamnet.no, there’s a need for their own educational plan so that non-Muslims can learn the essentials of the religion.

There is no data about how many convert to Islam in Norway, but according to TV 2 in December, about 100 Norwegians registered last year that they converted to Islam. The figure is based on data from the Islamic faith-organizations in Norway.

The course consists of 9 stages over nine months. Men and women will go to separate courses,and will get all the necessary literature, prayer rugs and hijab or kufi free.

Religion researcher Jan Opsal of the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger says conversion to Islam has long been a phenomenon in Central-Europe. He is not surprised that there is now a conversion course in Norway.

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Norwegian-Pakistani parents are afraid their daughter will smoke, drink or have sex.  But the girl say they just want breathing space.

Today is 100 years since International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time.  Though some Norwegian girls and women feel equal in 2010, the circumstances are completely different for many minority women.

VG Nett met Norwegian-Pakistani women who have a different story to tell.

We meet ‘Amna’ together with two Norwegian-Pakistani girls in a secluded cafe in Oslo.  They chatter and smoke, but keep the cigarette under the table every time they suspect a foreign girl or boy is passing.  They don’t want to be recognized, since what they’re doing is improper and ‘prohibited’.  ‘Sara’ says she feels like a product.

“From [the time] we are small and until marriageable age, we are like a product to be sold.  Marketing is very important.  When people are out to find a potential spouse, they need good references to get good candidates.  Therefore my parents don’t want me to go out and have much of a social life,” she says.

A foreign couple stroll by.  The cigarettes are hidden once again under the table.

“I don’t want anybody to see me smoking, because it’s taboo.  It’s not nice for girls to smoke, they get labeled.  They are called bad girls.  I don’t want my parents to know that. Then I don’t know what they’ll do,’ says ‘Amna’.

‘Huma’ says that she wants to move out on her own, but that probably will remain a dream.  She was told that it’s not relevant, because her father thinks people will gossip.  Why would a girl live alone?

“People always think negatively, they think that people want to move out to have sex or drink alcohol.  They don’t think that girls need breathing space in this culture.  As long as it’s bad in other people’ eyes, I can’t be permitted to do it,” says ‘Huma’.

The girls talk a lot about marriage.  They explain this saying that they’re of marriageable age, therefore it’s not a topic to avoid.  They must get married within their own caste, and a marriage with a non-Pakistani isn’t a topic to discuss.

“Modest girls are good.  There are rumors all the time, especially about girl.  If one is stigmatizes, he’s marked for life, and won’t get ahead in the community,” add ‘Huma’.

At times ‘Amna’ gets nervous because her parents constantly point out the time is starting to run out for her. She must get married as quickly as possible.

People are asking questions on why ‘Amna’ isn’t getting married.  Can’t she have children?  Is there nobody who will ask for her hand?

“I am so tired of gossip.  I choose not to have contact with other Pakistanis, because they’re so good at gossiping.  I choose to distance myself and be anonymous.  I don’t want them to know who I am,” says ‘Amna’ with disappointment.

“Yes, it’s not cricket which is our favorite sport.  It’s gossiping,” ‘Sara’ adds.

“When you come home, you must hide who you are.  You must live up to your parent’s expectations and demands.  I need to change into traditional clothing.  They want me to be a traditional girl who prepares food, takes care of her parents and is married as quickly as possible.  I feel strong mental pressure,” she continues.

The friends, who like traveling, went on a trip to London last year, but they couldn’t tell their parents.  Regular trips, like the ones most other young adults go on, must be planned carefully.  First they need to find a reason for a trip.  They told their parents that they went with a seminal group at their university – to another city in Norway.

“The easiest is of course work or school.  Additionally you must have an alibi, and other accomplices like, for example, little siblings.  They must be several who can save you if it goes wrong,” says ‘Huma’.

You also need to call home every day so that the parents don’t call the girl.  ‘Sara’ says that she was of course afraid of being discovered during the trip, but it was worth to take the risk. They would never have gotten permission to go if they had told the truth, because it’s not accepted in their culture for girls to go on trips alone.

“The parents think it’s ok if we go on a trip with the school or for a seminar at work.  Then the trip has professional content, but they don’t understand that people need a break or time together with friends.  It’s not accreted, because we’re girls and must behave in a certain way,” says ‘Sara’.

The girls say they don’t do anything special in these secret vacations.  they’re simply out to have a good time with friends.

“We do normal things, like eating good food, shopping and looking around a bit.  There’s some partying too.  We can choose what clothing we go with, but all this is abnormal for our parents.  I was honest a few years ago and asked my dad if I could go on a trip with girlfriends, but he flatly said ‘no’.  After that I thought there’s no point in being honest,’ says 25 year old ‘Huma’.

Sociologist Anja Bredal of the Institute for Social Researcher is aware of the problem of living a double life among minority girls through her research.

“A double-life can be problematic in the long run.  I’ve seen several examples where such strategies are risky.  At one point or another, the parents discover it, and it can be dramatic,” Bredal told VG Nett.

The Norwegian-Pakistani girls feel they lead a double life.

“We have been to so many so-called seminars, work-trip and school-trips that we should have been rocket scientists by now,” laughs ‘Amna’.

She explains that the only way for her to escape is to get married or study abroad, but she doesn’t want to get married just yet.   That isn’t met with understanding.

“First, it’s difficult enough to find a man that I’ll love, and in addition he should be from the same caste.  What type of requirement is it that our parents make of us.  It’s inhumane.  And the thought of me marrying a Norwegian, I can just forget, it’s unheard of,” says ‘Huma’.

She thinks there’s something wrong with the culture she belongs to.

“The sickness of this culture is that other parents also have problems with their children, but in order to save their own skin, they speak about the children of others. Why can’t people stop meddling about what everybody else is doing and saying all the time,” she asks and shakes her head.

‘Amna’ says that she has considered what she would do for quite a while. She found a way out to avoid everything.

“I will be a stewardess.  I love to travel so it suits me perfectly.  I’d be far away.  I will experience life and be an independent woman.  I won’t let my parents stop me this time.  I can’t deal with the thought that I’m 27 years old and won’t get the opportunity to develop myself,” says ‘Amna’.

The interview is over,  they pay for their coffee and put the cigarette packs at the bottom of their bags. They must get the bus. Their parents don’t know they sit in the cafe.  They think their girls are at school or work.

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The synagogue in Oslo has just as many members as the synagogue in Malmö. A year ago NRK started to check how widespread antisemitic attitudes – Jew hatred – were among Norwegian Muslims.

NRK spoke with many Jewish parents who tell of Jew hatred against their children. Nobody dared speak with their name and image and they were therefore anonymized.

A Jewish father says that his son was on his way home from school when he was stopped by a gang of older boys:

“They asked: ‘aren’t you a Jew?’, to which he answered yes. Then he was physically taken and hung in the woods because he was a Jew. He managed to get himself lose, how he doesn’t know today and ran home,” says the father.

Harassment from Muslim boys has become so bad that the family fled the district to another place. But the children weren’t let alone there either.

NRK spoke with the teachers in high schools with many Muslim students. None of the teachers dared to be interviewed. They are afraid of reprisals from the students and were therefore anonymized.

Teacher 1, female:
“There’s a notorious bullying of Jews. Everything from jokes to public death threats. “It says in the Koran that you should kill Jews, all proper Muslims hate Jews. Jews will be killed if they come here to this school,” the students say. To praise Hitler for what he did to the Jews also get repeated by students at my school. The worst of this is that Jew-hatred has become completley legitimate among large groups of students of Muslim background.”

Teacher 2, male:
“I see Jew-hatred particularly in social-studies class. Students say the Jews control everything, the entire West is controlled by Jews. Some say also that they admire Hitler because he killed Jews. ‘The attack on the Twin Towers in New York September 11, 2001, it was the Jews who were behind it’. In my class things are such that if somebody says they support terrorism, there’s some who protest. But if somebody expresses Jew-hatred, nobody protests.”

Teacher 3, female:
“Several students snicker when I speak of the Holocaust. A boy stood up and ordered me to stop speaking of Jews and the Holocaust. Most of these youth are born and raised in Norway. I think it’s shocking that it’s possible to grow up in Norway with such attitudes.”

Teacher 4, male:
“F*cking Jew’ is a much used curse in class. If I were Jewish I would have felt extremely insulted. These statements are a big problem.”

The teachers NRK spoke with had the impression that students in Norwegian school get many of their attitudes from radio and TV broadcasts via satellite.

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Loveleen Rihel Brenna has seen parents beat their girls when they discovered that they’ve taken off their hijab on the way to school.

“When I worked in the Children’s Protection Service, I myself saw parents who beat their daughter who on the way to school have taken off their hijab,” says Loveleen Rihel Brenna.

She the head of the parent’s committee for elementary schools, integration adviser and member of the Women’s panel which was established in February by the Children and Equality minister Audun Lysbakken.

“I think girls who want to wear the hijab should have the option to do it – also in school. But the minute girls have parents forcing them to wear the hijab, we must have a debate about wearing it. The way I see it, banning and coercion are just as wrong,” says Brenna.

She wants to discuss the issue on the Women’s panel, which consists of 31 women whose goal is to set the agenda on equality and integration.

PM Jens Stoltenberg told NRK yesterday that he didn’t want a national ban on hijab in school, and that individual schools and municipality are most suitable to regulate it on their own. Earlier this week FrP’s Siv Jensen made it clear she wants to ban the burka in public. She also wants to ban the hijab in school. Education minister Kristin Halvorsen (SV) says she doesn’t want hijab for children of elementary school age.

“This debate is going by the premises of the majority. Women should discuss the issue, not least of all mothers, says Loveleen Rihel Brenna. She knows families where both wearing the hijab and not wearing it are accepted.

“I’ve met two sisters, one wears the hijab, while the other has put it away,” she says.

Ny Krohnborg school is the school in Bergen with the most other-culture students. Principal Atle Fasteland has long thought there should be a ban on hijab in the school, and is skeptical about the possibility of an individual school or municipality making that decision.

Fasteland says that the hijab shows religious belonging, identity and a certain view of women’s place in society. This is about helps the aims of good education and positive integration. Everybody should have the same options of developing, and for many teh hijab can be a hindrance.

At the same time he says that many of the most capable students are girls who wear the hijab. “But then I must also ask as principal if that’s because these girls don’t participate in other areas,” says Fasteland He think it could easily develop into only-hijab schools in the question would be decided locally.

“Parents who want their daughters to wear the hijab will send them to schools that allow wearing it,” says Fasteland.

In Oslo there are many schools where minority-speaking students are in the majority. Many of the principals of thee schools are skeptical about a hijab ban.

Anne Myhrvold, principal of the Gran school where 90% of the students are of minority background, told Dagsavisen that she doesn’t support coercion, and that an open debate is better than a ban. Hijab doesn’t cause us problems, she says.

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Several young Muslims from the Holmlia district in  Oslo told NRK there’s active missionizing among young Muslim boys.

Young men with long beards and robes stop Muslim boys in the neighborhood or visit them at home and recruit them to the mosques.

“Some of the missionaries who have approached us, have had extreme attitudes towards Norwegians and also to other Muslim minorities like Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims,” says one of the youth NRK spoke with.  None of them wished their name or image be published.

They say that many of those recruited into radical Muslim communities were petty criminals in the past, also in the gang community.

Nadeem Butt (Labor), head of the district committee of the Søndre Nordstrand district confirms the phenomenon.

“There’s some missionizing among Muslims,a nd we’ve had this type of missionizing here in the district in the past,” says Butt.

He says that the missionaries are mostly Muslim men who turn to other Muslim men.

“They also approach Muslim boys out on the town,” says Butt.

According to Butt the missionaries are linked to the local mosque in Holmlia, a mosque which belongs to the Tabliqi movement.  The movement belongs to the Wahabi denomination in Islam.

The Wahhabi denomination is the state religion in Saudi Arabia and is considered a radical Islamic movement.  Osama Bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda belong to this denomination.

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Muslim taxi drivers in Oslo parked their cars Monday morning in protest against the publication of a Muhammed cartoon by Norwegian media.

A long line stretched out outside the Oslo Central Station, a stone’s throw from Dagbladet’s offices, when Muslim taxi drivers parked their cars in protest against the newspaper, which printed a Muhammad cartoon as illustration to an article.

Police are concerned since former terror-suspect Arfan Bhatti is among those who are at the forefront for a big protest event Friday. “I am concerned of the role Bhatti is playing,” chief of staff for the Oslo police Johan Fredriksen told Aftenposten.no.

Arfan Bhatti is among the administrators of a Facebook group which is calling for a large-scale demonstration in front of the Norwegian parliament Friday afternoon. On Wednesday afternoon close to 2,000 Facebook users subscribed to the group.

Bhatti is actively participating in teh discussion on the group’s site. He also defends his past to the members.

“That I was a criminal, what does that have to do with my Muslim identity? And who sees my intentions, ONLY Allah,” Bhatti writes.

“There are clearly people out there who want discord and ruin for us who want to demonstrate, and that we must Inshallah not let them,” he continues.

In today’s editorial, Dagbladet wrote that publishing the cartoon wasn’t an expression of disrespect for Muslims or Islam, and not a demonstration or attempt at provocation.

Imam Malana-hafiz Mehboob-ur-Rehman had a meeting with Dagbladet’s editor Lars Helle and fears reactions from Muslim extremists. The imam had hopped Helle would apologize for Dagbladet printing a Muhammed caricature last week. Now he fears that the reactions will become harsher than when the cartoons were printed for the first time [in Norway] in 2006.

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