When Islam became visible in public spaces
When Hvidovre built the country's first mosque in 1967, it occurred with broad acceptance from the population and a curiosity about its exoticism.
A lot has happened since the first Muslims came to Denmark in the 1960s, and the debate that recently characterized the building of the two newly constructed mosques in Copenhagen was also somewhat different than when the grey, onion-domed mosque was built in Hvidovre.
The construction of both the mosque in Rovsingsgade in Nørrebro and the one on Vibevej in the northwest part of Copenhagen sparked major conflicts for various reasons.
The media coverage of the opening of the mosques was intense and predominantly critical. As part of a new research project in collaboration with two research colleagues, Lasse Koefoed, associate professor of urban studies at RUC, has reviewed over 200 articles and news stories about the opening of the two new mosques in Copenhagen.
The researchers have identified three central themes in the media coverage of the opening of the mosque in Rovsingsgade:
"Naturally, the discussions were about Islam's new visibility in the cityscape of Copenhagen. But it was also very much about the symbolic aspects, about differences in valuesand culture. Many of the influential newspapers featured statements that the mosque could constitute a security risk to Copenhagen and should therefore be monitored closely. There were expressions of a fear of radicalization. At the same time, there was an intense discussion in the days leading up to the opening of the mosque concerning the mosque's attitude to gender and sexuality” explains Lasse Koefoed.
The opening of the mosque in Rovsingsgade on 19 June 2014:
"The interesting thing was that the neighbours who lived next to the mosque were quite indifferent, they didn’t want to get involved. The attitude was: ‘It's fine that there will be a mosque here. We live in a large city, so of course there should be a mosque'. There was also someone who said: 'It just generates life in the area'" says associate professor of urban studies, Lasse Koefoed.
He points out that the largely positive reception came from both ethnic Danes and people of other ethnic backgrounds:
"It was surprising that there was such a significant difference between the public debate in the media and the reception in the local area."
Mecca of the North
When the mosque was built in Hvidovre in 1967, the Hvidovre Avis newspaper described the event as follows:
“Muhammadans around the world prayed for Hvidovre Mosque last Friday. Guests from eleven European countries, led by the elite of Islam, inaugurated the first mosque in the Nordic region, thereby making Hvidovre the Mecca of the North. “
The Khalif also visited the local town hall, where he was welcomed with the following words by the mayor of Hvidovre, Svend Aagesen:
"It is also quite unusual for Islam to have built a mosque so far to the north. The municipality is delighted that the mosque has been built here. The religious contradictions can sometimes get very heated, but fortunately we are very tolerant in this country. Therefore, we welcome Islam and the new mosque!”
Two new mosques
Two new mosques were built in Copenhagen in 2014 and 2015. Apart from the mosque in Hvidovre, they are the first purpose-built mosques in the country.
The difference between the reception of the mosque in Hvidovre and the two new mosques in Copenhagen, tells us something about the times we are living in and how society has changed, says Lasse Koefoed, and adds:
"The others, the ‘strangers’", are now regarded as a political problem, whereas previously they were welcomed. There can be several reasons for this. We can also see that the media agenda and the local agenda seem to be disconnected, when we consider the construction of the mosque in Rovsingsgade", says Lasse Koefoed.
"It is also interesting that the media today contributes more to setting the agenda, whereas previously they largely concentrated on reporting events. The public debate in the media can thus have a major impact on urban development processes” the researcher points out.
Lasse Koefoed's analysis of the reception of the mosques in Copenhagen was published in the journal Social & Cultural Geography in September 2017 and in the Nordic Journal of Architectural Research in May 2017.
Lasse Koefoed is associate professor of urban studies at the Department of People and Technology. He teaches at Geography and Planning Studies.
Facts about the project:
Urbanization and globalization are indispensable processes in the 21st century. This manifests itself through countless encounters on the cities’ streets and squares. The research project, 'Paradoxical Spaces: Encountering the Other in public space', in collaboration with Kirsten Simonsen, Mathilde Dissing Christensen and Maja de Neergaard from RUC, studied what specifically is happening in the diversity of Cross-cultural encounters in public spaces. The project is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research and includes four case studies:
- Mobile encounters in bus 5A
- Cross-cultural meetings at festivals
- Encounters between the police and young people in Nørrebro
- The opening of the first two newly built mosques in Copenhagen