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When Islam became visible in public spaces

A lot has happened since the first Muslims came to Denmark in the 1960s. The media coverage of the opening of the new mosques in Copenhagen has been intense and predominantly critical.
Lasse Koefoed
Associate professor of urban studies at RUC Lasse Kofoed.

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 values​and 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."

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.

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:

  1. Mobile encounters in bus 5A
  2. Cross-cultural meetings at festivals 
  3. Encounters between the police and young people in Nørrebro
  4. The opening of the first two newly built mosques in Copenhagen