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Fools Rush In: Where Faith, Race, and Fundamentalism Intersect in Denmark's Convert Communities

Amidst the handful of waving arms, closed eyes, and heartfelt amateur singing, it became apparent that the piano man was the driving force behind it all. At the keyboards was 37 year-old Massoud Fouroozandeh, a former Qur'an reciter from Iran who immigrated to Denmark in 1986 at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. With less than a dozen people, it was a small but intimate meeting where children ran around freely and individuals could openly express their innermost thoughts.

As we looked up at the Arabic lettered projection screen trying to follow along, we decided to go over to the information table to look for something that we could understand. Shuffling through the sea of prayer books, with their golden borders and intricate calligraphy, it was hard for us to believe that they were not copies of the Qur'an. Nor were we at a mosque, or even at a household Muslim prayer meeting. Instead, we were witnessing a Farsi-language evangelical Christian service at Copenhagen’s Church of Love. 

The city’s Church of Love is one of Europe's 27 registered Persian churches, and the youngest of three in Denmark founded by Pastor Fouroozandeh, a theology student at the University of Aarhus. Built in 1997, it is a modest building, only identified by a sign that reads, "Evangelical Church". Like the other two, which are located in the nation’s second and third-largest cities, Aarhus and Odense, almost all of its members are ex-Muslims from Iran, while a smaller contingency hail from the bordering countries of Afghanistan or Azerbaijan. At the national level, Fouroozandeh assumes that there are 22,000 to 24,000 Farsi speakers in Denmark, and of them, 9,000 are of either Afghan or Azeri descent.

After conversing with some of the converts in the afternoon tea that followed the service, it became clear that these Persians -and their relationship with Islam- were affected by their homeland's tumultuous history in a way that sets them apart from their Arabic neighbors. Throughout the 20th century, Iran, along with Atatürk's Turkey, took pride in being one of the more progressive countries of the Muslim World. Between 1905 and 1911, Persia engaged in its landmark Constitutional Revolution, restricting monarchical power while establishing the first parliament in the Middle East. In 1963, the White Revolution, launched by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, legally abolished feudalism in an ambitious effort to make the country a global economic and industrial power. However, while the government supervised land redistribution and educational reform, the period was also marked by violence, corruption, and a strict limitation on the authority of religious leaders that many perceived as an attack on Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini, a prominent Shiite cleric, capitalized on the Shah's unpopularity and spearheaded a campaign that sought to impose a Muslim state under Sharia law. By December of 1979, the Shah had gone into exile while Khomeini, as the chief architect of Iran's newly theocratic constitution, appointed himself to be the nation's first ever Supreme Leader. 

For those who prospered under the neo-liberal Shah, the take over was far from welcome. Pahlavi and over one million of Iran's most prominent and educated families migrated to cities throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and Turkey, taking their wealth with them. 

Keyhan, a 48 year-old convert and a new member of the Church of Love, was one of those who longed to escape, but couldn't. His relatively religious parents worked in local politics and commerce, and provided him with a “good quality of life under the Shah". However, it was not until his teenage years that his own religiosity intensified. Frustrated with dominance of foreign corporations and the Western ways that seemed to negatively affect Persian life, he found the Ayatollah's nationalistic message invigorating. A self-described fundamentalist who was willing to sacrifice his life for the notorious cleric, Keyhan was soon praying up to a dozen times a day. 

What changed? The “Big Bang", he recalls, occurred when he was 19 as he watched Khomeini’s highly anticipated return from exile on television. When the leader was asked about the 100,000 Muslims who had perished for his cause, he said nothing and shrugged. It was then that he realized that the religious movement was “only about money and power.” He felt betrayed. If anything, the Islamic Revolution, instead of bringing him closer to faith, had the converse effect of making him suspicious of all institutionalized religion. Disillusioned with what he perceived to be the innate intolerance of Islam, Keyhan became an atheist. 

The Revolution was no doubt a defining point in his religious journey to Christianity. Prior to the takeover, Iran, despite its 98% Shiite population, was of a land of many faiths. A generally secular society throughout most of the 20th century, religious minorities, which included historic communities of Jews, Christians, and Persian-born faiths, Ba'haism and Zoroastrianism, were for the most part respected. “Historically", he insists, “being Iranian was not synonymous with being Muslim."

Now, almost thirty years later, Keyhan, singing loudly in a clashing suit and tie, is a sharp contrast to the many T-shirt clad churchgoers. His profound reverence for the weekly ceremony was made even more visible when he got up and stood before the congregation, speaking openly about his most recent spiritual dilemma. For Keyhan, being a Christian is an all-encompassing "way of life" that he takes very seriously. 

He was already 27 and a trained accountant when he left for Denmark during the Iran-Iraq War in 1986 with his parents and two siblings. Adjusting was not easy, but he tried to make ends meet by working as a cab driver, a supermarket clerk, a crane operator, and a chef, sometimes all at once. He learned both English and Danish, and took pride in being personable and dressing well.  Still, despite his attempts to fit in, he was “not accepted by the Danes. People looked at me as if I was a thief. At work, I was an outsider”. His frustrations as a lower-class person of color in Danish society were compounded by the many on-the-job injuries that stinted his progress.  It was all “too unbearable”, and at one point, he longed to take his own life. 

He wanted to turn to God for help, but didn’t know where to start.  In Denmark, “a country where the vast majority was Christian, an encounter with Christianity was almost inevitable.” He consulted a Danish pastor for advice, and found himself caught between the principles of his old faith and “conflicting” Christian theology. “Initially”, he says, “I thought that Muhammad and Jesus were two-sides of the same coin.” However, in time he came to realize that “Christianity and Islam were two trains on the same track, but going in fatally opposite directions.”  In a temporary move to England in 2005, he developed a friendship with a Persian preacher. Just weeks afterwards, he was baptized.

After he converted, he began to feel uncomfortable in the predominantly Muslim area where he had resided for over twenty years. He could also no longer bear to hear the “Koranic verses blasted on loudspeakers”, a feature of his neighborhood that became common after 2006, the year in which a controversial newspaper cartoon was printed that featured the Prophet Muhammad in a turban that concealed explosive weapons.  Fearing that the discovery of his new faith would subject him to scrutiny and allegations of treason, he moved out. His decision to remain low-profile about his conversion was not without reason. As noted in Mogens Mogensen’s article, “Conversion between Islam and Christianity in a Danish Context”, many who leave Islam fear that relatives back home will suffer the consequences of their conversion. A case in point is the brother of Keyhan’s British pastor, whose body was discovered in Iran’s Zagros Mountains a little over a year ago. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has become increasingly intolerant of any political or religious dissidence. Just this February, the government, in accordance with Sharia law, declared apostasy -the formal abandonment or renunciation of one's religion- a sin punishable by death. As a result, Keyhan chose not to reveal his last name.  

Now a Middle Eastern man working as a part-time chef, living only fifteen meters away from the Church of Our Lady in an affluent neighborhood of Copenhagen, Keyhan is, by Danish standards, well-integrated. “Iranians”, who are religiously, culturally, and linguistically distinct from other Muslims, “don’t tend to segregate themselves like the Arabs.” When asked about the hostile relationship between the Muslim community and Denmark's far-right government coalition, he says that he empathizes with those who struggle to adapt to the customs of a new land, but that ultimately, "they are not ready to be here. That is why there are so many problems."  “Moreover”, he skeptically adds, “the government doesn’t know who they are dealing with. You can’t control the Muslims here or anywhere. How can you control a people whose religion endorses jihad?” 

Nearly thirty years after the Revolution, it is clear that the very thought of Islam, and the politically-charged fundamentalism he associates with it, makes him shudder. When asked about Mohammad, he refers to the Prophet's youngest wife, Aisha, and retorts, "How good can a religion be in which it's most important prophet, an old man, can marry and rape a little girl?"¬¬¬ A classily-dressed elderly woman interrupts his impassioned rant, one he which he claims that Islam is “totalitarian, oppressive, and full of lies." We had noticed her earlier because she and her companion hadn't stood up with the rest of congregation to pray. It turned out that they were his parents, both of whom were unconverted Muslims. "They are open-minded", he explains. Was conversion his underlying motive for bringing them to church? "They are old, and accustomed to their way of life. I do not expect them to convert. But I do worry about my siblings."

Still, despite his belief in what he perceives as the Christian monopoly over love and forgiveness, one could not help but overhear his condescending remarks to a Muslim guest who was wearing a hijab. He promptly dismissed her when she suggested that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all share the same God, reminding her that Allah was evil. In rejecting that generally accepted concept, it appears as if he is unable to put his altruism into practice, but than again, he did offer to take us out to McDonalds afterwards. Although we didn't take him up on it, we couldn't help but wonder if he was simply being friendly or if was intrigued by our non-Christian backgrounds. While he won't go as far as to say that all Muslims are evil, he believes that their religion is, and thus comes across as a radical with the underpinnings of a close-minded fundamentalist. 

Fundamentalism, despite its portrayal in the Western media as something that is unique to Islam, is alive and well in Christianity, and especially within the more conservative sects of Protestantism. Keyhan, a 'born again' evangelical Christian, believes that his baptism was a direct experience with God enabled by the Holy Spirit.  Still, Fouroozandeh is quick to clarify that Keyhan is a newer member of his "interchurch" and should hardly be considered a spokesman of it. Rather, he defines his organization as "evangelical, charismatic, and non-denominational." But as a pastor, he admits that he adheres to a strict Biblical interpretation on contentious sociopolitical issues, like abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia.

So what does this Farsi-speaking brand of evangelism mean in the context of Denmark's nominally Lutheran but fiercely secular society? Does the Church of God intend to proselytize and impose their ideas of eternal salvation on those who do not adhere to the Christian faith or lifestyle? Perhaps they mean to conquer or ‘integrate’ to Muslim community from within? While Keyhan's comments leave some room for doubt, Pastor Fouroozandeh, author of Den Forbudte Frelse and the upcoming Islam og Kristendom, insists that his faith is only a base in which to work on interfaith dialogue, integration projects, and missionary trips. When asked if his organization has reached out to other Near Eastern communities who also struggle for religious acceptance, like the Christian Palestinians, he says no, citing that they differ on various issues and practices. While the Church is open to all, it is, by nature of its language of choice, exclusive and specifically aimed at unifying Denmark's Farsi-speaking community.

While Keyhan's memories of Islam evoke bitterness, he represents only one kind of Muslim convert to Christianity. Massoud Fouroozandeh's account of his conversion was more nuanced, or at least less explicitly cynical. Unlike Keyhan, Fouroozandeh was not a secular Muslim. Back in his homeland, he was raised as an orthodox Shiite and was even trained as a Qur’an reciter, an influential positions within a mosque. In Iran, his mother, attracted to the ideals of the New Testament, quietly researched Christianity. When he was fifteen years-old, he was called to serve in Iran's war against Iraq, but escaped with his family through Turkey and into Denmark. Having ready access to Christian texts, his mother made the decision to convert. His family was shocked, but he supported her decision, and wanted to understand it better for himself. As he read through the Bible, he became intrigued by Jesus' message of mercy. Islam, he said, was built upon an “inflexible set of rules” that were preoccupied with justice. In contrast to the vengeful "eye for an eye" approach that he associated with Islam, he found the less regimented doctrine of Christianity both liberating and appealing. "Christianity", he proclaims, 'it not a religion, it is love."

Within Denmark, Fouroozandeh's conversion was generally accepted by friends and family. Others, however, including his sister, a Koranic teacher, did not take the news well. The siblings, much to his dismay, have not talked in over twelve years. Nor, he says, “would even dare go back to Iran” in its present state. When asked about how he is treated or perceived by other Muslims in Denmark, he says that he “prefers not to talk about it, and focuses on the positive”. 

Younger ex-Muslims like Azadeh Hejazi, who is in her mid-twenties, have their own reasons for converting. Born in Iran shortly after the 1979 Revolution, she was raised as more of a “cultural” Muslim who didn't bother to attend mosque or pray unless she was stressed. After her parents' divorce and the unexpected death of her brother, Azadeh became depressed and longed to leave Iran. Armed with her English skills, she was able to make contact with some friends in Denmark. They agreed to help arrange a 'performance wedding' and marry her to a Danish citizen in exchange for a green card. After arriving in Denmark, she took mandatory Danish classes at a language school. It was there that an older woman, taking note of her depression, talked to her about Jesus. Hejazi didn't pay her much mind, but was open to the idea when a Christian friend encouraged her to come to prayer meetings. As Azadeh got accustomed to life in Denmark, she realized that she still had to answer to some critical questions. Was she a Christian, or was she a Muslim? For her, being a Muslim had always been part of her Persian identity. Moreover, she was worried about being sent back to Iran. By April of 2003, she had already been twice denied for a permanent residency, and her visa was about to expire.

She remembers the day in which she went to court in order to get a verdict on her immigration case. Outside of the courtroom, she nervously prayed to Jesus, just as she had in times of stress when she was a Muslim. The judge demanded that she give a compelling reason for why she should be allowed to stay. She ended her petition on an optimistic note, stating that she was grateful to Jesus for having given her the opportunity to live in Denmark. That very day, she was granted permanent residency, convincing her of the power of Jesus Christ. In September of that year, she made it official and was baptized. While Hejazi’s initial profession of faith was sincere, it was indeed troublesome. In an article published on August 11, 2007, Politiken reports that dozens of Muslim asylum-seekers have gotten permission to stay in Denmark once they have converted to Christianity. Facing criticism on these allegations, it wouldn’t be too far off to assume that Denmark’s government will adopt an official policy on the matter like Germany, where refugees can easily acquire residency if they have proof of baptism. 

When Azadeh told her family in Iran of her conversion, her mother, who had since become a practicing Muslim in response to her son’s death, took time to accept it. Her father, on the other hand, whom she feared would react the most negatively, was proud of the fact that she had grown into an independent woman who was able to make educated decisions for herself. Today, in addition to being a full-time student at the University of Copenhagen, Azadeh volunteers as one of the Church's organizers. Eager to greet us, she willingly translated the service into English for over an hour and a half. She eventually hopes to marry a Christian, and values that over any national or ethnic tie to Persia and the Middle East. 

Are the converts who convert out of choice more radical, or just more passionate, about their newfound religion? The decision of these Persian converts to adopt an evangelical non-denominational sect of Christianity, instead of a more conservative brand like Catholicism, would suggest so. This, however, is not the trend in France, where Roman Catholics constitute 77% of the population. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, three-quarters of the 200 born Muslim who participated in a survey chose Catholicism over Protestantism. Zee News, an online Indian journal, cites that of France’s 15,000 converts to Christianity, as many as 10,000 chose Catholicism. Most of the converts were raised as Muslims in mixed marriages, and began to question their own faith as teenagers. 

Still, the number of born Muslims who annually convert to Christianity in Europe pales in comparison to the exponential increase of ethnic Europeans who convert to Islam. France's four million Muslims make-up 5 to 10% of the population, of which an estimated 40,000 are converts. Although Scandinavia’s numbers are significantly smaller, they still show similar trends. In Norway, where there are nearly 40,000 Muslims, 1,000 are ethnic nationals, a statistic that has doubled since 1995. Of Sweden's 400,000 Muslims, presumably 5,000 are ethnic Swedes. In Denmark, sources suggest that approximately 4,000 of the country's 180,000 Muslims are converts. 

In comparison to its Nordic neighbors, Denmark's foreign-born Muslim population has declined since 2001 as a result of tougher immigration policies. However, despite the crackdown, the number of newcomers to the faith, according to Abdul Wahid Pedersen, an imam and international spokesman of the Danish Muslim Union, continues to grow. 

Although converting to Islam through friends is common in France, where it is known as 'Islam de copin' or 'buddy Islam', for others, it is simply convenience. Take for example Nicholas Johansen, a Dane born and raised in Copenhagen. While it is women who have traditionally converted to Islam for the sake of their Muslim partners, Pedersen observes that the gender distribution is now just about even. A little over five years ago, Johansen, now 36, converted in order to be with his Muslim wife, with whom he now has two children. At the time, he was working for an Iberian real estate agency, and met his wife during a trip to Morocco. The two started dating, but once their relationship was discovered by her family, he was given an ultimatum: either convert and marry, or break-up. He decided to make the leap and marry her. Because she couldn't get permission to live in Denmark, he moved to Morocco. 

Despite the sacrifice of being far away from his homeland, "converting", he says, "wasn't a big issue." He was not a particularly religion Christian, and the decision was made easier by the fact that his family was supportive. Still, he was comforted by the fact that the Qur'an was similar to the Bible, and shared many of same principles and stories. Although he fasts during Ramadan and does his best to stay away from pork, he does not profess to be a "good" Muslim. He retains many of his old beliefs, such as karma, and even shares an occasional beer with his wife at a discothèque. Johansen hardly attends mosque services because he usually denied admission, due to obvious European ancestry. When asked about ethnic Danes who adopt strict, if not radical, interpretations of Islam, he says that they are "ignorant", loners with few friends "who are very susceptible to fundamentalism." They find that they are welcome in the mosque, and will "do anything to be accepted", even if it means going so far as to abandon Danish culture and values, such as democracy. 

In a survey done by Denmark's 180 Grader, one sixth of a group of 130 Danish converts to Islam outright oppose democracy, while over half believe that Islam is more important to them than any political system. It is these controversial positions that give those who already fear Muslims and value Danish democracy above all else reason to worry. Morten Messerschmidt, an MP of the Danish Peoples Party (DPP), a far-right group best known for its tough stance on immigration, fears Muslim hardliners who seek to "expand the caliphate state to the European continent." Pedersen, on the other hand, does not believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible with one another, stating, "There is no one way to democracy. Is it the two-party American system? Or the multi-party Danish system? Or even the ineffective African system?" 

Abdul Wahid Pedersen's journey to Islam began 26 years ago. He was a self-described hippie who traveled the world to find the piece of him that was missing, and hoped that he could find it in religion. He was a Hindu for four years, and even dabbled in Buddhism. Although he ended up returning home from his "experimenting search" without a particular religion, he had come to the realization that there was only one God. He was introduced to Islam, which was considered to be "trendy" at the time. He converted, learned Arabic, and a year later, married his wife, a Moroccan Muslim. Her parents accepted him "from day one, which was not a norm." 

Today, in the aftermath of 9/11, the cartoon crisis, the neo-conservative election in 2001, and the bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan just this past June, Islam is no longer perceived as something exotic in Denmark. On the contrary, it is associated with terrorism and oppression, as well as a threat against democracy. In light of these antagonist attitudes, Pedersen expresses his admiration for converts, many of whom are perceived as traitors and not only face harsh criticism from family members, friends, and colleagues, but also the state. In recent discussions, the DPP has openly accused Muslims of their inability and unwillingness to integrate into society. When told about the DPP's definitions of 'Danishness' and 'democracy', Abdul Wahid shakes his head and smiles. "Being a Muslim does not conflict with being a Dane", reminding us that Islam was founded on the democratic principles of free and fair elections. Countering accusations from Danes who think of him as "traitor number one", he goes on to say, "I would defend and protect my country as an actively engaged citizen."  

He also faces criticism from other Muslim leaders, many of whom accuse him of being too liberal. Some say that his interpretation of the faith has traits of Sufism, an Islamic mystic movement that many mainstream branches do not recognize as legitimate. While he has not confirmed if this is true, he will describe himself as “spiritual”. Despite the negative reviews, he claims that as both an ethnic Dane and leader of the Muslim faith, his bicultural background is a strength. A testament to this is his newly established mosque, the Mosque Association of Copenhagen, whose members are an interesting mixture of ethnic Danish converts and born Muslims who defy both racial and religious stereotypes. Perhaps it is Pedersen, a living example of an accepted ethnic minority within a predominantly non-white religious society, who is capable of healing the cultural misunderstandings that exist in Denmark today. He maintains that he is an advocate for interracial and interreligious tolerance. For example, he just married am unconverted Catholic woman and a Muslim man. Still, it should be noted that same right is not extended to women; Muslim girls who marry outside of the religion, while not expelled, are considered to live in sin. Justifying the inequality as something that is intended to protect women economically, he also says that he provides converts with certificates of faith. With that as a passport, they are able to travel to Hajj in Mecca, where they are able to give a multicultural face to Islam.

But what separates somebody who is merely interested in developing a cocktail knowledge of other religions from a potential convert? Conversion is usually an intensely personal process of redefining one’s identity. According to Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, a lecturer and professor of philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, “Danes convert because they find a system in Islam that they want to explore.” In a study by Kate Østergaard, one of Denmark’s more public converts to Islam, many focus on the more spiritual aspects of the religion while striving to understand the relationship between the inner and outer spirit.  They remain relatively open-minded, and seek to strike a balance between their old and new lifestyles. Alternatively, the other interpretation is more rigid, with strict rules that define what is haram (bad) or halal (good).  

Simonsen also cites past surveys that show that not only are converts more engaged in their new faith-based communities, but they are also more likely to proselytize. Many new Muslims strive to achieve perfection because they want to hold on to their newfound sense of inner peace, and often join groups that interpret Islam in a more radical way. The converts tend to be more volatile, and many jump to extremes by adopting religious lifestyles too hastily. Østergaard agrees, saying they are most eager to prove their dedication to other members in the earlier stages of their conversion.

At nearly six-feet tall with ice-blue eyes, Anna Wind stands as a towering example of the latter kind of convert. A 26 year-old prototypical Dane who joined Islam after only four months of research, she now teaches to a group of potential converts once a week. Wind, a mother of an 8 year-old boy, was working as a dental assistant when a Muslim friend introduced her to Islam. “The more I heard about it, the more I wanted to learn about who was right and who was wrong”, she says. Soon after reciting her initiation vows, or shahada, she decided to don both the hijab and the jilbab, a full-length garment for women. She considers the transformation to be a natural extension of her conversion, stating, “The more I read the Qur’an, the more I felt the need to adopt my lifestyle.” Unfortunately, her boss did not take it quite the same way. When she showed up wearing the hijab to work for the first time, she was fired. On paper, no reason was given. Her job was not the only aspect of her life that was negatively impacted by her conversion.  Her former partner, who “despises Islam”, was infuriated with her decision to raise their son as a Muslim. Over time, he began to recognize the religion’s good morals. Anna, who has now been a Muslim for a little under two years, hopes that her son will continue to practice Islam, but knows that eventually, the time will come for “him to decide for himself.”
As Anna learned more about Islam, she was positively surprised by the faith’s positions on gender equality. Before her conversion, she took pride in being a Western woman who was independent and could “do it all” by herself. If anything, she found Islam’s prescription for the gendered division of roles to be a breath of fresh air from her life as a single working mother. “I was exhausted”, she says. “There are some things only a woman is capable of doing, and other things that only men can do.” Content with the “power” that she is able to exercise at home, she had found help in her community and is comforted by the fact that men can and should provide for their families. 

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the difference in how her perceptions on the distribution of power change when it is in reference to society. More specifically, Anna believes that Sharia is not compatible with democracy, explaining that the secular political system “is not a healthy way to build a society.” It is a puzzling position for someone who has grown up in a country that has, especially in times of war, equated being Danish with democracy.  When asked if being a Dane conflicts with her religion, she quietly responds, “Danish values are what you define them to be. Nothing good can come out of nationalism.” 

At the same time, Anna contradicts herself when she says that would never be able to live in a country like Saudi Arabia, where women are virtually absent from public life. Still, she adds that Danes have no need to fear the imposition of a Muslim state in Denmark, because Sharia cannot exist where Muslims are not the majority. However, she observes that there are only “Muslim countries, but not Islamic countries”. When asked where she fits on the ideological spectrum of Denmark’s ethnically and politically diverse Muslim community, she firmly replies, “Hizb-ut-Tahrir”. The group, which calls for the killing of the Jews and the establishment of a Pan-Islamic state, is considered to one of the most radical political movements in Denmark and throughout Western Europe. 

By most standards, Keyhan and Anna are religious radicals. Keyhan, a full-blown atheist who was traumatized by the religious radicalism of his youth, converted only months after first learning about Christianity. He now fears that all Muslims, including his parents and siblings, will go to hell if they do not accept Jesus Christ. After only four months, Anna became an orthodox Muslim who would be more than willing to do away with Danish democracy. Despite their diametrically opposed views, they do share two things in common: both are ethnic minorities within their respective faiths in Denmark, and both converted too quickly, too eager to reject their old ways while condemning the values and faiths of those around them.

After their own spiritual odysseys, Pastor Fouroozandeh and Imam Pedersen became prominent figures within faiths to which they were not born. As ethnic minorities within a majority, they continue to break the stereotypes linked between race and creed.  However, in Fouroozandeh’s case, it is interesting to note how rapidly he ascended to leadership positions in both Islam and Christianity. Did his faith in Muhammad suddenly vanquish? And why is he determined to lead, instead of humbly follow? And still, for all his talk of ethnic tolerance, Pedersen, an indecisive hippie turned imam, has yet to openly condemn Sharia’s endorsement of the stoning of adulterous women. How can he justify Muslim-born women the freedom of religion from which he himself benefited?

Being a convert takes courage. It takes courage to redefine one’s own values and put them into practice, no matter how society and those to whom one is closest may react. Many find inner peace because of religion, whether it is one in which they are raised or one that they chose for themselves. But are these values shaped by circumstance, if not entirely manipulated? And where is the line between being brave and loyal, and going to far?

Does fundamentalism within minority communities in Europe differ from the pervasive culture of American televangelism that reaches the homes of millions, or the religious propaganda that permeates Iran’s media? Perhaps evangelical Christian groups pose as much a threat to Danish secularism as some of the nation’s more fundamentalist Muslim converts. However, while it is impossible to eradicate fundamentalism at its very core, perhaps religious leaders can be called upon to take measures to prevent it by ensuring that converts take longer periods of introspection and learning before they officially cross over or rise to top positions within the faith. Adopting a new religion is analogous to the mastery of an academic subject. It wouldn’t seem right if a high school graduate were to suddenly become a professor; something is to be said for paying one’s dues, as there is sure to be sloppy scholarship otherwise.  If not, there runs the risk of creating an army of newbie converts who find themselves so caught up with religion that they reject everything, for better or worse, associated with their past. Denmark can afford to have educated converts who respect the faiths of those around them, but there always runs the risk of fools rush in.


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———. Nye Mulsimer I Danmark: moder og omvendelser. Copenhagen. Univers, 2007.
Fouroozandeh, Massoud:  author, pastor of the Church of Love. 27 June 2008.

Hejazi, Azadeh: student at the Univ. of CPH, organizer of the Church of Love. 27 June 2008.

Johansen, Nicholas: real-estate agent, Moroccan resident. 28 June 2008.

Keyhan: part-time chef, member of the Church of Love. 2 July 2008.

Messerschmidt, Morten:  MP of the Danish Peoples Party. 11 June 2008.

Pedersen, Abdul Wahid: imam of the Mosque Association of Copenhagen, international spokesman of the Danish Muslim Union. 26 June 2008.

Simonsen, Jørgen Bæk: professor and lecturer of philosophy at the Univ. of CPH.  1 July 2008.

Wind, Anna: dental assistant, Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporter. 28 June 2008.

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