Muslims and religious equality in Finland


  Comparative Religion 
  University of Helsinki
  Academy of Finland
  Other SYREENI projects

Seminar 2.-3.9.2002
Contesting religious equality - Muslims in global and local contexts
  » Seminar program
First page > Introduction


The number of Muslims in Finland has increased from around 1 000 in 1990 to something in the region of 15 - 20 000 in 1999. This is a significant change even though the numbers are small in comparison to other European countries and especially to the total number of Muslims in Western Europe, which is estimated to be around eight million. In the European context, Muslims have given rise to many disputes especially in relation to professing their religion, Islam. In particular, Muslims have challenged accepted views concerning religious equality in European societies, which have a state tradition of democracy and which have signed international conventions on human rights.

It has been argued, both by researchers and by Muslims themselves, that Muslims are discriminated, for instance, in Britain and France not only because of their skin colour or ethnicity, but because of their religion. It is said that such controversies as the Salman Rushdie affair have reignited the age-old hostility between the Western and Islamic worlds, which, in turn, has fuelled suspicion and intolerance towards Muslim immigrants.

A similar kind of atmosphere was apparent in Finland in the beginning of 1990's when there was an influx of Somali refugees. It has been said that their arrival in this country constituted a shock for Finns. Certainly, these new arrivals kindled a heated discussion in respect of foreigners in Finland and, in particular, about the different cultural habits that they brought with them to this country. Very often these habits were (and are) associated with women and, at times falsely, with Islam. In this regard, one need only mention women's veiling and the circumcision of girls. Interestingly enough, it was only with the arrival of these recent Islamic immigrants that such customs as the circumcision of baby boys and particular ways of slaughtering animals became issues for dispute, even though similar customs had prevailed in Finland for over a century among Jews and the long-established Tatar Muslims.


The aim of this research project is to study the integration of Muslim immigrants in Finnish society and thereby to investigate important factors concerning religion, education and health that are crucial to this process. The project consists of four interrelated studies which seek to answer the following questions:

1. How is Islamic religion defined and transmitted by Muslim teachers as a part of the minority religious education given in Finnish primary and secondary schools? To what extent are women accepted as Muslim teachers and hence as authorities on Islamic knowledge? (Tuula Sakaranaho)

2. How does the establishment of Islamic religious communities in a Finnish legislative, organisational, and cultural environment affect the immigrants' self-understanding of their religion? What is the role of these communities in the adaptation of Muslim immigrants into Finnish society? (Tuomas Martikainen)

3. How do male or female Somali adolescents value the formal education given by the Finnish school system with regard to their future life prospects? To what extent do they recognise the expectations and traditions of their families and especially the norms and values attached to Islam? (Anne Alitolppa-Niitamo)

4. How does Islam feature in the everyday life of Somali women and, in particular, in relation to their concept of health, illness, and healing? What kinds of Islamic folk beliefs do they avail of in order to heal illnesses? As Muslim women, how do they experience their cultural encounter with the Finnish health care? (Marja Tiilikainen)

Thus, the underlining purpose of these studies is to investigate how religious equality is realized in Finnish society in relation to Muslims as a religious minority.

Copyright © 2002 Mika Lassander,