A town in southern Sweden granted permission this week to allow Islamic calls to prayer for the local mosque — a move some are calling controversial in light of the town’s previous denial of the use of bells by the Catholic parish.
Local police approved the mosque’s adhan — or call to worship — in the town of Vaxjo, more than 250 miles southwest of Stockholm, on Tuesday. The May 15 permit requires that the Islamic call to prayer, which is recited by the muezzin, does not exceed a certain level of decibels, so as not to disturb residents, and will take place every Friday for almost four minutes.
The permit will be valid for one year.
The allowance has drawn questions from the local Catholic church, St. Michael's, whose pastor Fr. Ingvar Fogelqvist said that previous requests to ring the church bells were denied in both the 1990s and the 2000s. The Catholic church is less than a mile from Vaxjo’s mosque.
“It is a matter of fairness and with the decision granting the mosque permission to do a call to prayer, we have discussed the possibility of applying again,” Fogelqvist said, according to the Local.
Fr. Fogelqvist further noted that church’s bells are small and “would make the Catholic Church a bit more visible here in the community,” although there is a long process of seeking permission for such a request. He additionally remarked that the church may reapply for an approval of church bells to mark Sunday Masses and special occasions, such as funerals.
The permit allowing Islamic calls of prayer in Vaxjo comes just months ahead of Sweden's September general elections, and some politicians are speaking out on the matter.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of the Social Democrats party stated that “society in Sweden is built on having different religions,” and saw the permit as a step toward ending segregation.
However other politicians, such as Ebba Busch Thor of the Christian Democrats, said that “people shouldn’t have to hear it [calls to prayer] in their homes.”
Other local politicians have found the move controversial, including Vaxjo’s conservative moderate’s city council, Anna Tenje, who said the permit “will not strengthen integration,” but would rather “risk pulling the city further apart,” according to TT news agency.
One spokesman from the local Muslim community in Vaxjo, Avdi Islami, viewed the call of prayer as a way of celebrating differences, saying that it is “better to think of the differences as making us stronger.”
Two other towns in Sweden have made similar allowances for mosques’ call to prayer, including Botkyrka, a suburb of Stockholm, and Karlskrona, a town in the southeast.
However, a poll found that 60 percent of its participants wanted to prohibit Islamic calls of prayer at mosques in Sweden, according to research conducted by the social research company SIFO.
According to the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities, there are approximately 400,000 Muslims in Sweden. There are a little more than 113,000 Catholics, and most Swedes are Lutheran.