Greetings from Helsinki, Finland!
A very short time ago, a Helsinki-based friend and I were exchanging emails over our shared frustrations. He was working hard to combat both Islamophobia and cultural relativism in his own progressive circles. I was surrounded by boxes in my furnitureless apartment, wondering how real positive change can happen when some of the most vocal ‘activists’ are often ruled more by their own megalomania than sincere concern for the human condition. Bummed, exhausted and uncharacteristically pessimistic, I desperately needed a boost.
It came in the form of an invitation to Finland. My friend told me that he was sure there was some way for us to not just host a dynamic seminar event, but also to enrich the already blossoming movement to protect Muslim women’s rights in Scandinavia. Within twenty-four hours, we had sponsors. Shortly thereafter, we had my red-eye plane tickets totaling 14 hours in transit. I borrowed some mittens and got on my way.
This is no money-making trip, and no media-mongering frenzy, though we’ve gotten lots of helpful coverage across Scandinavia. This is something so much better. Here, we are hosting seminars on freedom of religion, honor violence, female genital cutting, and immigration. At my request, we are also meeting with activists for children’s rights and working with the staff of an HIV/AIDS support center supporting mainly Somali refugees.
I’ll keep you posted throughout the trip. So far, I can tell you that I’m moved and inspired by the Finnish dedication to understanding, honesty, compassion and real support for the Muslims coming to their shores. People have been honest about that which they believe ails the Muslim community – but have also been seeking constructive solutions to better Muslim lives. That, my friends, should be how activism is conducted. Stay tuned!
PS: Check out these interesting documents from the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA hasn’t always gotten it right, but I think that these guides for imams are actually more constructive than many other leaflets meant to help individuals working with victims and survivors.