We interviewed Gonca Şenler, an active member of the Islamic community in Denmark, about the repercussions of the cartoon crisis, as well as what the rates of conversion to Islam in Denmark were and the reasons for such conversions.
According to official figures, the number of Muslim Danish citizens in 2005 was 2,500, whereas this number increased to 4,000 in 2007. Danish citizen Abdul Wahid Pedersen, who converted to Islam 25 years ago and remains one of the most prominent imams of the country, does not really trust these figures: "It is impossible to ascertain this number; in fact we do not care about the number. Not every person converting gets a certificate or wears headscarf. But the number of Danish converts is much greater than the given figure! Last week in my office alone 5 people converted to Islam!" Pedersen indicates that there is a substantial and obvious increase in the number of conversions to Islam, but adds that they do not expect such an increase to continue. According to Pedersen, it is difficult to profile the people who chose to become Muslims; this is because there are a great variety of people among the converts. "The oldest Danish citizen to convert to Islam last month was a doctor aged 59 and the youngest was a 15-year old girl!
As is known, the cartoon crisis emerged after inappropriate caricatures related to Prophet Muhammad were published in Denmark. Could you give us information on the reactions that emerged in Denmark following this incident?
Gonca Senler: In Turkey and in the Arab World this incident was evaluated in a very wrong way. The reactions in Turkey were much more moderate and it was only protested with a march; that is it. This is because it was not such a big issue. Look, we call it the cartoon crisis. About 35-37 years ago, Resat Ekrem Kocu portrayed the Prophet Muhammad and Aisha in a comic book. I was outraged. Think about it, a person in Turkey who thinks he is a Muslim did such a thing and no one ever reacted. We should not be surprised at the fact that our prophet has been caricaturized in Denmark. The owner of the newspaper is a Jew. That man wants to increase the sale numbers of his newspaper and wishes to draw attention by causing a sensation. He finds lots of caricaturists and tells them to portray Prophet Muhammad in as disgraceful a way as possible. 15 of them reject the idea.. 5 of them say "We'll do it". There are five depictions. The newspaper gets published; there is sadness in Denmark, but no marches. In the Arab world, indignation prevails. I saw something in the newspaper and asked what this cartoon crisis was about. My son said "It is nothing unusual. For years people have been writing about our Prophet and drawing him, but our people are not aware of this since they do not understand foreign languages. I have been dealing with these kinds of people for a long time; there are much more important things than this." The Prime Minister of Denmark was asked to make an apology, yet he refused. He was right, why should he? There is freedom in Denmark; there is a freedom of religion and conscience and freedom of thought and speech. The Prime Minister said that he was very sorry that Muslims had been offended, but that he could not apologize for something he had not done. Well, this is the case, but it shook the world. However, the Danish people were sorry. They felt inferior to us; it truly was a sad situation. Following 9/11 people always looked at Muslims skeptically, as if they were terrorists, yet after 9/11 the population of Muslims grew twice as much as before.
Which aspect of Prophet Muhammad impresses Danish converts the most?
Gonca Senler: It is perhaps the sufferings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who was a benign and truly modest person. The torment he and his Companions underwent at the hands of non-believers ... He was a Prophet that always suffered from cruelty... Of course, all Prophets suffered from cruelty, but his case was different... Islam is the last religion and it is closer to our time... Perhaps it is because he was moderate that his suffering impresses people. The coherence between the things written in the Holy Qur'an and the experiences of religious Muslims also impress people.
What do non-Muslims in Denmark think about the Prophet of Islam?
Gonca Senler: I did not see a negative attitude. They have so many questions to ask, especially when they are with a Muslim. For instance, when I stayed at the hospital with an old lady, one day she asked me about Islam, why I wear a headscarf, and what kind of a person Prophet Muhammad was. I tried to explain to her in a way that she could understand. I put forward points that she could accept, such as the fact that the father of Prophet Muhammad died before he was born, and his mother died at a young age. She started to cry. She told me that she was very sad and she believed that he was a Prophet. There are many examples like this. When you talk to non-Muslims in person, they are eager to learn, but they abstain from talking when they are in a group.
How do new Muslims perceive Islam after they convert?
Gonca Senler: After they accept Islam, new Muslims experience Islam in such a way that they make us envious. They do not compromise and they become sincere subjects. There was a Syrian lady and she led many people to become Muslim.