Former Islamist Preacher: 'There is a Salafist in Every Swedish Mosque'
06:42 GMT 23.09.2021 (Updated: 08:19 GMT 23.09.2021)
Salafism is a hardline and ultraconservative brand of Islam linked with literalist interpretations and a puritanical approach that has come to be associated with various radical and extremist groups.
Anas Khalifa, a former Salafist preacher, has warned of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism in Sweden, describing it as a viable movement with popular preachers who affect the country's Muslims, both directly and indirectly.
According to Khalifa, who has for 20 years been one of the most influential Salafist preachers in Sweden, Salafists and their ideas are present in all mosques across the country.
"I have travelled from Boden [in the north] to Ystad [in the south], lectured in associations and mosques for several years, and I have always found someone who is a Salafist there", Khalifa told national broadcaster SVT. "The most charismatic, charming, talented, but perhaps not the most knowledgeable – they are all Salafists. They are everywhere online, they have hundreds of thousands of followers", he added.
According to Khalifa, the mosque isn't the only place where Salafists remind the public of their presence.
"They walk around and are some kind of 'haram police', pointing fingers', Khalifa said.
The former preacher, who likened Salafism to "cancer" in a previous interview, suggested that young people are the most affected
"They spread hatred against Christians and Jews, strong prejudices about other groups. The basic message is hatred", he said.
He cited his young followers who tag radical preachers in his social media feeds, when he confronts them with liberal ideas.
"These are ordinary young people born and raised in Sweden", he said.
Khalifa additionally stressed the role of fundamentalism in ideological indoctrination that spurred many Swedish Muslims to travel to the Middle East and join terrorist groups, admitting that he himself has "blood on his hands", having been in contact with many of them. At the time of Daesh's* so-called "caliphate", about 300 Islamists left Sweden to join the jihadists' cause, which is some of the highest per capita in Europe. With about half of them having returned, the Swedish authorities are struggling to hold them accountable. Due to the heavy burden of proof, charges are seldom pressed. Instead, Sweden relies on various "de-radicalisation" programmes that rest upon counselling and assistance.
Egypt-born Khalifa is known in Sweden as the first defector from violent Islamist circles to speak out against their dangers. During his time as a preacher, he lectured to children about armed jihad, celebrated 9/11, sympathised with the massacre of Charlie Hebdo, and saw friends and followers join terrorist groups
The term Salafism is used primarily to describe a hardline and socially conservative current within Sunni Islam that has come to be associated with various extremist groups, including the Muslim Brotherood*.
The exact number of Muslims in Sweden is up for debate as religious profiling is considered unethical in the Nordic country, but Pew Research estimated its Muslim population at 8.1% of the total population of over 10 million.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/"Islamic State") and the Muslim Brotherhood are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and other countries.