04:12 GMT +316 December 2018
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    Malmoe's mosque, southern Sweden (photo used for illustration only)

    Illegal Minaret Calls Divide Inhabitants in Sweden's 'Most Tolerant Town'

    © AFP 2018 / BJORN LINDGREN / SCANPIX SWEDEN
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    A Swedish Muslim center that sought permission for minaret calls and even received an unofficial "blessing" by the local bishop has been found out to have been illegally practicing prayer calls for several years.

    An Islamic center in the town of Växjö has been reported to the police after it was disclosed that it has been broadcasting prayer calls without permission for several years. The notification is based on a breach of the public order act, and the police are serious about the incident, Swedish Radio reported.

    The Muslim Foundation in the city of Växjö, which previously made national headlines when it sought permission for public prayer calls, was revealed to already be doing them at its premises for several years, which has disturbed the people living in the area.

    "We didn't think we needed to apply for a new permit because we got one in 2014," Imam Ismail Abu Helal told Swedish Radio.

    Although the permission received in 2014 was only valid for a single occasion, the mosque sought no further permissions, yet continued with prayer calls through loudspeakers, among others in connection with the Ramadan holiday between 2015 and 2017. In February, the Muslim Foundation requested the right for weekly prayer calls.

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    "It's serious when an organization commits a crime. You must have permission to broadcast propaganda or other messages," Ola Severinsson of the Växjö police said. Unless the case is dismissed by the prosecution, the Muslim Foundation risks being fined.

    The minaret calls in the migrant-dense district of Araby in Växjö has incited a fiery public debate, with Fredrik Modéus, the Bishop of Växjö, welcoming the idea of hearing both "church bells and prayer calls" in a tweet.

    In response, the Sweden Democrats (SD) have started collecting signatures for a referendum petition in an attempt to stop the prayer calls.

    "We aim to protect each citizen's right to freedom from religious expression and propaganda in the public space," SD Växjö chairman Nils Sjöqvist Axelson told the Nyheter Idag news outlet, suggesting that prayer calls left a "tangible touch" on the local community and its public image.

    Former Imam Tomas Samuel wrote in a clarifying opinion piece in the Christian newspaper Dagen, that the church bell comparison was hamstrung, as church bells are only a "musical expression," whereas the Islamic call to worship or Adhan is a "confession of faith."

    "I hope the Växjö municipality knows there are apps with prayer calls. They needn't be public. Växjö should not be proclaimed an Islamic area. Sweden must be able to say no to Islamization," writer and public debater Katarina Janouch tweeted.

    Imam Ismail Abu Helal previously called minaret calls "beneficial for integration" as a "confirmation of Sweden's religious freedom." He also argued that such a move would "enrich Swedish culture" and stressed that Muslims do not come as visitors but are here to stay in Sweden.

    READ MORE: 'Come to Stay': Muslim Community Clamors for Minaret Calls to 'Enrich Sweden'

    As the issue of minaret calls in Växjö gained nationwide importance, Liberal Party representatives wrote a joint opinion piece calling for the town to become "Europe's most open and tolerant."

    A return to a policy based on forced assimilation of minorities is likely to further increase tensions and complicate integration, the Liberals wrote, arguing that civil society, sports and culture, including churches and mosques were "much better" at creating integration than the government and the municipal bureaucrats.

    "We see how cities and regions that say a clear 'yes' to globalization and chose to be tolerant and accepting are growing. It's there where jobs and growth are created. Stockholm and Oslo have had twice as high growth as Copenhagen and Helsinki, due to the fact that they are better at accepting people and impulses from the outside," the Liberals wrote in the Smålandsposten daily. "It would be devastating if we in the eyes of the outside world would be associated with intolerance or resistance to change," they added.

    Växjö is a city of 66,000 inhabitants in the Kronoberg County and is the episcopal see of the eponymous diocese. About half of Araby district residents are foreign-born. The Muslim Foundation of Växjö has existed for more than three decades, and is one of the oldest of its kind in the region.

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