Last week, Monday to Saturday, there was a big party-tent on the Major Square/Stortorget in central Malmoe. It belonged to the co-operation association Coexist Malmoe. Inside that tent there were panel debates, music, lectures and interreligious meetings all that time. On October 24th 2012 Malmoe Municipality initiated the interreligious project Coexist together with representatives from the various congregations in town, but also with the Authority for Society Protection and Preperation, (MSB) and the Board for State Support of Religious Congregations, (SST). The intention was to easen the possibility for interreligious dialogue. Within Coexist Malmoe members of the different creeds get the chance to meet each other, discuss potential co-operations over the religious borders, similarities and differences in a peaceful and structured way. The tent on Major Square/Stortorget was one way of presenting themselves while many people were in Malmoe for the Eurovision Song Contest 2013. These six days were one way, but the work continues of course. The congregations which are involved in Coexist are The Swedish Church, the Jewish/Mosaic Congregation, the Muslim Congregation, the Bosniak Islamic Association, Shi’a Islam, the Salvation Army, the Pentecost Church, the Missionary Church, the Evangelic Free Church, the Slavic Macedonian Congregation and Karma Yönten Ling Buddhists. The association Coexist Malmoe will be a neutral arena for these talks and co-operations.
Andreas Wessman, reverent in the Pentecost Congregation says: “In Malmoe there are many tensions between religious groups and that’s why it’s important that we stand up together, Jews, Muslims and Christians”. Ibrahim Gicvan at the Muslim Congregation adds: “It’s just that we have better understanding for each other, hence the name too: Coexist. We are here, it’s as simple as that”. “For me Coexist Malmoe means meetings and talks. I hope they will spread all over Malmoe”, Cecilia Larsson at the Jewish Congregation states.
One important person for Coexist Malmoe is also the journalist Lena Friblick who also is the leader of the company Xenofilia, which means “Love of/Acceptance of Strangers” in Latin. The opposite is xenofobia.
Last Monday, May 13th they discussed topics like: The good Malmoe – The picture of Malmoe is sometimes dark, but there are many good forces. Another discussion was about the power of religion – How can religion contribute to a better society? The main theme the following day was Religion, Culture and Stereotypes. They started with discussions about if it’s okay to be religious in school or not. Several teen-agers appeared belonging to the different creeds and the discussions were intense. Tarraband then played some music, a mix of jazz, Latin and Arab folk music. At six o’ clock the topic was “Antiislam, Antisemitism – Why are we so anti? And what are we pro? I listened to that discussion and it was quite interesting really. The picture below this text was taken during that debate, the one above is from the Saturday talk “We are all Swedes”. The Tuesday panel consisted of Professor Mattias Gardell, Kristian Steiner from Malmoe University, the Turkish young woman Aslihan Ekinci Kaba from Alhambra, Jehoshua Kaufman from the Jewish Congregation, Kjell Persson from Karma Yönten Ling Buddhist Association and reverent Ferro Mehmedovic from Hyllie Park Church. Gardell stated that we have a tendency to divide ourselves in groups and dualistic pictures, good-bad, black-white etc and that we always think in that way. Kjell Persson who is a buddhist protested and said that he didn’t recognize that view, while Kaufman and Ekinci Kaba described their views. Kaufman said that he didn’t have to be anti- anything to be pro- something else. The discussions were interesting and Lena Friblick did as usual an excellent job as moderator in a relaxed and respectful way.
Sex was on the agenda during the Wednesday: Religion, Gender Equality and Sexuality. Youngsters were invited and they discussed sex with religious representatives and Ligga med P3/Lay with P3, a radio show for youngsters about sex. This topic was also a hot one and important to ventilate trying to understand different points of views and interests. At four o’ clock a Andreas Jonsson told the audience how it was to come out as bisexual in a religious environment and his struggle for being who he was. In the evening the discussions concerned gender equality.
The discussions continued during Thursday and Friday: Who is throwing the first stone? Is religion a blockation for making a career? Religion in crisis and ask the religion. Kids from upper-secondary schools in town had written down questions that Lena drew from a small box which she read to the panel last Friday. After that Patrik Olterman from the Salvation Army told his life story of how he as a young teen-age boy in upper-secondary school and then as a young adult had been drawn into a fundmentalist religious free church and become an extremist, but how he with time easened up and became more tolerant. It was interesting to hear it, and at six the talks concerned Heaven and Hell, Life after Death. Here there were some similarities, but the Buddhists had a different angle on their belief with Nirvana.
Three days ago there was the final discussion this time: We are all Swedes. Who is a Swede and when are we counted as Swedes? There are many born here who don’t feel Swedish because they are always denied that identity and feeling by people who refuse to see them as such. The panel that day held after the kippa-walk consisted as you can see above of Peter Weiderud from the Social Democrats for belief and solidarity, the writer Qaisar Mahmood, Swedish-Pakistani, Aslihan Eknci Kaba from Alhambra and Turk-Swedish, Ferro Mehmedovic from Hyllie Park Church and as usual Lena Friblick to the right. Being denied the right to be called Swedish if you are born here creates a stigmatizing trauma. Ferro said that he had spent his last 20 years here in Sweden and was just as much Swedish in his soul as many other Swedes. Aslihan explained that as a young Muslim woman she had experienced many things and that she saw herself as Turk-Swedish when it came to nationality. After the talks the Marimba Group played music from Zimbabwe. A joy for the ear. The existential issues are important to create bridges between people and for the personal development for us as humans. We have so much to learn and be.
Anders Moberg, May 21st 2013