STOCKHOLM – Setting an example of interfaith cooperation across the world, two of Sweden’s largest Muslim and Christian congregations have united their forces to offer their skills, time and money to refugees.
“I hope we can export this idea to other countries, to show that we have to work together, live together, that we have a future together,” Abdallah Salah, secretary general of the charity Islamic Relief in Sweden, told UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“We must find methods of cooperation, and we will find them.”
The church and mosque have provided beds for a third of all refugees who come through Stockholm on their way to other countries.
Since September both Muslims and Christians have teamed up to provide beds for one-third of all the transit refugees who came through Stockholm on their way to other countries.
They are fed and washed at the mosque, and then sleep in the church.
The church and mosque are now entering into a new stage of collaboration by starting a joint venture.
They hope to compete with private companies that have been criticized for allegedly making profits through providing refugee shelters with state money.
“Their professionalism, language skills and understanding of other cultures made the mosque an obvious partner for us,” said Olle Carlsson, the vicar of Katarina Church in the heart of Stockholm, which is pursuing the project with the nearby Stockholm Mosque.
“We are small, but we have a unique cooperation with an organization that has a lot of information, and the big asylum companies don’t have that.”
The cooperation idea started after Carlsson witnessed boats overflowing with desperate people in Greece.
With thousands arriving at Stockholm’s central station every week, it seemed like a natural step to contact the mosque, which is only a few hundred meters away from Katarina Church.
Mohammad, 27, who fled sectarian violence in Baghdad, was one of the Muslims who chose to sleep at the church.
“In Stockholm at the station I was met by volunteers with food and water. They asked where would I prefer to go, the mosque or the church? I said the church,” Mohammad recalls.
“It was a beautiful feeling. Back home Muslims are not allowed to go to churches. Some refugees came to the church just because they wanted to find out what it was like. They found people respected them, even though they were Christians and we were Muslims.”
At the Church, he received overwhelming support.
“Everyone was treated like a king at the church, I felt like a real human being for the first time in my life, I wasn’t used to it. They were really good people,” he added.
After 30 years of discussing difference between Muslims and Christians in Sweden, the unity they managed to found in helping refugees is unique.
“We need to stop getting hung up on the 10% that separates our religions, and instead focus on the 90% we have in common in our values and our perception of good and evil,” Salah said.
By working together, each side learns much more about the other, Carlsson added.
“The whole process is very exciting. Even though I know a little about Islam I still feel very uneducated. But the more time we spend together my understanding increases, and I notice how it affects my family and my colleagues, because there are still many prejudices in Sweden,” Carlsson says.
“We have opened a door that we cannot shut.”