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Norway’s Islamic Council hires face-veiled woman as communications officer, sparking controversy

Islamic Council Norway has hired a woman that wears a traditional Islamic full-face veil, the niqab, as its communications officer, sparking criticism from Norwegian politicians, who say it will undermine understanding and trust.

At the annual meeting last weekend, Leyla Hasic, 32, was appointed as a communications officer by the Islamic Council Norway (IRN), an umbrella organization for Islamic communities and organizations in Norway, local media reported.

According to Hasic’s job description, which was seen by broadcaster NRK, she will be involved in communications work, application writing, and IT operations.

Norwegian politicians have criticized Hasic’s appointment, saying it won’t contribute to improving dialogue between Muslims and the rest of society.

In fact, Culture Minister Linda Hofsted Helleland says it will have the opposite effect and lead to “less understanding.”

“Freedom of religion is strong in Norway, and it will continue to be so. 

It therefore takes a lot for me, as minister of culture, to make statements about internal appointments in independent organizations such as Islamic Council Norway. 

But here it is important to take a stand!” Helleland wrote on Facebook.

“We are an open society. We see each other. We respect each other. It is how it should still be,” she added.

Abid Raja from Venstre, Liberal Party of Denmark, also criticized the move, calling it “unwise.”

“I am deeply disappointed by IRN’s move. This is unwise and undermines the relationship of trust that Muslims themselves are in need of building between themselves and the rest of Norwegian society,” he told NRK.

IRN’s general secretary, Mehtab Afsar, defended Hasic’s appointment, however, saying that it demonstrated the organization’s “open stance.”

“What somebody has under their skin is more important than what they have on their skin,” Afsar told Klassekampen newspaper.

IRN consists of some 42 organizations in Norway, totaling about 82,000 members. 

According to its website, its aim is to “work to ensure that Muslims can live in accordance with Islamic teachings in Norwegian society” and “be a bridge builder and dialogue partner” between Muslims and Non-Muslims.

The controversial appointment comes after Norway’s Culture Ministry granted 484,000 million kroner ($56.7mn) to IRN under the assumption that the organization would “promote unity among Muslims and belonging to Norwegian society.”

Hasic, who is from Bosnia and Herzegovina according to her Facebook page, hasn’t yet commented on her new position.

Aftenposten newspaper reported that Hasic was attacked by a 44-year-old psychiatric patient in the city of Sarpsborg in 2012. 

Her assailant reportedly performed a Nazi salute and ripped off her niqab, while shouting “go to hell” and “damn Muslims.”

In October of 2016, Norway announced plans to ban full-faced veils in schools and universities.

“You can do what you want on your time off, but in the workplace it is a given we want to see each other’s faces,” Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, said at the time.


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