There are many roads that lead to Islam. Mine started in Oslo, wound through the Middle East and has returned to Norway where I am involved in Islamic work.
I’m a Norwegian, as are my parents and their parents, and their parent’s parents and so forth. We all claim as our ancestor Eirik Raude (Erik the Red), who was a famous Viking warrior who roamed the seas, discovered and settled Greenland and fathered Leiv Eiriksson, who was the first to discover America some thousand years ago.
Their blood may well be in my veins.
Norwegians are no longer Vikings these days. I chose to study medicine and qualified at the University of Oslo, obtained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene in Liverpool and returned as a specialist to Oslo. I run a private clinic here, and care for my wife and three children.
It is hard to stop roaming.
As a student, I visited foreign countries, working my way on a cargo ship. We passed through the Suez Canal and saw Egypt and Pakistan. The ship continued to India and Burma before returning to Europe.
I have also wandered through some African countries, Turkey and part of Syria. I’ve travelled through Europe and toured part of Russia. In China I saw Beijing and Shanghai.
I went to the Holy Land.
First I went to the Jewish State of Israel, the wrong side: but please remember that I’d read in school, some 35 years previously, about the Jewish Holocaust, which surely was very real. We wondered how such a disaster could occur.
At the time, European youth were invited to stay in kibbutzim. I did so for a few weeks and found that the Jews of the kibbutz were very hard-working. Indeed, no one will achieve anything, good or bad, without putting some effort into it.
But I left the kibbutz puzzled: why was it that the Jews around me in the kibbutz so hated the Arabs? Why did they seem to see them as some strange creatures?
This was in the 1960s; the US was bombing Vietnam and youth protested this very strongly. We studied the war politically and sided with the oppressed. So it was that I was among those who were brought to court and sentenced for participating in the anti-war demonstrations.
Then we discovered the Palestinians, who had been mistreated and displaced for decades. Their cause was just and legitimate, and deliberately misconstrued by Western media.
Back to the Middle East
I qualified as a doctor and returned to work in the Middle East, in Jordan, as a volunteer in several Palestinian camps. In 1971, I was expelled from that country after the clashes at Jarash.
In Norway I became chairman of the Norwegian-Palestinian Friendship Association. We promoted the Palestinian cause and organised medical teams that were sent to Palestinian camps. I worked in these myself as a doctor in central and southern Lebanon.
Israeli planes flew over our heads and bombed the refugee camp; the camp’s inhabitants brought forth their guns. The clinic I ran was far from safe; people brought me to the Mosque where I stayed with my medicines and equipment. Bullets and bombs flew through the air all around us. Men came to the Mosque, set their guns aside and prayed to their Lord in all humility before returning to the struggle outside.
What kind of religion is this, I wondered, that makes men so complete: acknowledging the Supreme God yet not renouncing the realities of life?
Islam was of course not new to me. I had for some time been discussing this deen, or belief, with my Muslim friends.
The universe and the human being: what are they all about? Justice and brotherhood: why are we so inclined?
Is there a Divine Law that we humans are obliged to follow?
Important events were to follow, among them the revolution in Iran. What a tremendous upheaval it was! and a strength of religion and deen. A whole country was changed by the will of the people under the leadership of a most prominent scholar.
I went there to see for myself: my heart was caught up in the fervour: Religion had changed not only the people but it had upended an entire country! What an amazing thing!
I continued to ponder over Islam. Other matters also brought me closer to the basic realities of life.
I read the Qur’an for the first time and puzzled over its fascinating stories. I read the Qur’an again, but still it consisted solely of tales to me. The third time I read it, God opened my eyes: I saw the truth the Qur’an offered me about human life and existence in its entirety.
Thus I became a Muslim.
God exists! What a tremendous understanding! The Qur’an is true revelation; it was brought us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last messenger to Man.
How easy to say these words, how easy they sound – how easily they are perceived as clichés – yet how well they express reality. What can I say to help you understand this? You will have to find out for yourself, of course, for that is the only way.
I work as a doctor in Norway these days. I am the chairman of an Islamic Trust (Urtehagen Trust). We operate Islamic kindergartens for some 190 children (they are the only Islamic kindergartens in Norway).
The Trust offers Qur’an studies for children and youth as well as language and computer courses and training in sports. We arrange day-trips for children and others. We run a small farm in the woods at the edge of Oslo where inner city children can get away from the asphalt and the negative social pressures which street life in a large city can represent.
The Trust also has its own Islamic television programme in Oslo, broadcasting for half an hour daily. This is the only Islamic TV programme in Norway.
We run the first and only intermediate Islamic School in this country, approved by the Norwegian government, and recently, the government has approved our application for the first Islamic elementary school in Norway. Permission has been granted for 500 children aged 6-16. The curriculum will be the same as in other Norwegian schools, but it will be taught with an emphasis on Islam and in an Islamic environment.
The school will be important in helping children to maintain and strengthen their Islamic identity in a Christian or secular environment. It may also become an open door for the non-Muslim, Norwegian population.
Thus we work to promote Islam and serve God. We hope he will accept our efforts. For me, the circle may be completed where my ancestors and I began. They travelled the world to discover Greenland and Vinland (which is what America was first called). I travelled it and found Islam.
Leiv Eiriksson, my probable forefather, helped to make Norway Christian. I feel I am working for a more genuine belief.
May God assist us in that important task.