Two of two biggest congregations in Sweden are joining together for an endeavor that would help refugees passing through the country.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website, the Katarina Church and the Stockholm Mosque are collaborating to provide accommodation for those who are fleeing war and persecution, a venture that would compete with private companies.
“Their professionalism, language skills and understanding of other cultures made the mosque an obvious partner for us,” vicar Olle Carlsson of Katarina Church said. “We are small, but we have a unique cooperation with an organisation that has a lot of information, and the big asylum companies don’t have that.”
The joint venture sprouted from the partnership between the church and the mosque when they started providing accommodation for transit refugees in September. They reportedly take in 33 percent of those who pass through Sweden to reach other countries, and the reaction of the asylum-seekers seems to be positive.
“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,” said a Muslim from Baghdad, Iraq, who was undoubtedly grateful for the experience. “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.”
There had been opposition from both sides, however, such as questions raised about discussions on theological issues, comments about the church being submissive, opinions about Muslims sleeping in church, among other things. The media has likewise criticized such businesses since companies are allegedly making money from shelters that use state funds.
Abdallah Salah, the secretary general of the Swedish charity Islamic Relief, said that the two religious communities have been discussing their differences for 30 years, but nothing concrete was ever done. Now, the mosque and the church are pursuing the first Muslim-Christian collaborative project.
“We need to stop getting hung up on the 10 percent that separates our religions, and instead focus on the 90 percent we have in common in our values and our perception of good and evil,” he said.