'Norway is my home. I share the sadness with everyone else'

Jerome Taylor hears the response of Oslo's Muslim community to the tragedy

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The Independent Online

On a park bench outside the Jamaat-e Ahle mosque in eastern Oslo, Abdul Obeidi basks in the sunlight, enjoying a rare break under the clouds that have settled across the Norwegian capital.

Behind him, a group of Somali women in black veils share a joke as they push buggies across the road. Further down the street a string of Turkish restaurants fire up their kitchens and the mouthwatering smell of kebabs wafts across the park. "We have everyone here," says Mr Obeid, a Somali refugee who fled to Norway five years ago. "Turkish, Pakistani, Hindi, Kurdish, Algerian, Lebanese."

In the eyes of Anders Behring Breivik, it was suburbs like these that represented everything he loathed. Driven by his visceral hatred and fuelled by an ever-growing Islamaphobia spreading across swaths of the far-right blogosphere, he made a calculated decision to perpetrate a massacre that has stunned a nation.

Mr Breivik's victims were members of Norway's Labour party. But as his 1,500-page manifesto shows, it was their acceptance and welcoming approach to refugees from parts of the Muslim world – many of them countries torn apart by war – that dominated his warped justification for his murderous spree.

For Norway's Muslim community, the past week has been a rollercoaster of different emotions: abject fear when the initial blast hit; relief that the perpetrator was not one of them; then the same collective horror and mourning that has swept through the rest of the nation as the awful details came to light.

Ahmed Mohammed, a 44-year-old Somali refugee from Mogadishu, was working in the internet café he runs behind the mosque when Mr Breivik's bomb went off. The area is only 10 minutes from the city centre and it didn't take long for news to filter through.

"We closed all the shops as soon as it happened," he said. "If you looked in the street you would see no one. Everyone had gone inside."

Norwegian Muslims could breathe a collective sigh of relief once Mr Breivik's identity became known, relief that the killer was not from their own community. But any sense that they could relax was destroyed by the absolute hatred the 32-year-old showed for Muslims as they began to wonder whether other Norwegians felt the same.

The rise of Norway's Progress Party – the second biggest group in the parliament – is perhaps surprising given how small and scattered Norway's Muslim community is. Of Norway's 4.7 million people, around 550,000 (11 per cent) are of foreign extraction. Of those, an estimated 60,000 are Muslims, the majority of whom hail from Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq and Iran. They make up the largest single religious minority block, but compared with places like France, Germany and Britain, the numbers are minuscule.

Still, resentment has festered over a perceived lack of integration. There is also intense anger that Norway has been unable to deport Mullah Krekar, a Kurdish militant theologian who has been designated a supporter of terrorism by the US and Iraq. It is this negative image Muslims are keen to shed.

"A day after the attacks I went up to [Oslo cathedral] to pray with everyone else," says Ahmed Suleyman, a 31-year-old Somali who fled his homeland three years ago. "Norway is my home, I share the sadness we have for what happened."

Last night, the World Islamic Mission, a pretty turquoise mosque popular with Oslo's Pakistani community, held a memorial service for Mr Breivik's victims, an event attended by government figures and Christian clergy. Najeeb ur Rehman Naz, the mosque's imam, said his congregation shared the collective grief of their adopted homeland: "We are all in this together. When hundreds of thousands marched through Oslo, it didn't matter whether you were white or Muslim. That was the real face of Norway. That was the real face of humanity."