Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas and New Year Greeting 2008

When I this autumn visited Assisi, it struck me that the themes in the public debate in Denmark in 2008, also were burning issues at the time of Francis of Assisi in th 13th century. We are discussing the climate crisis and ecology, while Frans was very concerned about our harmonious interaction with the creation of God. We still discuss how we as church and society should relate to Muslims, while Frans distanced himself from the prevailing crusading mentality of his time and dared to go to dialogue with the Muslim leader in Egypt. This year we are experiencing the beginning of a deep economic recession that exposes our material greed, while Frans also had to struggle with the materialism of his time and felt that he had to live in poverty to attain to freedom.

These three themes have also affected my work in during 2008.

• In May I was involved in a study and dialogue tour for Christians and Muslims to Istanbul, and in October we organised the third national conference for Christian and Muslim leaders; this year the theme was ”Religion in Freedom – Freedom in Religion”. Earlier this year I published the book ”From Cartoon Crisis to Headscarf Row. Two Conflicts Changing Multireligious Denmark”.

• At the council meeting of The Lutheran World Federation in Arusha, Tanzania,close to the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, whose snow is now melting, the focus was on the climate crisis. In the Danish Mission Council we decided that the next issue of our book series, “New Mission”, which we are working on right now, should be ”Church, Mission and Climate Crisis”. Now we are preparing ourselves for the very crucial climate summit in Denmark in 2010.

• In January and February my wife and I went on a study tour to India, Thailand and Vietnam in order to study the religions and cultures of the East. This was a great inspiration for our the work, in which I am involved, of interviewing representatives of groups inspired by Eastern religiousities and spiritualities and of pastors and others who have spent years trying to be in dialogue with them. I thas become clear to me that a significant meeting point between New Agers and others and the church is Christian spirituality. I wonder if the present economic crisis will open the eyes also of ordinary Danes for the limitations and dangers of materialism and the need for a spiritual life.

About these and other themes you may read more in the English section of my website, which will be reopened in a new version on the 1st of January.

I want to express my gratitude to all business associates, colleagues and co-workers for time spent together, for conversations and sharing and for cooperation during the year, which is now coming to an end. I hope the see and work together with you also in 2009. I wish all of you a happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

Yours sincerely

Mogens S. Mogensen

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cartoon Crisis - perspectives

What was the cartoon crisis all about? At least four interpretations may be offered.

1. Was it a matter of freedom of expression? This was the position taken by Jyllands-Posten and the Danish Government

2. A second possible interpretation is that the cartoon crisis has to do with the recognition or the lack thereof of a religious minority.

3. Domestic politics in Middle Easter, Asian and African Countries. Did oppressive and unpopular governments use the cartoon crisis to divert the attention of the public away from domestic politics towards international religious issues.

4. Or was the cartoon crisis an indication of a clash of civilizations? Was it basically a clash between a democratic West and an undemocratic Muslim world? It was of course tempting to combine the conflicts in the cartoon crisis with the fight against terrorism, which in the minds of most people is a fight against Islamism. Furthermore, for many it does not make sense to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. Some of the statements from among politicians in The Danish People’s Party point clearly in that direction.

Before coming to my own conclusion I want to draw your attention to a follow-up to the cartoon crisis, the socalled headscar row, which I think throws an interesting light on the cartoon crisis.

The Headscarf Row
When, in March 2006, the young Muslim woman, Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, began to appear in a series of television shows, “Adam and Asmaa”, wearing the hijab – an Islamic headscarf – a storm broke out I n the media and among politicians.A storm gaining momentum in April 2007, when she announced her plans to run for Parliament as a candidate for the Danish Red-Green Alliance, a Danish left wing party. If elected, she would become the first Muslim woman in the Danish Parliament. What caused a very heated debate, though, was that this 25-year-old woman was a devout Muslim insisting on wearing a headscarf and who, furthermore, on religious grounds, refused to shake hands with men.

Time does not permit me to go through the headscarf row. Suffice to say that Asmaa was not elected, but before and after the election we had a very heated debate that touched a number of issues surrounding the headscarf
* Ban on headscarves etc.
* Freedom of expression – freedom of religion
* Gender equality
* Value politics – what is danishness
* Islam – Islamism – terrorism
Attempting to analyse the Danish debates on the headscarf, it becomes clear that the headscarf had become an arena for many other battles in the Danish society.

Even though different, the cartoon crisis and the headscarf row were linked and had significant similarities.
* The most obvious link between the two was Asmaa Abdol-Hamid. She had been the spokesperson for the eleven Muslim organisations responding to the Prophet-cartoons by filing a lawsuit against Jyllands-Posten. She had headed the protest against the Danish cartoons, and she became the target of many Danes protesting against her headscarf.

* The cartoons were perceived as a provocation by many Muslims, in Denmark as abroad: Muslims were challenged to accept the cartoons on the basis of the constitutional freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Denmark. Asmaa’s headscarf (and her refusal to shake hands with men) was perceived as a provocation by many non-Muslims in Denmark: on the same basis of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, Danes were challenged to accept new ways of dressing – new ways of behaviour.

And now I come to my conclusion. The cartoon crisis and the headscarf row may – in may opinion - best be understood as seen as side effects of the ongoing globalisation

Globalisation increases and intensifies communication, for better and for worse. The cartoon crisis began as a national controversy, but soon developed into an international crisis. Probably, most, if not all, actors in the cartoon crisis had initially intended their words and actions to be taken note of in the Danish society only. Also, the decisions taken by politicians seem to have been based solely on domestic political premises. Normally, we do not expect what we say in Denmark to be heard and reacted upon in the rest of the world. This was, however, what happened during the cartoon crisis.

More importantly globalisation leads to the development of multicultural and multireligious societies. These Danish controversies may be seen as the birth pangs of the multicultural and multireligious society: the Danish society is struggling to come to terms with the fact that it now contains a much larger diversity than it has ever done before. At the same time the controversies may reflect how Muslims in Denmark are struggling to adapt to a non-Muslim society, and perhaps also struggling to develop a European version of Islam.

The multireligious nature of globalised societies has been perceived as a serious threat to the cohesion of the Danish society. The solution offered by our prime minister is – on the basis of the experiences during the cartoon crisis – to “Keep Religion Indoors” (as was the title of a feature article with him in a Danish Newspaper in May 2006. “To secure a strong coherence in the future, I am of the opinion that it would be good if religion would take up less space in the public sphere.” He would not in any way interfere with people’s freedom of religion; he insisted that “we must distinguish between religion and politics” and that “religion is first of all a private issue. If we are to maintain this strong coherence, which is so crucial for Denmark’s progress and stability, it is necessary that we also in the future encounter each other in the public sphere as human beings and citizens in Denmark – and not as representatives of different religions”.

This leads me to the last element in my analysis of the effects of globalisation. A number of researchers have noted that there is a significant connection between globalisation and the increasing visibility of religion as a political factor in various parts of the world. There is no indication, however, that religion will disappear from the public space. On the contrary all members of the Danish society will have to learn to live with the presence of religion and religions in the public space. The challenge for representatives of all religions, then, will be to show how they as religious communities can contribute to the common good of society – thereby becoming a part of the solutions to societal problems instead of being part of the problems.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Defamation of religion and freedom of expression

In 2001 a UN Conference against Racism was held in Durban, which generated a lot of heated discussions and conflicts, in particular about colonialism and zionism. Now a follow-up conference – a Durban 2 conference – is being prepared for April 2009. This time it seems as if an even more serious conflict is building up. A number of Muslim countries under the umbrella of the Organization of Islamic Countries have proposed that islamophobia should be recognized as a racism, and that defamation of religion of religions therefore should be seen as a form of racism against which religious people should be protected.

Being a Dane I cannot help thinking that it is now pay back time for the Danish cartoons. In a way I appreciate that the reaction is diplomatic rather than violent, but still this move by Muslim countries has to be opposed as strongly as possible. In most countries we have laws against defamation of people – unwarranted attacks on somebody’s reputation - but now this concept of defamation is transferred to the realm of ideas, ideologies and religions, and therenby infringes on the freedom of expression of individual people.

I do not adhere to the position that we can have an absolute and unlimited freedom of expression. All ”freedoms”, irrespective of how fundamental and important they are, must by necessity be limited by other ”freedoms”. This also became very clear in the heated Danish debate in connection with the cartoon crisis. Freedom of expression is limited by laws protection the reputation of people, confidentiality and security, incitement to violence etc.

Another very basic human right is the freedom of religion. Some would say that defamation of religions infringes on people’s freedom of religion, but I hold the opposite view that any law forbidding defamation of religion is effectively undermining the individual’s freedom of religion. Practicing another religion than that of the dominant majority and advocating the beliefs of such a religion, which might contradict the dominant religion would very easily be understood as a defamation of that dominant religion.

Without the freedom to criticize religions – and to carry out critical research on religions – the freedom of expression becomes more or less empty and meaningless. For some Muslims Islam is not only a religion in a narrow sense of the word but a way of life encompassing all dimensions of human life, including politics. A prohibition against defamation of religions might easily be used as a legitmation to proscribe un-Islamic behaviours and statements. Furthermore, religions with their very strong both cognitive, emotional and social appeals to the loyalty of their adherents, are constantly in need of criticism in order to stay healthy and avoid becoming totalitarian.

Within a legal framework of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, in which defamation of religions is not criminalized, we must of course consider not only what is legal or unlegal to say or to do about other religions and their adherents, but also what is ethical and what is wise to do and to say if we want to live peacefully together and work together to develop our society in a healthy way and deal with the local and global challenges that face all of us irrespective of our religious or non-religious affiliations and views.

Saturday, September 27, 2008
Mogens S. Mogensen

Visit my website - click on "In English"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jesus enters Mecca

On Palm Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, not as an general on a stallion, but as the humble servant of the Lord on a donkey. Today, on Good Friday, we remember, how he became the suffering servant of the Lord as he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and on Easter Sunday we shall celebrate his victory over death and his resurrection bringing new life to all the world.

This year on Palm Sunday more than 100.000 Christians in the small Arab Golf-state Qatar celebrate that they for the first time could gather for Sunday service in a church. It is only a Catholic chapel without church bells and visible crosses, but it is a church built on a plot donated by the local emir. The Christians experience a lot of difficult conditions in the Arab world, but now Saudi Arabia is the last country in the Arab world without a single church and where it is still strictly forbidden to build churches. Christianity, however, has a very long history in the Arab world, also in what is today Saudi Arabia. According the Acts of the Apostles Arab speaking people were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit was poured out and gave birth to the church. 600 years later at the time of Muhammad there were Christians in Arabia, some of whom Muhammad no doubt met. According to the dominant Wahabi-Islamic tradition no other houses of worship are allowed in Saudi Arabia than mosques.

Nevertheless there are a very many Christians who work as guest workers in Saudi Arabia today, including 800.000 Catholics, in particularly from the Philippines and India. While these Christians are not allowed to gather for worship, and even less to build churches in Saudi Arabia, the largest Mosque in all of Europe was built in Rome already in 1995. Therefore there are good reasons to ask for at least a minimum of reciprocity for Saudi Arabia. No doubt, this is also one of the arguments that the Vatican is using in its present negotiations with the government of Saudi Arabia in order to get permission to build churches in the home country of the Prophet.

I fear that we may have to wait very long until the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations will get permission to build churches for their adherents in Saudi Arabia. But while we wait, we may rejoice that we live in a globalized world in which it becomes more and more difficult to maintain or defend the traditional borders. To the surprise of many I can reveal that a church has already been established in Saudi Arabia, and of all towns in Mecca. Not a physical church built by bricks but a virtual church, ”The Virtual Church of Jesus Christ in Mecca, Saudi Arabia”.

Happy Easter!
Tranum Strand, Denmark, Good Friday, March 21, 2008
Mogens S. Mogensen

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cartoon Crisis version 2.0?

A couple of months ago I was about to finish writing a book about the Cartoon Crisis in 2006. I thought that now this crisis must have passed over into history. I chose to calle the book "From Cartoon Crisis to Headscarf Row" because I considered these two conflicts to be closely connected.

The most obvious link between the two was Asmaa Abdol-Hamid. She was the spokesperson for the eleven Muslim organisations that responded to Prophet-cartoons by filing a lawsuit against Jyllands-Posten. She headed the protest against the Danish cartoons, and she became the target for the protests by many Danes against her headscarf. (She tried to be elected to Parliament, and announced that in case she was elected she would wear the veil in Parliament).

The cartoons were perceived as a provocation by many Muslims in Denmark as well as abroad: Muslims were challenged to accept the cartoons on the basis of the constitutional freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Asmaa’s headscarf (and her refusal to shake hands with males) was perceived as a provocation by many non-Muslims in Denmark: Danes were challenged on the basis the same freedom of expression and the freedom of religion to accept new forms of dress and behaviour.

While writing the book, however, I also feared that the Cartoon Crisis (and the Headscarf Row) was not an isolated historical event but that it was par tof the long and difficult process which Denmark goes through theses years, the transition form being a mono- to becoming a multi-society, also in terms of religion. Therefore, I gave the book the subtitle "Two Conflicts Changing Multi-religious Denmark".

Even though the events are very differenct in character and significance, still there the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in US in 2001 and the Cartoon Crisis in Denmark in 2006 have this in common that they were epoch-making. 9-11 meant that terror was brought to the heart of the United States and that the last remnants of a feeling of protection from the problems of the rest of the world by the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans evaporated. The Cartoon Crisis in a similar way destroyed the feeling of beeing a cosy and peaceful little corner of the world far away from the big conflicts of the world , when Denmark became the center of a global conflict, which cost many lives in other parts of the world.

My book "From Cartoon Crisis to Headscarf Row" is being published these days, but I had not imagined that it would be available for sale exactly in the midst of a situation where we may be witnessing the beginning of a "Cartoon Crisis version 2.0". My hope is that this new version will be withdrawn as soon as possible. It is more than sufficient with the "Cartoon Crisis version 1.0".

If you want to read more about my book, "From Cartoon Crisis to Headscarf Row", click here.

Christiansfeld, Denmark, Friday, February 15, 2008
Mogens S. Mogensen

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

2007 Christmas Greeting

Dear colleagues and friends!

In my small one-man company,, 2007 has been a busy year with many interesting challenges, which I will present below.

In early August, the World Council of Churches together with the Vatican had called for a conference in Toulouse, France, to discuss codes of conduct for interreligious conversions. The participants also included Pentecostal and Evangelical leaders. We were thirty-five participants from Europe, Africa, North and South America and Asia gathered to discuss the theme “Towards an Ethical Approach to Conversion. Christian Witness in a Multireligious World”. It was impressive to experience how Roman Catholics, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders moved towards agreements on the issue of conversion. This was the second conference, and the third will be held next year. Read more.

On the 1st and 2nd September the second national conference for Christian and Muslim leaders was held. This time the dialogue meeting was hosted by the Shi’a Muslim community in their centre in Copenhagen. The forty leaders were gathered to discuss “Citizenship and Neighbourhood”. We experienced that good relations are developing between the Muslim and the Christian groups involved in the dialogue process. The opening of the conference coincided with the Swedish cartoon controversy, but this issue was handled with maturity in a way that it did not negatively influence the meeting.

From the 19th to the 22nd of September the biggest ever international conference on religion was held in Copenhagen. The conference marked the conclusion of the three year research priority area “Religion in the 21st Century” and the theme for the conference was “Transformations – Significance – Challenges”. Among the famous scholars lecturing were Philip Clayton, David Martin, Phil Zuckermann and Grace Davy. A number of books written as part of the research priority area were presented. Together with my co-editor John H. M. Damsager we presented the anthology on “Dansk konversionsforskning” (Danish Research on Conversion). Read more.

For many years I have focused my attention on Islam and Christian-Muslims relations, and this has been both very important and interesting. This year, however, I have been involved in a listening initiative regarding Buddhists, Hindus and people inspired by Eastern religions and spiritualities. The Chairman of the committee for dialogue in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and a dialogue secretary from Areopagos and I have during the autumn visited twelve groups and written a report on our findings. Next year we will go on with a new listening initiative among Christian pastors and other Christians who have been in close contact with these groups over the years.

At lot of my time this year has been spent on communication about intercultural and interreligious issues. I have been giving presentations and lectures about Islam, conversion, and church and mission all over the country. It has been interesting to meet people in churches, organisations and schools to discuss the challenges in church and society. Also this year, I have had the privilege to edit two issues of Ny Mission (New Mission), published by the Danish Mission Council..This year three books I had been working on for some time were also completed, and on top on that a small book based on my blog. Read more.

One of the absolute highlights of 2007 was the so-called Danish Church Days (Danske Kirkedage) that were held in May in Haderslev, close to where we live. The event which took place on the 17th to th 20th of May was hosted by the diocese of Haderslev, and I was deeply involved in the planning of it. The theme was “Church across boundaries” (Kirke over grænser), and among the main speakers were bishop David Zac Niringiye, Kampala, Uganda, and Dr. Mithri Rahab, Bethlehem. The event was a resounding success with about 3000 participants. In 2010 the event will be repeated in Viborg. Read more.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Thank your for cooperation and fellowship in 2007. I look forward to meeting with you and working together with you in 2008.

Mogens S. Mogensen
N. J. Holms Park 55, DK-6070 Christiansfeld, Tele 7456 2282. Cellphone: 2617 5712
E-mail: . Website: (Click on: "In English")