An incident happened in a Norwegian Mosque recently that took the media by storm!
The future King of Norway, Crown Prince Haakon, was visting the Baerem Mosque which had the failed attempted mass shooting. He proceeded to shake hands with the Masjid attendees, then extended his hands to shake it with one of our sisters. She politely refused, and instead put her hands on her heart to show an alternative form of respect. The Crown Prince then learned the gesture and continued to greet the other sisters in the same way, by putting his hand on his heart!
Of course, the right-wing media then took this small cultural misunderstanding and turned it into an all-out-attack on Muslims and immigration, considering that we have elections in just 2 weeks!
Is this really considered an act of disrespect?
I personally share a story, where I had a Japanese friend who took me to dinner to discuss travel plans. Once we went together to the airport, I offered to hug him as this is what we do in our culture when you won’t see someone for a long time. What did he do?
The Japanese man politely explained to me that in his culture, it is frowned upon for even two men to touch each other (not a man and a woman, but two men!). So instead, he bowed down to me out of respect. I explained to him that in our religion, we are ordered not to bow down to anyone other than our Creator, so instead, I nodded to him my head while putting my hand on my heart, the same gesture the sister and the King did!
Did anyone feel disrespected? No! Two mature people will always understand that humans are different, and have different customs depending on their upbringing and beliefs, and even people from the same belief may have a different understanding too. It is only immature people, or trouble-makers, or people with an agenda, who try to make a big fuzz out of a small human interaction such as a greeting!
The protocol for meeting the Queen of England is that you should never offer your hand for a shake, even when she is travelling. Others are informed about this in advance, and it doesn’t cause any problems as long as mutual respect is communicated. Our sisters are also Queens for their families and communities, and so we all treat them as such!
On the positive side, this incident will open a dialogue about cultural/religious understanding that will promote respect from all sides towards each other. We thank the future King of Norway for taking his time to visit the Mosque and showing respect to our community and our sisters, and we pray that other Western heads of state learn from his exceptional mannerism and respect for the minorities in his country!
Written by Dr. Waleed Hakeem – The Travelling Imam