Half of Finns hold at least some suspicions about Islam
Finnish media said to shy away from subject of immigration
About half of Finns have at least some suspicions about Islam, while a very small minority - about ten percent - have a positive attitude toward the religion.
The rest take a neutral position, or have no opinion.
However, overall attitudes toward Islam have become more clarified compared with the situation in the 1990s, said Tuomas Martikainen, a researcher of religious science, at a seminar on Islam in Finland held in Turku on Saturday.
Martikainen added that the immigration is seen as a very sensitive subject in Finland, with politicians and the media tending to avoid discussing it whenever possible.
The reason for the clarification of attitudes toward Islam stems, in Martikainen’s view, from the fact that the number of Muslims in Finland has increased sharply in recent years.
Finns tend to look at Muslims in the same way that they view Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Scientologists.
There is an overall positive view toward the Lutheran and Orthodox churches, and feelings are neutral toward Catholics and Pentacostalists.
As Martikainen sees it, Finns take a positive view of people who resemble them in appearance, culture, or other characteristics. Attitudes become more negative, the more people deviate from the prevailing to skin colour, culture, or some other characteristic.
He criticises Finnish key politicians for avoiding open discussion on immigration, or issues related to immigrants.
"Immigrants are seen as a politically sensitive issue. I hope especially that those who carry the greatest responsibility would gradually start waking up in these matters, especially as issues related to immigration and different religions will become increasingly topical in the near future. In Finland these so-called problems remain very small."
Martikainen also criticised major media outlets, such as the newspapers Helsingin Sanomat and Turun Sanomat as well as the Finnish Broadcasting Company for remaining silent on the grass-roots criticism of immigration policy which appears in more sensationalist publications.
"Some things need to be confronted courageously and in detail, and then analysed. This should be done specifically in the serious media, because the others are not capable of doing it."
Finland has a relatively small Muslim population by European standards. The largest group among the approximately 30,000 Muslims in Finland are Somali immigrants, who comprise 25% of the country’s Muslims. The first Muslims to settle in Finland were Tatar merchants who arrived in the 19th century. Their descendants comprise 2.5% of Finland’s Muslims.
Between 600 and 700 Finns have converted to Islam. Most of them, about 80%, are women who have married Muslim men.
Isra Lehtinen, a Finnish woman who has converted to Islam, said that the girls in Muslim immigrant families face many conflicts, as their parents grew up in conditions that were completely different. Also, the parents do not have a very deep impression of Finland or Finnish schools.
"Boys are given much more latitude, while there is a tendency to protect the girls. Sometimes girls find their place by focusing on school, but there are parents who cannot stand the idea of girls with too much learning."
"There would be more Muslim women who have emigrated to Finland working in Finland, but there is clear job discrimination targeting scarves. Sometimes potential employers mention an insufficient knowledge of Finnish on the part of the job applicant. In the Rasmus Network, which fights racism and xenophobia, I have also spoken with Russian women who seem to have the same problems here as the Muslim women", says Lehtinen.
She also noted that she has noticed that immigrant women have a more active network of social contacts than native-born Finnish women. They visit each others’ homes, mosques, and generally interact more than Finnish housewives do.