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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In an Oslo mosque, a 'special' Ramadan begins after July 22 attacks!

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August 2, 2011 / AFP, Oslo / DC.

Worshippers pray at the Minhal-ul-quran Mosque before breaking the fast in Oslo - AFP
Worshippers pray at the Minhal-ul-quran Mosque before breaking the fast in Oslo - AFP.

Shortly before 10:00 pm the sun finally sets on Oslo, allowing Muslims gathered at the Minhal-ul-Quran mosque to break the first day of fasting for Ramadan, held this year in the shadow of the deadly July 22 attacks.

After breaking the fast with a fruit salad and dates, before praying together for a few minutes, around 15 men - the women are gathered elsewhere - sit down for a second serving, spread out on a tablecloth laid directly on the mosque's soft carpet.

"There is a special atmosphere," explains Methab Asfar, who heads the Islamic Council, an umbrella organisation for Muslim groups across Norway.

"These terrorist acts have brought people closer together. We are not talking about 'us' and 'them', we're talking about 'us'," he says in Norwegian, dipping a piece of nan bread in a delicious chana, a special Pakistani stew made of spicy chickpeas.

"It's more correct, legitimate and sincere to talk of ourselves as Norwegians from now on," he says, adding: "It's strange. I've met people who never thought doing so would be possible."

Squeezed in between two sets of railway tracks and a highway, the Minhal-ul-Quran, or 'way of the Koran', mosque was founded 11 years ago in an old square industrial building in the traditionally working class east side of Oslo.

With the steeple of a Protestant church towering in the background, the inconspicuous dark yellow facade of the mosque has been tagged with graffiti in places in defiance of a sign informing taggers: "This is a mosque. Show respect."

For Perveiz Nisar, the head of the mosque's board, this year's Ramadan comes as 'joy in the midst of misery'.

"People need to think about something else. They want to forget, even though we can't really forget, but at least gain a little distance from the attacks," he says, as the evening's last prayer begins, with men and women on either side of a large screen.

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