Iceland Mag

3 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


President of Iceland fears Saudi Arabian funding of Reykjavík Mosque will fuel Muslim extremism in Iceland

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • The President of Iceland and the Saudi Arabian Ambassador Ibrahim S.I. Alibrahim told Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at a March meeting Saudi Arabia would donate 1 million US Dollars to Reykjavík mosque. Ólafur Ragnar says he was shocked and surprised by this announcement. Photo/Office of the President of Iceland.

The president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, fears that Saudi Arabian financing of a Reykjavík mosque will fuel radical Islam in Iceland. The president told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that he was shocked to the point of paralysis when he learned last March, in a meeting with Saudi Arabian Ambassador, that the government of Saudi Arabia had decided to interfere in Icelandic religious life by donating one million US Dollars to the planned mosque. The president did not speak up about these concerns until after the terrorists attacks in Paris.

Controversial statements about radical Islam and Saudi Arabia
The president claimed Saudi Arabia has not only fostered religious extremism but also forces which have attacked the West and western values. 

In a second interview with the local radio station Bylgjan, following the Paris terrorist attacks, the president had warned that Iceland could no longer act as if violent religious extremism did not concern Iceland and that we should not let "childish naiveté" delude us to think these problems could be solved simply with tolerance and social reforms.

These statements, especially the statement about “childish naiveté”, has caused some controversy in Iceland, as some feel the president has been stoking the fires of islamophobia. Others have raised questions as to why the president did not make his concerns over the planned Saudi Arabian funding of the Reykjavík mosque known immediately.

Many on Icelandic social media have also speculated whether the announcements are being made in preparation for a re-election bid by Ólafur Ragnar, whose fifth term as president comes to an end in 2016. The president, who is the second longest sitting president in Europe, has not yet announced whether he is seeking a re-election.

Forces which have attacked Western Civilization threaten Iceland
In an interview on the local radio station Bylgjan last week, following the Paris terrorist attacks Ólafur Ragnar said Icelanders could no longer act as if the rise of radical Islam was a problem which did not concern Iceland, or that Iceland was an island in the world. He pointed to the attempts by a foreign nation which has “fostered radical Islam and the forces which have attacked western civilization” as proof that Icelanders had to begin a new conversation, and not let “childish naiveté” delude people into thinking tolerance and social reforms can deal with the challenges:

“But we must come to terms with, in a realistic way, that we are not an island in the world. And when we learn, as I did while meeting the representatives of a foreign state some while back, that a state which has fostered radical Islam and the forces which have attacked Western Civilization, has decided to interfere in the religious life of Iceland, it is of course a sign that we are not an island in the word. And there are many examples which show us we cannot discuss this issue as if it was a problem of somebody else. This decision by a foreign state to begin to interfere in Icelandic religious life in the same way as it has done around the world, financing schools where radical Islam is cultivated, and young men trained in those views, it is a reminder to us Icelanders we must begin a new discussion. At the same time we must not condemn refugees and run away from a society of multiculturalism and tolerance we should not live in childish naiveté that we can deal with this problem with some actions of tolerance and social reform.”

Meeting with Ambassador of Saudi Arabia leaves president shocked
Ólafur Ragnar has since clarified that he was referring to a meeting with the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Iceland, Ibrahim S.I. Alibrahim who met with the president on March 5. According to the diary of the President on the president's official web page the Ambassador told Ólafur Ragnar at the meeting that Saudi Arabia would donate one million US dollars toward the building of a mosque in Iceland and that he had visited and inspected the location of the planned mosque.

In an interview on Sunday for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service Ólafur Ragnar said he had been shocked by the announcement. Asked whether he had protested the planned gift at the meeting in March the president explained he had not because the news had taken him by complete surprise. In fact, he been virtually paralyzed by surprise and shock:

“I didn’t [register objections] at that meeting, because this took me completely by surprise, and I was, at the end of the meeting, I simply didn’t know how to react. So, I was really just so surprised, and so paralyzed, by this announcement, that I just accepted it, and then sat down and thought it over, and decided I should make it public, as I did.”

At the time the president did make the announcement known on his web page. He has not explained why he choose to stay quiet about his concerns for more than eight months.

Related content

Editor's Picks