“We imams are part of the solution,” Mohammed Ali Blaoo, who runs the large new mosque on Rovsingsgade, told Denmark’s Berlingske newspaper. “Only we imams can give young people a theological argument for getting out of extremism and taking a moderate position.”
The government on Tuesday dropped a plan to provide funding to imams to help them identify and confront extremist Danes, after the Danish People’s Party refused to accept the measure.
Marin Henriksen, the party’s integration spokesperson argued that imams were 'part of the problem and not part of the solution'.
Prominent anti-terrorism experts were on Tuesday sharply critical of the decision.
Line Lerche Mørck at Aarhus University, an expert on how marginalised young people become radicalised, called the omission “deeply problematic”.
“It sends a signal to the public that Muslims or imams are people you should not work with," says she said.
Tobias Gemmerli, an expert in radicalisation at the Danish Institute for International Studies, pointed out how successful dialogue with imams at the controversial Grimhøjvej mosque had been at stemming the flow of radicalised young Danes to go and fight in Syria.
"Of course it's important to have dialogue with imams,” he said.
He dismissed the Danish People’s Party’s conviction that mosques played a key role in radicalisation.
“There is too much focus on the idea that these mosques are a big part of the problem of radicalisation. I do not think they necessarily are. The problem is not solved with getting imams to talk more about democracy during Friday prayers.”
Blaoo was born in Libya and arrived in Denmark last year to head the new mosque, which was funded by Qatar and is formally called the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Centre.
He argued that it was “unreasonable” to talk about radicalisation as a specifically Islamic trait.
"All the academics in the US, Europe and the Arab countries agree that extremism has no religion,” he argued. "We condemn extremism, whether it comes from Muslims or non-Muslims. But if you call it ‘Islamist extremism’, you condemn the world one and a half billion Muslims and make them all the extremists. We should rather condemn those who do wrong."
“I also call on the municipality, the state and citizens to have confidence in imams, because we can be a huge part of the solution to radicalisation," he said