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Rage and puzzlement over Muslim woman in hijab chosen for Swedish municipality’s welcome sign

Rage and puzzlement over Muslim woman in hijab chosen for Swedish municipality’s welcome sign
A Swedish municipality is facing backlash after selecting a local Muslim woman wearing a headscarf to be the ‘poster girl’ for its roadside ‘welcome’ sign. Her past ties to a controversial local imam were also discovered.

The image of Suzan Hindi, a local Muslim woman in her early 40s wearing a blue headscarf, now welcomes motorists entering Gavle, a coastal municipality in Sweden about 100km north of Stockholm. The photo is occasionally shown on a digital board along with the message: “Welcome to Gavle!”

The municipality said it was a gesture celebrating the diversity of its community, which counts over 100,000 people of various origins and cultures. But some saw it as a signal of support for suppressing women’s freedoms.

“One should think what this is signaling. Some indeed use this garment, the hijab, voluntarily. But not everyone. This a garment that for millions of women around the world represents a lack of freedom,” said Sweden Democrats MP Roger Hedlund, a member of the municipality council, as quoted by the news website Nyheter Idag.

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The Sweden Democrats party has an anti-immigration platform and currently holds 62 seats in the 349-seat Swedish parliament. Samhallsnytt, an online publication reportedly close to the party, was quick to dig Hindi’s past ties to a controversial local imam, who was accused of preaching radical ideas and collecting money for terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

Indeed, in 2009 the woman, who called herself Nizam Hindi at the time, was featured in a story by the left-leaning tabloid Arbetarbladet about the opening of a mosque in Gavle. She explained how having their own prayer house was good for the Swedish municipality’s Muslim community, how aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar helped to buy and furnish the building, and how listening to the imam is important during the prayer.

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The Al-rashideen mosque and its imam, Abu Raad, were involved in a scandal a few years ago, after the leading local newspaper Gefle Dagblad accused him of spreading radical Salafist ideas and collecting money for terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

The editor-in-chef received death threats over the criticism. The man who issued the threats was sentenced to two months in jail.

It was not immediately clear whether Hindi is still associated with the mosque.

Gavle itself was the scene of a national scandal in Sweden two years ago, when six people were tried for the abduction and murder of 23-year-old Afghan man Ramin Sherzaj over an extramarital affair. Five received life sentences for the crime, while one got a 14-year jail term.

The woman involved in the affair, who was a relative of the defendants, left her husband for a brief relationship with Sherzaj. It apparently ended badly, since the man then sent photos of him kissing the woman to her husband’s family members. This led to them banding together to carry out the honor killing.

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