Danes restrict imams to stifle Muslim radicals

Denmark will crack down on the immigration of Islamic preachers to try to stifle radicalism among its Muslims.

A parliamentary bill does not mention the Islamic faith, but Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, has made the target of the legislation clear in announcing restrictions on "foreign missionaries".

It had been "too easy" for them to get a residence permit, he said.

"That is why we are now putting forward new requirements for residing in the country, like the demand that imams and others have an education and that they be financially self-sufficient."

The bill is expected to be passed by parliament within weeks. To cater for the Danish constitution, which bans any form of religious discrimination, the legislation will affect all religious persuasions.

About 30 organisations under the banner of the Danish Missionary Society reacted strongly to the proposals yesterday, saying the government was "stifling the freedom of religion and thought".

The bill makes exemptions for certain clerics and nuns. "Residence will only be allowed provided that the number of foreigners seeking permits as missionaries or priests is reasonably related to the size of a denomination."

It adds that foreign missionaries must have formal training and a close relationship to Danish parishioners. Foreign imams will have to show that they have a good knowledge of Danish affairs and practices, a rudimentary knowledge of Danish and an understanding of the country's democratic traditions.

"It is vital for the government that foreign missionaries do not, as part of their activities, impart values and views that are at issue with the basic values of a democratic society," the bill says, adding that those given residence permits must prove that neither they nor their families will be a financial burden on society.

"The new law may seemingly deal with all religions, but it is aimed at imams," said Peter Skaarup, spokesman for the nationalist Danish People's Party, which originally called for legislation to curb radicalism.

The bill calls for applications from imams unable to satisfy government officers as to their "dignity" to be rejected and for imams already in Denmark and who are found to have incited to racism or other forms of illegal acts to lose their permits.

The bill says those who make statements which are a threat to others, who attack other religious persuasions, incite to violence or make derogatory statements on the base of colour, religion, race, beliefs or sexual persuasion, will be extradited.

The new laws are expected to curtail seriously the activities of some imams, who have been at the centre of controversy for making statements alleged to be anti-Semitic, or against current legislation. One imam in Jutland recently caused outrage by suggesting that female genital mutilation was good for women. Another made statements considered blatantly anti-Semitic.

Mr Fogh Rasmussen also said the legislation would stop the practice of Muslim parents sending teenage sons back to countries of origin for longer periods to become familiar with the traditions of their parents' homelands.

The legislation will follow a controversial decision in the Dutch parliament this week to expel 26,000 failed asylum seekers and are part of a Europe-wide tightening of immigration and asylum laws.

Denmark already has one of the strictest immigration and asylum policies in Europe and has slowed the number of foreigners seeking asylum and residence to a trickle.

About 90 per cent of Denmark's population of 5.3 million is Lutheran. Islam is the country's second largest religion with a total congregation of 172,000.