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Home Culture Cultural News The story of how a Norwegian physician became a defender of Muslim rights

The story of how a Norwegian physician became a defender of Muslim rights

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The story of how a Norwegian physician became a defender of Muslim rights

The fourth International Islamic Human Rights Award honored its winners on August 5.

The Award is given by Iran High Council for Human Rights to the Islamic human rights defenders who support and promote Muslim rights in innovative ways, regardless of their religions or beliefs. The Award is also granted to those Muslims whose rights are violated by the host countries. The recipients of the Award can be individuals, NGOs, organizations or institutions, that are invited to use the cash prize to further increase their pro-human rights activities.

This year, the Award went to the former Grand Mufti of al-Quds (Jerusalem), Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, human rights activist and principal of a Bangladeshi school for Rohingya children, Rokonuzzaman Ansari, and Norwegian physician and human rights activist Trond Ali Linstad.

Visiting Mehr News Headquarters on Sunday, Lindstad, a 75-year-old physician who converted to Islam during the 1980s and has dedicated his life to promoting Muslim rights around the world ever since, said the greatest appeal of Islam to him was the religion’s strong call to humanitarian work.

Lindstad began his career as a regular doctor in Oslo, and went on to offer his medical services as a volunteer to those in need in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. He also took the initiative to raise funds for medical assistance to the Palestinians in 1976, and was one of the leading members of the Palestinian Committee in Norway and the chairman of the Norwegian-Palestinian Friendship Association.

You have been awarded the International Islamic Human Rights Award for your contributions to defending Muslims’ rights. What inspired you to dedicate your time and effort to this cause?

I come from Norway. I became a Muslim many years ago after I studied Islam and saw that the religion invites you to do humanitarian work. That call served as a great inspiration to me to dedicate my time to doing humanitarian work.

You were one the first in Norway to convert to Islam – a country where Islam is a minority, with Muslims making up roughly 6% of the population. What about the religion appealed to you the most?

Well, I’m a medical doctor. I worked and stayed for a long time at the Palestinian refugee camps when I was a young man. Surrounding myself in that environment, where all my patients and all my colleagues were all Muslims, allowed me the opportunity to take part in discussions about existential questions and religions, and within this process, I decided to become a Muslim. I should say that I also visited Iran at that time – I got this great inspiration from Iran just after the Islamic Revolution. So Islam in general, Iran and more specifically the Palestinian cause, were all the inspiration I needed to become a Muslim. With being a Muslim, comes the notion of humanitarian work, which is implied in Islam. So, that’s the direction I decided to take after my conversion.

You have a strong, and at times, leading presence in various Palestinian institutions in Norway. What piqued your interest in the Palestinian issue, in particular?

I obtained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene in Liverpool. I wanted to add an international aspect to my work, and at that time there were some great disturbances in the world, as there are today. At that time, it was the US bombing Vietnam, as well as many other instances of aggression carried out by US in various parts of the world. And one place that seemed to be rife with American-Zionist aggression was of course Palestine. So with this background, I focused my activities on the Palestinian issue and I became a doctor to work at many Palestinian camps.

One of your major contributions to the Muslim community was the establishment of the Islamic foundation Urtehagen in Norway. What motivated you to become so active in promoting Islam in your country?

First, keep in mind that most of the population in Norway is either Christian or secular. The Muslim community in Norway is a minority, around 100,000 Muslims. After I converted to Islam, I came back to my country and made my mind. I stressed that we also need to give a face to Islam in this country, so as to make people respect and start to understand what Islam is. And I thought we should establish an Islamic institution, engage in humanitarian and social work with the non-Muslim Norwegian society, but also to work with the Muslims to promote their rights and make them conscious and proud of their religion.

You have also been particularly vocal in your criticism of Israeli regime as well as the support it receives from the US.

Well, yes, it was only natural. I had been working in Palestinian camps and I started to understand what the Palestinian problem was really about. I was the chairman of Norwegian-Palestinian Friendship Association for several years and we established medical clinics in Palestinian areas, as well as in Lebanon and Jordan. So, we had been in very close contact with Palestinians for a very long time. My time around Palestinians opened my eyes to the fact that the Norwegian population was not much aware of the Palestinian question. Norway is on friendly terms with Israel, so it was natural to enter this discussion on what the problem with the Palestinian question was really about. When you start to voice solidarity with Palestinians, you also have to start to criticize the Israeli side. Imam Khomeini had a very clear stance on this issue. He inspired us. When you start to attack the Zionist ideology as a base for Israel, you do it by giving interviews and speeches, and the other side will then get very aggressive with you.

At one point, because of the social work we were doing, I was awarded the Norwegian King’s medal of honor. The announcement made the Israeli side very angry, and they attacked me very strongly. They said the medal should not be given to me because of my work for Palestinians and criticism of Israel. So the medal was withdrawn from me because of interference from the Israeli side. However, during my work with the Palestinians, I also got in contact with some anti-Zionist Jews, some of whom have also traveled to Iran and talked with Iranian leaders. We became friends, so when the King’s medal was withdrawn, this anti-Zionist Jewish community awarded me the Jewish medal of honor, which made up for the loss of the King’s medal very nicely.

 

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