On a rain-trodden sandy beach in an affluent, suburban area of Sweden’s capital, Husam El Gomati, a sociable entrepreneur originally from Libya, gently placed his hand on the arm of an exasperated, physically imposing young man.
“You’re right, you’re right,” El Gomati said in a soothing voice as the man shouted at a woman from behind a line of stone-faced Swedish police officers, pleading with her not to burn a copy of the Quran.The woman, an Iranian refugee with a bright red Coca-Cola-branded baseball cap, was holding the holy book above a series of burning wooden logs.
She laughed dismissively at the man as she tore pages from the Quran and scribbled haphazardly over it with a ballpoint pen.The man, who said he was of Kurdish origin, gesticulated angrily as he told the woman the police shouldn’t be forced to stand in the rain protecting her. They should, instead, be out doing their job – stopping crime, he said.
He accidentally knocked his transparent umbrella into a police officer spraying water over their rain-sodden headgear and immediately apologised.
“Please forgive me,” he told the officer, who acknowledged the comment with a firm nod of the head.
El Gomati spoke to the concerned man softly in Arabic, and after he was assured that the situation wouldn’t escalate further, he walked away.That was exactly why El Gomati decided to come – to ensure that any member of the Muslim community, in the face of provocation, did not feed elements of society that would be looking for any material that could play into what he describes as Islamophobic narratives.
Chocolates and dialogue
Over the past few months, in the face of numerous Quran burnings, El Gomati and several other members of the Muslim community have taken it upon themselves to shift the lens from the agitators seeking to garner attention by burning the Quran and to instead focus on engaging in friendly dialogue with the media, bystanders and the police.Several Quran burnings, permitted under freedom of speech laws in Sweden, have taken place in the Nordic nation in 2023, prompting outrage in Muslim countries that have demanded the government put a stop to the incidents.In late June, at a burning intended to shock and antagonise the Muslim community in front of a Stockholm mosque during the Eid al-Adha holiday, El Gomati could be seen weaving through the crowd with a few friends handing out expensive chocolates.
Laughing and joking with onlookers, they entirely ignored the near-constant barrage of provocative rhetoric being broadcasted by Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Quran, on a megaphone.