When Usman Rana, a young Pakistani-Norwegian, last year wrote a book entitled ‘Norsk islam – hvordan elske Norge og Koranen samtidig’, in English, ‘Norwegian Islam – How to Love Norway and the Quran at the Same Time’, he made it clear that he was not going to give up either. Yet, he thought that maybe both needed to be a bit adjusted now in the multi-cultural and multi-religious world.

Rana was born and bred in Norway to parents who emigrated from Pakistan. I assume he feels as Norwegian as any other in the land, with the extra strength of another country’s family background. He went to school and studied in Norway, and is now a medical doctor, a columnist and public personality, loved by the media outlets and the consumers alike.

Rana is not a theologian, but a well-informed layman. That may be a better position when airing complicated issues related to faith and tradition – in any country, and indeed also in a country with an old majority religion, Christianity, and a new minority religion, Islam, plus other smaller religions, as well as growing numbers of agnostics and non-believers. Many are ‘culturally religious’, but not regular church-goers most of their lives. Whether they are believers, others don’t know, and maybe they don’t know themselves either.

The fact that Rana sticks his neck out and participates actively where his home is, even holding risky views, proves that he loves his homeland – and the Quran – and, I assume too, that he has nothing against the Bible either. Yet, I guess he may sometimes find the way the Church of Norway changes and interprets dogma a bit fast – as I do. And then, Rana says that he is open for changes in Islam in Norway, that would mean things like women in central roles in mosque boards and as theologians, but maybe it will still take time for women to lead the prayer. On the other hand, Rana says, it may not take as long as we think to see changes in Islam. Besides, the debate about women’s role in Islam is several hundred years old, well, probably as old as Islam, and the debate was probably more radical before than it is today.

Other issues that we see as theological today, including women’s dress code, are often more culturally-based than religiously-based. We may be surprised not to find specific rules in the Quran for how to behave in many cultural and social situations, and we may, on the other hand, even think such references exist when we just follow what traditions inform us.

It is usually the majority groups that decide what the minorities should do. Thus, in Christianity, the Catholic Christians, with the Pope as head, are the ‘lead Christians’, with the Protestant Christians as the more liberal and democratic ‘newcomers’. It is this year 500 years since Martin Luther led the establishment of Protestantism in 1517. He had planned it to be a renewal from within the church, not a split into two branches. Many European secular leaders, kings as they were that time, adopted Protestantism to get away from the authoritarian religious leaders of the Catholic Church and to get secular control themselves, indeed over the church’s wealth.

Over time, the majority branch of a religion may learn from the minorities, if not in key religious fields, at least in some more practical fields; so also in the Catholic Church. Similarly, I am sure Sunni and Shiite Muslims respect each other, and they may find traditions of the other branch interesting, even borrowing certain things.

However, religions and religious denominations which live side by side seem to find it important to underline their differences and show why each faith or denomination is more right and better than the other. Within Christianity in the West, we seem to have become less orthodox in recent decades and are now more open to the many denominations that exist, including ‘new’ religions. Sadly, in some majority Muslim countries, it is the opposite.

It is my hope that Christians in Europe will indeed be open to Islam at a time when many European countries have a major growth in Muslim congregations (and also other religions), mostly made up of immigrants. Although Christianity and Islam are closely related religions, many may find it challenging that newcomers change the religious landscape in a land. Christians in the West should rather welcome ‘new’ religions, and people should also borrow from the newcomers. In his book, Usman Rana has also discussed how the newcomers can be more open to adjusting culturally and religiously to the life and ways in their new land, appreciating the new as well as cherishing the old. It is never either or and it is never good to be stubborn and not accept change and different ways in new contexts and circumstances.

Today is Maundy Thursday in the Christian Calendar, the end of 40 days of fasting, called Lent in the Catholic Church, leading up to the holiest of the Christian holidays, Easter, commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, according to the Bible’s New Testament. Muslims don’t observe Easter, but Muslims do observe Ascension Day, which comes on the 40th day after Easter, when Jesus was taken up to heaven, and a cloud hid him from the view of the people, and two men (angles) appeared to tell them that he will return “in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”.

In Pakistan, fasting is observed quite strictly in Christian communities, the same way that most Muslims also observe Ramadan. I find the Christians’ emphasis on fasting to be a direct influence of Islam on Christians living in a majority Muslim country, and I find that tradition to be valuable. Yet, Lent and Ramadan are more about heart, soul and mind than it is about the bodily restrictions. If we emphasise spiritual more, I could even see a renaissance for observance of fasting in the West, maybe with new traditions, including lessons from and participation by the Muslim communities.

Could not Muslims be invited into the major religious feasts in Pakistan – and in Norway? Could not Christians, Hindus and others always be included in the majority Muslim events in Pakistan, at least part of them? Besides, religious events are cultural events, too; it is about family, relatives, friends and local community; it is about food and certain things we always do that time of year. In Norway, we have a long tradition for going skiing in the mountains during Easter, and now, even Pakistani-Norwegians have begun taking up that ‘strange’ and uniquely Norwegian tradition. Young people cannot admit to anyone that they were just sitting in the city watching TV or reading books during Easter. They must show off some suntan gained from skiing in the mountains as spring is coming. Easter is a religious feast, but it is also about welcoming the warm and light spring and summer season. It is a new year and a new time; in Afghanistan and Iran, the new year, Nowruz, has just begun. Perhaps religions and cultures are not so different after all? Perhaps we have more in common and more to learn from each other than we know?

I would like to tell you a secret before I end my article today, well, just that today is my birthday. When we as children asked my mother what she wanted as a birthday present, she always said she just wanted kind children, who respected themselves and others. Today, I wish that we all respect each other’s’ religions, traditions and ways of being – either we are hybrid, international, indigenous, rural or urban. We have a lot to share and learn from each other. Thank you for your gift! I’ll prepare one for you as well.