Who is happiest in this world? Not the Norwegians, Danes or Icelanders, said a senior Pakistani social scientist, having carried out surveys and analyzed what people say, including in the so-called ‘happiness surveys’. If those Nordics were so happy, they would be more optimistic about tomorrow and then they would have more children, he said. Today, they barely reproduce themselves. Yet, thanks to immigration, the populations don’t decline and the private sector companies get the workforce they need, and the government, too, but they employ relatively fewer immigrants. As for family size, the immigrants become similar to the indigenous people in a couple of generations; they have fewer children. To what extent it has to do with happiness, or lack thereof, would need further studies. I’d suggest it is the economic conditions that weigh more, and it costs money to have children and help them succeed; immigrants realize that, like the indigenous people. All can live a good life, and social benefits are available if needed; that predictability should also count for something on the happiness index in the new land.

An immigrant from Denmark told me that he loved his new land because everyone could succeed irrespective of creed or cradle, worldly riches or other irrelevant things. True, immigrants need to make extra efforts, and so do other minorities, and people from small towns and villages. Pakistani women with degrees succeed. When they do so well in education, their fathers and grandmothers give them slack as for whom to marry, too! Maybe that was a good reason for doing so well at school and university. They calculated well and I guess parents are happy about their children finding their own way in the new land, even if they don’t always agree with them.

This week, a Norwegian professor is visiting Pakistan, holding lectures in Lahore, Gujrat and Islamabad about Pakistani immigration to Norway in the recent fifty years – and from Norway to USA a hundred years earlier. Professor Kari Guttormsen Hempel has summarized and compared the history of both in fresh publications. Norway was the second largest European sending country of emigrants to USA after Ireland, more than a third of the Norwegians left, about 800,000 in a population of less than two million, and a quarter of them returned. The ways the Norwegians were received in the new land were many times similar to the ways the Pakistanis are received in Norway, yet there were also distinct differences.

It is interesting to know that the 52 first Norwegians to leave Stavanger, Norway, in 1825, on the sailing boat named ‘Restauration’, belonged to the Christian Quaker denomination and they emigrated because there was no religious freedom in Norway that time. Christianity was the only allowed religion until 1945 when Christian dissenters could also congregate. The Constitution of 1814 specifically said that Jews and Jesuits had not access to the land; the paragraph about Jews was abolished in 1851, but it took another fifty years hundred years to allow Jesuits.

Today, there is full religious freedom in Norway, but it is only in the last fifty years, yes, from the time the Pakistan immigrants began coming in 1969, that Islam has had any significance and Norway has finally become multi-religions and multi-cultural. Yet, Christianity is still the dominant religion, and over two-thirds of the people are members of the Church of Norway. Since 2012, it is no longer a ‘sate church’, but it still has ties to the state, inter alia, as for salaries to the some 1500 pastors and bishops, now with about fifty percent women. Until 1963, women could not serve as pastors.

Today, when immigrants of different religious and cultural backgrounds come to Norway, it is expected that they adjust to the new land’s ways, indeed as for language and culture. As for religion, all are treated equal, and religious associations (churches, mosques, etc.) receive government support, in the range of NOK 1,000 per year per member, which is about Rs. 17,000. Some say that it is a contradiction that a secular state, like the Norwegian state, contributes to the expenses of religious associations.

In USA, when the Norwegian and other immigrants came, 100-150 years ago, they were encouraged to keep their faiths and be active in religious life. Most Norwegians did indeed take advantage of that and kept their language, hymns and church rituals from home; they also had pastors coming from home, and they began educating own pastors in USA; Luther College in Iowa in the Mid-West is a particularly prestigious Norwegian institution and it is still a stronghold of Norwegian studies, well, and other subjects, too, since the Norwegians now have become like ‘the other Americans’.

Will Pakistanis too become like ‘the other Norwegians’ and be happy that way? Yes, in most fields, they will, and many are on good way, shouldering high posts in politics, civil society, private sector and some also in the civil service. In Norway and the rest of Europe, the state wants immigrants to integrate and change. I think we should learn from America when the Norwegians and other Europe went there, and actively encourage them to keep their own religion and many cultural habits. They should open up for some schools with emphasis on Muslim curriculum in addition to the standard Norwegian curriculum. Often, religion and education go together.

I believe it is important that we not only (reluctantly) accept differences of immigrants from other cultures and traditions; we should also encourage them to do so and be happy in own traditions also in the new lands. People understand that newcomers will not change their religion or their denomination. For many other things, the hosts want newcomers to change a lot, especially as regards democratic political and social traditions. That it fair enough within limits; we must always be careful about how much we expect or demand the newcomers to change The change can be outwardly and almost dishonest, and it can lead to recent and dislike for the ways in the new land; it can lead to less real integration.

As for religion, I believe Norwegian Christian congregations should actively take an interest in the faiths of Muslims and others. The newcomers could, for example, be invited to Christian religious services and other events, and they could give orientations about their religious faiths and traditions. Christians could be invited to visit mosques and Muslim cultural centres. This will enrich all and it has nothing to do with proselytising or encourage to conversion. In Pakistan, too, there should be more religious contact between people of different faiths. I must admit that, knowing something about Islam, I know very little about Hinduism and Sikhism, for example. I also think that many Pakistanis, especially Muslims, have very little knowledge about other religions than their own although they may live in the same neighbourhood and work together. Step one for better relations is always knowledge. Then we will realize how similar we all are – in Pakistan, Norway, USA and the rest of the world – and how happy we can be together.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.atlehetland@yahoo.com

Will Pakistanis too become like ‘the other Norwegians’

and be happy

that way?