Iceland’s proposed ban on circumcision rattles Jews, Muslims

“We are not used to these kinds of issues in Iceland,” said Redouane Adam Anbari, who is responsible for religious affairs at the country’s Grand Mosque. “It’s like they’re closing doors for Jews and Muslims, that they’re not welcome in Iceland.”

Julian Burgos, an Jewish marine biologist originally from Argentina who moved to Iceland nine years ago from the U.S., said the bill had left him perplexed. While he did not feel the motivation was anti-Semitic, he said there was a strain of anti-religious feeling in the country.

“I think you have to be a little bit blind to the side consequences of proposing a ban like this,” said Burgos, 47. “For me it’s like a little bit of a cultural blindness.”

Julian Burgos.Saphora Smith / NBC News

Imam Ahmad Seddeeq of the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland said some members of the Muslim community felt targeted by the law, believing it was introduced to make it difficult for Muslims to live here.

Seddeeq said he could not say what members of his congregation would do if the bill became law but speculated that some could leave Iceland, while others may continue to carry out circumcisions anyway.

“Lawmakers are supposed to make laws that will bring harmony and support tolerance in society and not make laws that will cause misunderstandings,” he said, adding that the bill threatened to make people feel “marginalized or not welcomed.”

‘Sort of what happened in Nazi Germany’

The majority of Iceland’s population identify as Lutheran, according to the National Statistics Institute. Some 20,000 — or one-in-17 people — said they had no religious affiliation.

There are around 1,000 Muslims living in Iceland, according to the agency. No official statistics are kept on the number of Jews, but estimates range from 50 to a few hundred.

Mike Levin, who until Feldman’s recent arrival served as the de facto leader of Iceland’s Jewish community, said he thought many people of his faith were reluctant to tell the government that they are Jewish. “That’s sort of what happened in Nazi Germany. It was in your passport: ‘Jude,’ Jew.”

The majority of the small number of Jews living in Iceland are not overly religious, according to Levin.

Image: Mike Levin
Mike Levin at his home outside Reykjavik, Iceland.Saphora Smith / NBC News

Levin, 57, originally from Chicago, said the community has held meetings in a rented hall or a vegetarian restaurant. He said he would often struggle to gather 10 men on the Sabbath, a traditional requirement for Jews to read the Torah.

Reykjavik still has no synagogue — something Feldman hopes to change — and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, was celebrated last week in a drab conference room at a downtown hotel.