After riots over Koran burning, Swedish neighbourhood responds with flowers and community action

Left: Rioters in Malmo, Sweden on Aug. 28. Center: Local Mustafa Alshabi presents flowers to police officers the day after the riots. Right: In the Rosengard neighbourhood, residents clean up the streets after the riots dispersed.
Left: Rioters in Malmo, Sweden on Aug. 28. Center: Local Mustafa Alshabi presents flowers to police officers the day after the riots. Right: In the Rosengard neighbourhood, residents clean up the streets after the riots dispersed.

Last Friday, Aug. 28, violence erupted in the city of Malmo in southern Sweden. Over 300 people rioted, throwing stones at the police and setting cars ablaze, after two far-right extremists burned a copy of the Koran next to one of Malmo’s mosques earlier that day. Local residents told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that most of the rioters were from outside the neighbourhood. The locals said they rallied to clean up the destruction and strengthen the community.

Hordes of rioters, primarily young men, raged through the streets in the neighbourhood of Rosengard on Friday night. They destroyed bus shelters using metal ripped from street signs and barriers, threw stones, and launched fireworks. Along the streets, they set fire to trash cans, cars, and tyres.

The violence occurred after two far-right extremists set fire to a copy of the Koran outside a mosque in Malmo and then posted a video of the incident online. The two men are followers of the Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who leads the Stram Kurs [Hard Line] party in Denmark.

Paludan had organised an anti-Islamic protest in Malmo for the afternoon of Friday Aug. 28. Paludan himself, however, was prevented from attending the rally after he was deported from Sweden on Wednesday, Aug. 26. The Swedish police declared that Paludan’s actions “would pose a threat to society”, and he is now banned from entering the country for two years.

Although Paludan could not attend, his supporters still gathered in an unauthorised rally in Malmo’s town square on Friday the traditional day of worship for Muslims. Later that evening, participants from the anti-Islamic event clashed with counter protesters.

The riots were mostly in the Rosengard neighbourhood. Rosengard is the district in Malmo with the highest percentage of immigrants, and it has a large Muslim community. An estimated 86 percent of residents have immigrant roots, particularly Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia.

In this video of Friday's riot posted on Twitter, crowds can be heard chanting, “Allahu Akbar" as a fire blazes in the background.


The police and local residents managed to prevent rioters from moving into central Malmo. 

Friday evening marked the worst of the violence, but the riots continued Saturday and Sunday before tapering off.

“I brought flowers to the police officers, and I apologised for what happened.”

Mustafa Alshabi, 36-year-old immigrant from Jordan, lives in Rosengard near where the riots occurred. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the effect of the riots on his community.

In this video that Mustafa Alshabi shared with the FRANCE 24 Observers team, he offers flowers to two police officers.


First of all, I am a Muslim. For us, burning the Koran is like burning a national flag. But I am against what happened from both sides. The racists burning the Koran, they say it’s ‘freedom of expression’, but it's hateful expression. I am also against what happened in the riots. Our religion says people should not do anything that has negative effects on society. 

Most of the people who participated in the riots are from outside our area. I'm sure most of them don't know anything about Islam, the real Islam.

I wanted to send a positive message. Along with a lot of young people, I cleaned up the streets from the storm and rampage of the riots. I brought a bouquet of flowers to the police, and I apologised for what happened. Cleaning up and giving flowers - I had to do something [to work] against Islamophobia.


“They did a lot to try to advertise the burning of the Koran; this was the talk of the town.”

Johan Norberg, an author and historian splits his time between Stockholm and Malmo, blamed the riots on individuals who ignored pleas by community leaders to make the counterprotests peaceful.

Rasmus Paludan has done this quite a lot in Denmark, traveling around burning the Koran sometimes wrapped in bacon to make sure that the burning will be as brutal as possible. And he has said explicitly that this is his way of trying to ‘expose’ Muslims and to show that they are really violent, or not adjusted to Western democracy. So the riots are exactly what he intended to happen. Troublemakers on both sides really got want they wanted.

This video, shared on Twitter the morning of Aug. 29, shows fires and chanting during the riots the night before.


I was not present at the riot, but I was [in Malmo] during the time. In the days leading up to the incident, everybody knew that this was going to happen. They did a lot of things to try to advertise the burning of the Koran, so this was the talk of the town. 


The Muslim community, the mosques and the imams, they worked very hard to get people to ignore it. They really did everything to make sure that this would be a calm reaction. And obviously, it wasn't calm in any way in Rosengard. But these were the same kind of hooligans and kids who always turn up when there's a riot and when there's trouble anywhere. These are kids who want to burn things up, and they use every occasion to do so.

“The narrative right now from the riots is quite contrary to what is actually happening.”

The vast majority of residents in Rosengard, however, did not participate in the riots, and immediately went to work cleaning up the streets, Norberg said.


The moment the riots were over and they left a mess then the normal, ordinary people of Rosengård came out and started to clean up. They removed the garbage, the stones that had been thrown, the glass. And that seemed like a very powerful signal, a very heartwarming one. And it made it very difficult for both sides to try and say that the rioters were the true expression of immigrant spirit in Malmo.

In the last few years there's been lots of cooperation between various schools, between the mosques and the police and synagogues to try to get to know one another and to help one another. And I think that's been quite successful. These groups are beginning to cooperate much more. So it seems like the narrative right now from the riots is quite contrary to what is actually happening.


“If some 50 or 150 people cause problems, it does not mean that all people in the same religion do the same.”

Residents of Rosengard said most of the rioters were not from the neighbourhood and that they did not recognise them as members of the local community. They said the rioters came with the sole purpose of rioting and causing destruction.

Younes Al-Dahdouli was in Rosengsard when the riots broke out and helped the police keep the rioters at bay.


When the demonstrations end, we went and picked up trash on the streets. They closed the street and we picked up everything. On Saturday we were in Rosengard at what's called the bazaar. People from Rosengard [gathered] to talk about what happened. 

Around 7 o'clock, groups of people from outside Rosengard came again. They were a mix of ethnicities and also Swedish people. They burned white paper and screamed. There were 30 of them. It was young people, mainly from 16 to 21. They caused problems. So we called the police. We helped the police throw them from Rosengård.

This video shared on Facebook shows clean up efforts by locals in Rosengard after the riots Aug. 28. 

Al-Dahdouli shared this video with the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Here, community members in Rosengard gather on Sat Aug. 29 to discuss the riots from the night before.


The police wanted to contact us again. So we have a meeting today [Sep. 4] with the police to speak with them about what happened in Rosengard, about the Koran-burning and about the problems that happened after. We want a law in Sweden to protect Muslims. 

If 50 or 150 people cause problems, it doesn’t mean that all people in the same religion are like that. We have good people and not good people. But when the media come and film, they talk only about the bad people. 

We helped the police and we try to do our best for Swedish society.

Article written by Sophie Stuber