Minister for Culture Linda Hofsted Helleland called the move “extremely ill-advised” and members of other parties have also voiced their concern about the appointment.
The appointment of 32-year-old Leyla Hasic as an administrative consultant by Islamic Council Norway (Islamsk Råd Norge, IRN) comes soon after the Ministry of Culture (Kulturdepartementet) granted almost half a million kroner ($59,000) to help the organisation with initiatives aimed at improving dialogue between Muslim communities and the rest of society, reports news media Klassekampen.
But Minister for Culture Helleland wrote in a Facebook post that the appointment by the council would “create distance and less understanding”.
“Freedom of religion is strong in Norwegian society, and it will continue to be so. It therefore takes a lot for me, as minister of culture, to make statements about internal appointments in independent organisations such as Islamic Council Norway. But here it is important to take a stand!,” wrote Helleland.
Muslim politician Abid Raja of the centrist Liberal (Venstre) party was also critical of IRN in a statement sent via SMS, reports broadcaster NRK.
“I am deeply disappointed with IRN’s conduct. It is all-advised and undermines the relationship of trust that Muslims themselves are in need of building between themselves and the rest of Norwegian society,” wrote Raja.
According to Hasic’s job description, she will be primarily involved in “communication, application writing and IT maintenance”.
“What somebody has under their skin is more important than what they have on their skin,” IRN’s general secretary Mehtab Afsar told Klassekampen, adding that the appointment showed the organisation’s “open stance”.
Norway’s government showed its opposition to the niqab last autumn when a majority of parties on both sides of parliament supported a ban on the face-covering garment in schools.
A ban is likely to be in place later this year.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg has also showed her personal disapproval. In October 2016 the PM said that she would not employ anyone wearing the niqab.
“I believe we must be able to see each other’s faces in the workplace,” Solberg told NRK at the time.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Islamic Council Norway had hired Hasic as a communications officer. It later emerged that while having ad hoc responsibilities for internal communication, Hasic will not be representing the organisation externally.