COPENHAGEN – They celebrate Ramadan and Hanukkah together, guard Jewish cemeteries on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and are discussing a tour to Poland and visit to Auschwitz. It’s the first of its kind in the world: a Jewish-Muslim motorcycle club that roams the highways of Denmark, promoting coexistence between religious minorities.
Instead of skull patches on their leather vests, as some biker gangs have, the members of MuJu & Co. MC Danmark wear a symbol that unites both Jews and Muslims: the hamsa, a palm-shaped amulet symbolizing protection. The Jewish-Muslim club designed its own version, replacing the eye in the middle of the amulet with a motorcycle wheel.
For years, people associated motorcycle clubs in Denmark with Hells Angels and Bandidos – two rival gangs that clashed violently throughout the 1990s. However, they are far from being the only such clubs in the country. In fact, there are well over 200 biker clubs in Denmark, according to the National Danish Motorcycle organization, and seeing bikers traversing Denmark’s highways is a common sight during the spring and summer months. But there are none quite like MuJu & Co.
It was co-founded in 2019 by Dan Meyrowitsch, a 60-year-old Jewish epidemiologist at the University of Copenhagen, and 44-year-old Muslim and medical doctor Sohail Asghar. The two have been friends for many years and always shared a passion for motorcycles.
“It actually started as a joke,” Meyrowitsch recounts. “I suggested to Sohail, who is now the vice president of the club, that we should start the world’s first Jewish-Muslim motorcycle club. But he loved the idea right away and suggested we establish it as an old-school motorcycle club, with a club patch, leather vests, and a traditional club structure and hierarchy,” he adds.
Meyrowitsch, who is now the club’s president, grew up in a traditional Jewish family just outside of Copenhagen and has had an affinity for motorcycles most of his life. He says it’s always been important to him to break with cultural stereotypes about religious minorities. And his club is doing just that.
“We want to show people that just because we are Jews and Muslims, we aren’t that different from any other Danes,” he says. “Although I’ve never experienced much racism, I did find a certain distance between Jews and Muslims in Denmark – and it’s a shame. That’s why our club is a good way to show that it doesn’t have to be like that.”
- This is the most radical experiment Israeli-Arab society has undergone
- Why combating Islamophobia is so important to this U.S. Jewish lawmaker
- Why Israel's top political Islamist is so comfortable talking about a Jewish state
Said Idrissi, 52, was born in Morocco but spent most of his life in Denmark, growing up in a traditional Muslim family in one of Copenhagen’s toughest neighborhoods, Sydhavnen. When he heard that the first Jewish-Muslim biker club was about to be established, he knew he wanted to join straight away.
“When I grew up, I often heard that Jews and Muslims don’t get along,” says Idrissi, who works as a carpenter. “Unfortunately, I’ve also heard Muslims saying that you can’t trust Jews. And many of them live in areas where there are no Jews, so they have no idea who they really are. But when I tell them about this club, they’re curious about it. They want to know what it’s all about. I always make a point of passing on my positive experiences to them,” Idrissi notes.
He currently holds the title “road captain” – or, in layman’s terms, club organizer. Idrissi is responsible for checking for any possible delays on the planned weekly tours throughout the season, which starts in March and ends in October. They often include visits to Jewish, Muslim and Christian institutions in Denmark: they’ve visited churches, mosques, synagogues, museums and cemeteries across this small country, and were invited to the annual Jewish culture festival in Copenhagen, where they fielded questions about the club and their efforts to promote coexistence.
One of their traditions is to mark Ramadan together. “When we arrange longer rides during Ramadan, those who aren’t Muslims do a lite version of fasting, so they stop eating from noon to 10 P.M. – just to see what it feels like and to learn about our tradition,” Idrissi explains.
The club also meets on Hanukkah, sharing stories about the ancient Jewish holiday, something Idrissi takes great pleasure in. “It’s been really exciting to learn about Judaism and to see how many similarities there are with Islam,” he says. “Learning about each other is one of the core reasons for this club’s existence. I went to my first bar mitzvah ever recently, which I was curious about. It’s one of those things I’ve always seen on film but had never actually experienced. It was really interesting to finally see it,” he recounts.
Last May, Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, and one of the country’s leading imams, Abdul Wahid Pedersen, actually rode with the club, visiting an Islamic center and Jewish cemetery outside of Copenhagen. Abdul rode on his Harley Davidson, while Jair joined the tour as a backseat passenger on Abdul’s bike. The two religious authorities spoke to audiences about coexistence and greater dialogue between Jews and Muslims.
The president of Denmark’s Jewish community, Henri Goldstein, calls the rabbi’s bike trip with the imam and MuJu & Co. a positive development. ”I think coexistence initiatives promoted by a motorcycle club is unusual but an amusing idea. New and untraditional events can open many doors. The Jewish community has welcomed MuJu & Co., but it’s not a central element in Danish-Jewish life. I see it as a good initiative.”
Like many countries in Europe, Denmark’s Muslim community is much larger than its Jewish one. Estimates put the number of Muslims at around 320,000, while the Jewish community numbers is believed to total some 6,000. And while there are very few antisemitic attacks in the country, every so often there are ugly incidents. On Kristallnacht in 2019, for instance, a right-wing extremist vandalized 84 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery.
Since then, the motorcycle club has guarded Copenhagen’s Jewish cemeteries each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (aka the November pogrom). Idrissi, who has been politically active on the municipal level for a centrist Danish party, is fully aware that there are forces trying to widen the gap between Jews and Muslims.
“It always annoyed me to see politicians on social media, capitalizing on the differences between the two minorities,” he says. “That’s why we want to tell a positive story: that it’s possible to coexist and enjoy life together, despite our differences.”
The club is trying to promote coexistence and steer clear of any political discussions, which is why neither Idrissi nor Meyrowitsch choose to comment on how events in Israel affect the club, such as last year’s 11-day flare-up between Israel and Islamist forces led by Hamas in Gaza.
Meyrowitsch notes, though, that there are forces in Denmark trying to divide the religious minorities. “I agree with Said about the right-wing national conservatives playing Jews and Muslims against each other for their own political benefit,” he says. “This affected me, which is one of the reasons why I think this club is important – to counter this negative narrative. Because Jews and Muslims interact in a friendly way every day; there’s nothing unique about this. The difference is that we do it in a very visible way.”
Like many biker clubs, MuJu & Co. won’t reveal how many members it has, but Idrissi and Meyrowitsch say that about a dozen bikers showed up for a Ramadan event on the island of Bornholm. It’s also, unlike many biker clubs, not exclusively for men. Each applicant is assessed by the board, regardless of sex or religious orientation.
Around a third of the members are Jewish and another third Muslim. Everyone, however, is committed to promoting coexistence. The club is currently planning its future adventures, which would see the bikers venturing beyond Denmark’s borders.
“We actually discussed riding our bikes to Poland, to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, and to see Krakow as well,” Meyrowitsch says. “We’ve also discussed doing some sort of a peace tour to the Middle East one day, if it’s possible.”