A comparative study of the Somali culture and the Swedish culture in how we relate to death.

Somalis is one of the largest groups that are immigrating to Sweden. But we also found that Somalis have most difficulties to integrate in the Swedish society. 75% doesn’t even have a job. This is why we choose to compare our cultures. But to compare our cultures upside down, would be too much! So we decided to compare how our cultures approach to something that’s affecting all of us regardless of culture and out of that find similarities and differences in the way we choose to live. So as frivolous as we are, we choose to analyse how we relate to death and out of that try to find – how we relate to life.


To our help, we interviewed five Somalis(women and men) and a Swedish undertaker.

What we found out was that there are major differences in our behaviours that could be some possible reasons why Somalis have difficulties in the Swedish culture.


First of all, Somalis have a more of a short-term-attitude towards life than Swedes have. We think that it can have to do with the instability Somalia has suffered for many years. But we also think it could have to do with the Islamic religion; your destiny is already settled: “Inshalla” – “If God wants”. When it comes to make plans, Somalis can’t really promise to be in a certain place at a certain time. Because there is a risk you can die on the way. Therefore Somalis always say “Inshalla” when making plans. To make a plan for a year is almost unthinkable for a Somali, even if they want to.

This is a great difference from the Swedish culture! In Sweden you think you know exactly what you’ll do for the next days and you regularly make plans for a long time forward. And to be in time is something everybody counts on. To be more short term might be perceived as unorganized behaviour in Sweden. Swedes also tend to have a great confidence in science. It’s like we can avoid death by controlling what we eat and how we live.


We also found out that Somalis have a much more masculine culture than Swedes. For example, women are forbidden to participate at a funeral ceremony, only Muslim men. Meanwhile, the women pray together, taking care of the children, and cook dinner.

In Sweden, everyone (women, men and children) is allowed to participate at the funeral. This indicates that the Swedish culture is more feminine(equal).


Somali culture is more collectivistic than the Swedish. In Somalia if someone becomes severely ill, everyone, family, relatives and friends, will come and visit. It’s everyone’s concern. They will take a plane if they have to and can afford it. And in Somalia you don’t have to say that you will come – You just come. Our Somali respondents told us; “No one in Somalia lives or die alone. You don’t find a lonely Somali.”   

In Sweden if someone gets severely ill, people often let the person be alone with her/his closest family. Often people are afraid to meet the ill one, they feel uncomfortable.
What we also found out was that Swedish funerals are much more personal now than for about 15 years ago. We aren’t as bounded to traditions as we once were.


What about similarities? Both our cultures feel the same sorrow about losing a loved one. We also have the same need to honour the ones we’ve lost. But how can we better understand each other? We think that I we can see beyond those obvious differences our cultures have, and can identify our selves in some level – It might open doors for better understanding.                    


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One Response to A comparative study of the Somali culture and the Swedish culture in how we relate to death.

  1. Anders Eriksson says:

    You have picked an important topic and show some very important similarities and differences between somali and swedish attitidudes to how we end our lives. Good job.

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