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Iceland Mag

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Why has the ancient Sumerian religion Zuism become the fastest growing religion in Iceland?

By Staff

  • The sign of the Icelandic Zuist congregattion About 3,000 Icelanders have registered as Zuist, making Zuism one of the largest officially recognized religions in Iceland, significantly more numerous than the Icelandic Muslim Association. Photo/Facebook page of the Zuist association.

Zuism, an ancient Sumerian religion has added thousands of members in a few days become the fastest growing religious group in Iceland. The group now has significantly more members than the Muslim Association and the pagan Ásatrúarfélag. The growth of the religious group has caught the attention of foreign media, including the BBC. However, questions have been raised whether Zuism should be recognized as a proper religion or an organized protest movement.

A religion or a protest movement?
The primary reason for people registering People have been registering their religious affiliation as Zuism is to protest current law and state funding of religious groups. The website of the group promises is to re-fund people the parish fees people are charged as part of their income taxes. This state funding of officially recognized religious groups through parish fees has been criticized in recent years by those who demand a full separation of state and church.

The group's website states in blunt terms that the primary goal is to affect political change:

Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone. The organization’s primary objective is that the government repeal any law that grants religious organizations privilege, financial or otherwise, above other organizations. Furthermore Zuists demand that the government’s registry of its citizens’ religion will be abolished.
The organization redistributes the government’s annual financial support equally to all members of the congregation. 

The local news site Hringbraut.is reports that among the members of the group is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the founders of the Pirate Party. Other Pirate party members, including Halldór Auðar Svansson, a Reykjavík city councilman for the party, have expressed support for the religion, saying it is an example of “hacking the system.”

Founders under investigation for fraud
The local news site visir.is reports that the number of people who have registered as Zuists has now topped three thousand. According to figures from Þjóðskrá Íslands the congregation has grown rapidly in the last few days. Ísak Andri Ólafsson, the “Head priest” of Zuism in Iceland and the chairman of the new religious organization tells the local news site visir.is that he is both surprised and humbled by the reception the religion has received.

The rapid growth of the Zuist congregation has come despite significant negative media coverage. On tuesday the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reported that the religious organization has been registered with the authoritie by brothers Ágúst Arnar Ágústsson and Einar Ágústsson. The two are suspected of having defrauded investors through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter where the solicited funding fo rthe manufacturing of multi-use data caples and portable windmills.

Read more: Icelandic brothers suspected of raising 350,000 USD in fraudulent Kickstarter campaigns

Ísak Andri tells visir.is that the two are no longer on the board of the Zuist organization and that the new board is working with lawyers to ensure all accounts of the organization are open and transparent, ensuring members can be confident the parish fees will be returned to them in full.

Parish fees to be returned to members
The primary promis of Zuism is to refund all members the parish fees, paid by the state to all officially recognized religions based on their membership. This fee is not collected as a poll tax, or directly from the taxpayer, but is considered to be collected through the income tax and then distributed to recognized religious organization based on their membership. According to the 2016 budget the state will pay all recognized religious group 898 ISK each month for each registered member, or 10,776 over the year (81 USD/77 EUR). According to the local newspaper Morgunblaðið this means that the Zuist congregation will receive 33,728,880 ISK (254 USD/241 EUR) in government funding in 2016.

Ísak Andri tells visir.is that each member will receive the total amount, after any administrative costs have been deducted.

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