Banning Islamic Schools in Sweden: Backgrounds and Semantics

The Swedish government is moving forward with its project to completely ”secularize” education and ban the so-called “independent schools”, which for the past three decades have been a window for the Muslim Brotherhood and some orthodox Christian sects to domesticate children and young people and prevent their integration into their social environment.

During a press conference on July 15, Education Minister Lena Axelsson Kjellblum said that her government had referred the bill, which aims to “prohibit the establishment of new sectarian schools, as well as the prohibition of so-called independent religious schools”, [[1]] referred it to the” Swedish law Council ” (Lagrådet) for study and discussion.

According to the bill, such schools will not be allowed to expand their activities, increase the number of their students or open new branches from 2024.[2]

Reactions

The draft resolution provoked dismissive reactions from the “targeted” parties of the draft law, especially the “Swedish Christian Council”, which is the umbrella for 29 churches and Christian congregations in Sweden. In a statement published on its website and reviewed by the team of MENA Research Center, the draft law “has significant shortcomings,” a number of which are “discrimination on religious grounds, a one-sided understanding of religion and religious freedom, disturbing confusion between maintaining a secular state and the aspiration to a secular society, restriction of the rights provided for in the European Convention, and others…”. [[3]]

On the other hand, no comments were made by the Islamic institutions concerned with the resolution, although the draft resolution came primarily against the background of their uncontrolled activities, as we will see. The matter was limited to a statement issued by the media office of the “Islamic Liberation Party” on May 6, considering that the closure of Islamic private schools “is not an educational decision based on bad results or shortcomings in teaching, but a political decision with anti-Islamic motives”. [[4]]

Overview of Education and Schools in Sweden:

Schools in Sweden are divided into two main types:

  • Public schools: they are supervised by municipalities and constitute more than 75% of all schools.
  • Free (independent) or private schools: in turn, they are divided into three types; ethnolinguistic schools such as Finnish and Greek, schools with an international character such as the English and the French school, and schools with a sectarian or religious character such as Jewish, Catholic schools and Muslim schools. [[5]]

The majority of public and private schools in Sweden are free of charge and the cost is raised by the state from taxpayers, while there are schools that cover their activities through fees imposed on students, schools of a special nature attended by the children of those with political and economic influence.

The spread of Islamic schools in Sweden began precisely from the beginning of the 1990s with laws allowing the formation of private schools, called “free” alongside the official public schools, that follow the same Swedish educational system and the same curriculum, except that free schools are allowed to teach students additional lessons that do not exist in Swedish schools.

Muslims benefited from these laws, considering that private schools are treated like public schools in terms of financial support and official supervision, and they founded dozens of schools, the first of which was named the school of Islamic Sciences in Malmo in the early 1990s, followed by private Arab and Islamic schools, opened in major Swedish cities such as Stockholm, Malmö, Uppsala, Örebro, Helsingborg, Landskrona and other cities. In addition to the general curriculum prescribed in the rest of the schools, children learn Arabic and have religious education, halal food is provided to students and it is easier for them to practice religious rituals, especially group and Friday prayers. [[6]], besides private schools, dozens of kindergartens have been opened.

Since 2019, Sweden has introduced new rules on the ownership of schools and who runs them. In June, clearer requirements and stricter rules were issued for schools, kindergartens and religious recreation centers, by binding them to “democratic values”.

According to the latest statistics, about 9,000 students in Sweden attend a primary school registered as a religious institute. This is equivalent to less than 1 percent of primary school students. There are about 70 schools registered as religious schools, the majority Christian, 12 of them are Islamic, one is Jewish. [[7]]

Despite the fact that the number of Muslims in Sweden has increased to 10% of the total population, with a census of 830,000, [[8]] they have relatively little inclination to send their children to Arab and Islamic free schools, partly because of the distance and secondly the inability of schools to accommodate large numbers of children.

Independent Islamic schools receive criticism, usually focusing on the following points:

  • Its educational curriculum contradicts the values and laws followed in Swedish schools.
  • Mismanagement of public money and spending in ways that may be interpreted as attempts to embezzle money and spend it on private projects.
  • Some doctrinal behaviors related to a certain understanding of Islam, such as: separating boys and girls in classroom, buses, and swimming lessons, the wearing of hijabs by schoolgirls at an early age, encouraging teachers to fast in the month of Ramadan, which affects their learning abilities, and the poor handling of “LGBTQ+” issues.
  • Some believe that these schools increase the isolation of Muslim children from Swedish society, which, according to politicians, is not in favor of the state’s efforts for integration.
  • Some say that most of those who have established Arab and Islamic schools in the West are not specialists in the field of education, some have even resorted to establishing such schools to obtain the large assistance provided by municipalities to educational entrepreneurs, considering that a large part of the budgets in the West goes in three directions: health, education and environment. [[9]]

Background and Context of the Debate:

The talk about the draft law banning religious schools comes in the midst of a number of local developments and contexts, including:

  • The near maturity of the parliamentary election and the desire of the ruling Social Democratic Party, which has well-known liberal orientations, to ensure its control over the parliament again, through decisions and laws [[10]] in the interest of winning public opinion and expanding its popular base, [[11]] in addition to abolishing the pretexts of the far-right anti-immigrant party, known as the Sweden Democrats.
  • Mounting government campaigns to close free schools; during the past two years, many private schools have been closed and their licenses withdrawn for a variety of reasons, including fear of religious radicalism, mismanagement of institutions and the exploitation of profits in projects that are not consistent with the message of education. The media, especially those that revolve in the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood, focus on the fact that Islamic schools are targeted. The list here includes: The Safirskolan school closed in December 2019, the Nya Kastets school closed in November 2020, two Al-Azhar schools closed in June 2021, and most recently the Framstegsskolan school and the Imanskolan school in Uppsala [[12]]. The city of Gothenburg also stopped funding the Romusiskolan school last June 2021, saying that this was decided with the intention of preventing public funds from falling into wrong hands. But according to local reports [[13]], teachers received their salaries from the funds of the “Swedish Islamic Society” operating under the umbrella of the “Council of Muslims of Europe” (formerly the Federation of Islamic organizations in Europe), founded by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1989. According to the inspectors of the Directorate of Education, these schools violated many laws by the Swedish Tax Authority and millions of Kroner transferred by the municipalities to these schools were not used properly.

It is noteworthy that many of the independent schools that received criticism were not registered as religious schools. Examples include the Nya Kastet school, which was closed two years ago due to its “links to Islamic extremism”, and the Vetenskapsskolan school, whose CEO was accused by the Swedish intelligence service SAPO of being a “threat to national security” and that he “has been active for several years in a group of institutions, organizations and associations loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood”. Furthermore, he has made several statements confirming his participation in the extremist organization, whose goal is to establish a global caliphate based on Islamic law, and neither of the two schools had a registered religious orientation. Independent schools have also announced after criticism that they have abolished religious elements and became non-religious, such as what happened with the three schools of Römosseskolorna that were threatened with closure. [[14]]

  • The issue of removing children from their families in Sweden, which at the beginning of this year blew up an interaction worldwide after the spread of a video clip of a father named Diab Talal with his wife [[15]], in which he accuses the Social Services Department in Sweden of kidnapping his four children and losing contact with them for years. Based on this, Arab and Muslim activists on social media accused the Swedish social services of snatching children from Syrian refugees. Some even went so far as to say that these children are placed with non-Muslim foster families, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, while the vast majority of ideologists of political Islam groups went on to promote a theory that there is a Swedish, or perhaps a general Western plan to fight Islam and Muslims, brainwashing their children, fighting Islamic values [[16]], and other accusations that became the material for a focused and misleading propaganda campaign, according to the Swedish Foreign Ministry. [[17]]
  • Violent clashes witnessed in several Swedish cities in April and May of this year between groups of the Muslim community with the Swedish police against the backdrop of rallies organized by the anti-immigration and anti-Islam movement “Strim Chorus” led by Rasmus Paludan, who holds Danish and Swedish citizenship, during which copies of the Quran were burned .[[18]]
  • The rise of right-wing populism in several European countries, including Sweden and Denmark, their parties and movements have adopted hard-line attitudes towards migrants and anti-Islamic programs since the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when more than a million people fled from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Thousands have arrived in the two Scandinavian countries, where Sweden, with a population of about 10 million, has received the largest number of refugees relative to the population compared to any other European country. The far-right “Sweden Democrats”, an anti-immigration party that draws some of its ideas from neo-Nazis, is seeking to enter the government in the upcoming September elections. The party wants many of those who have been granted asylum in Sweden in recent years to be deported. The party describes the spread of Islam as the ”biggest threat” to the country. [[19]]

Semantics and Implications of the Bill:

  1. The implementation of the law would make the Muslim Brotherhood lose an important tool of infiltration within the Arab and Muslim community in Sweden, often carried out through its sub-organization, the “Swedish Islamic Society”, which runs several educational and advocacy projects for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Scandinavian country. It is well established that the group paid early attention to education as one of its main propaganda tools, as Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a teacher, and realized the importance of education in the upbringing of the “Muslim individual” and “Muslim society”, paving the way for the group’s social and political dominance. [[20]]
  2. The implementation of the law would put the Brotherhood’s institutions under the microscope of the security authorities again, specifically in terms of transparency in financial resources and accountability for spending. Especially if we learn that the inspection committee of the Swedish Ministry of Education decided in late 2021 to close the Römosseskolorna schools, which are mostly Islamic, and the board of directors in these schools were referred for investigation on charges of fraud, forgery of invoices and theft of more than one million and 300,000 USD, a press report also stated that part of the funds of Islamic schools “was sent abroad and spent on Muslim Brotherhood in Thailand” [[21]] which triggered a whirlwind of angry and disapproving reactions from taxpayers in Sweden.
  3. The bill could be read as a further step by the ruling party in trying to contain the far-right by imposing laws enshrining the country’s secular identity, considering that the main parties in several European countries have begun to pick up some of the problematic issues raised by the far-right and take a tougher stance towards migrants. For example, Denmark’s 2019 elections made it clear that the far-right Danish People’s party’s anti-immigration agenda has been adopted by many mainstream parties on the left and right.
  4. It is expected that the Swedish move will be interpreted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s media system differently, portraying Stockholm as adopting policies of “persecution of Muslims”, despite the fact that the law targets all religious schools, including Christian and Jewish.

[1]                 https://www.smt.se/2022-07-15/regeringen-vill-forbjuda-religiosa-friskolor?utm_medium=rss&utm_source=site-feed&utm_campaign=rss

[2]                 See also MENA Research Center’s podcast episode with Swedish politician Azadeh Rojhan Gustafsson

[3]                 https://www.skr.org/etableringsstopp-for-fristaende-skolor-och-fristaende-fritidshem-med-konfessionell-inriktning/

[4]                 https://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.info/ar/index.php/pressreleases/sweden3/81979.html

[5]                 https://www.facebook.com/mahmoud.aldbai/posts/pfbid02G3u38TM5jNQ9b2pxnD6hDFh5JQ7VC7yNUwsqJDjB1aceC7dC6TYpDcPVrdE

[6]                 https://cutt.us/lVFcs

[7]                 https://www.dagenssamhalle.se/samhalle-och-valfard/skola/stopp-for-religiosa-friskolor-rycker-narmare/

[8]                 830 ألف مسلم، يتصدرهم السوريون بـ190 ألف (90% منهم من المسلمين)، بجانب 170 ألف عراقي (70% مسلمون)، ثم 65 ألف أفغاني، 65 ألف فلسطيني، 60 ألف صومالي، 45 ألف من بوسني وشيشاني وصربي، 35 ألف من شمال إفريقيا (95% منهم من المسلمين)، 30 ألف تركي (75% مسلمون)، 25 ألف إيراني، 15 ألف لبناني، وقرابة 90 ألف جنسيات أخرى . https://www.noonpost.com/content/43952

[9]                 https://cutt.us/RmaXS

[10]              https://www.regeringen.se/pressmeddelanden/2022/06/nu-trader-flera-nya-lagar-i-kraft/

[11]              https://www.socialdemokraterna.se/var-politik/a-till-o/friskolor

[12]              https://thenews.fi/sapo-man-bakom-stangda-friskolor-centrala-for-islamism-i-sverige/

[13]              https://www.gp.se/nyheter/g%C3%B6teborg/r%C3%B6mosseskolan-tar-strid-f%C3%B6r-skolpengen-1.51915255

[14]              https://alkompis.se/news/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B3-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%AF

[15]              https://www.syria.tv/147881

[16]              https://cutt.us/O3A8d

[17]              https://cutt.us/GXKEf

[18]              https://cutt.us/0k4go

[19]              https://p.dw.com/p/4AFBP

[20]              https://www.hudson.org/research/9881-the-muslim-brotherhood-s-concept-of-education

[21]              https://scandasia.com/employees-at-swedish-schools-used-embezzled-money-on-the-adult-industry-in-thailand/

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