Is Sweden tolerant to Islamic schools?

We now live in a global village and that explains why despite our individual or community beliefs, we find ourselves far away from what would ordinarily be home. Whether it’s for work, study, forced immigration or anything in between, we move miles away from our primary cultural settings. This explains how Muslims too find themselves in Sweden and in that setting would need to be accommodated. But now that talk of an actual banning of Muslim schools has been going on in Sweden, does this point to a trend of intolerance to diversity, especially on foreigners in Sweden?

Looking at Sweden with a keen focus

For anyone planning to move to Sweden, top on the things to get concerned about is how the society will receive you. There’s always a general anticipation that certain members of the white societies still cling desperately onto discrimination and racism. Equally, we get to read about cases of subtle discrimination and aggression especially what has come out as a case of Islamophobia. So when news breaks out like Muslim schools being closed in Sweden, many people get alarmed about the country’s commitment to tolerance of diversity.

The general thinking and talk has been that the world-Scandinavia and Sweden  to be specific included but that may not entirely be true. As an immigrant coming to Sweden, you carry with you some values and practices that may be hard to abandon. While many Swedish people may consider it critical that everyone entering their society subscribe to their culture and leave behind that from their home country, the Muslim community have the deeply grounded beliefs and practices that can’t be traded for anything.

It becomes a delicate balance between achieving full integration into Swedish society while at the same time holding tightly to the fundamental Muslim practices. In order to preserve their identity, Muslims in Sweden, like everywhere else, tend to create a su-society where they continue to live up to their cultures. These subsystems can be in the form of religious practices and even the school system.

For a long time, the world has been extremely tolerant and accommodating of the strict Muslim practices. Indeed that’s the only way to encourage a multifaceted world. But now that Sweden moves to close Muslim only schools means a need to assess what it would all be about. 

Is Sweden ready to do away with Islamic Schools?

Sweden is known for providing quality education which is why many people love to move there. Over the years, Islamic schools have been part of Sweden’s education system for a long time. Surprisingly, the same Islamic schools perform much better in the country. However, the authorities claim that the institutions cannot carry out school activities. Thus, Sweden has forced Islamic schools to be closed.

Threat to Islamic schools in Sweden?

The Swedish government’s main agenda is to do away with privation in the education sector. This is something that happens a lot in Islamic schools. Remember that Islamic schools are the best-performing schools in the country but that is not stopping the authorities from shutting them.

Attacks against Muslims

Due to the indifference towards Muslims in Sweden, most of them have experienced several hate crimes for many years. These people became victims of violence because of their stand on religion. Some of these victims include a 25-year-old Iranian student known as Shahram Khosravi shot dead in 1991. Two years later, there was a report of the stabbing of two young immigrants. The two from Somalia were stabbed to death due to racism.

History reports on arson attacks done on several mosques including the Malmö Mosque. Some of these mosques were burnt to the ground while vandalization on others with racist graffiti. Besides, the highest level of injustice was in 2022 when Stram Kurs Danish far-right party leader planned a demonstration that involved the burning of the Quran. Luckily his plan never went through as the police intervened.

Closure of Islamic schools in Sweden

Since 2019, Sweden has forced Islamic schools to be closed claiming that they were unfit for school activities. However, many have criticized this action calling it an ‘anti-Islamic rhetoric’. By January 2023, the closing down of 17 private Muslim schools took place under this direction.

The decision to close Islamic schools was mainly by a Swedish domestic security service SAPO report with “conspiratorial claims”. The report stated that there was a Muslim Brotherhood with a bad agenda for the country. Muslim authorities stated that SAPO led to the exotification of Muslim society.

Anti-Muslim agenda

According to some officials of the Anadolu Agency, the school closure had nothing to do with education. In 2022, Minister Lena Axelsson Kjellblum who was then Educational Minister announced in the press conference a proposed bill. The bill prohibits religious schools from being independent. Thus, Sweden forced Islamic schools to be closed.

The education bill aimed at preventing the expansion of these private religious schools from 2024. The head of the independent Muslim school Framstegsskolan shared that the bill has led to the closure of almost 20 Islamic private schools around Ragsved, Stockholm.

So far, the bill affected only Islamic institutions. Many Muslim organizations raised their voice against this kind of discrimination. They stated that the schools targeted were not performing poorly nor were they having teaching shortcomings. Rather, the closure of these institutions was due to anti-Islamic moves and bad political agendas.

Other schools caught at the crossroads

Sadly, the school closure is not only targeting middle schools but also Islamic preschools. Schools like Saimagarden’s preschool are one of the preschools that were at risk for closure due to SAPO’s report. SAPO had claimed that children at Saimagarden’s preschool were at risk of radicalization.

Luckily, the court was not in agreement with the claims. The school spokesman stated that the inspectorate did not have enough evidence of the claims. He further explained that there was nothing to defend since nothing of the sort had taken place at the school.

Consequences of the closure of Islamic schools

Al-Azhar private Islamic school is one of the schools that have faced the pains of school closure. The closure of the school came with claims of mismanagement a claim that many parents opposed. Samsam Ahmad one of the affected parents narrated to the media how confused her children were when they heard of the school closure.

Even though parents protested against this move, the decision to close the school remained leading to stressed children as well as parents. Many parents are heartbroken as they have to hire private tutors for their children for the time being. Some would have to pay the extra cost of transport for them to access other schools.

Children on the other hand will have a hard time fitting into the new schools and environment. Private Muslim schools do not have a different curriculum apart from Sweden’s national curriculum. In addition to normal studies, they provide their students with Islamic teachings that grow their religion. The Islamic teachings include practicing Islamic rituals and offering halal foods. This is in order since 5% of the Swedish curriculum allows religious studies in schools.

Politics at Play

Many have criticized the school closing activity stating that anti-Islamic politicians were behind it. The issue began with the Nordic nation’s former Educational Minister, Lena Axelsson Kjellblum proposed bill. According to the top officials of the Nyans Party, Sead Busuladzic, this act is purely political. He further stated that the right-wing parties in power have shown no interest in other religious schools such as Jewish or Christian schools.

According to Busuladzic, the democrats have always been against all private schools. However, due to the normalized Islamophobia in the country, it is easier to target Islamic institutions first.  There were anti-muslim sentiments fed to the media during the last elections that could have affected the current Islamic school closure. Therefore, the action of closing private Muslim schools might not be a current issue. It goes deeper into history as far as the 16th century when the attack on Muslims was clear as day. With politics and racism at play, Muslims in Sweden should brace themselves for the worst.

Author: Tabitha Akeyo