Sweden’s government is aiming to close more schools owned by the country’s Muslim community in a bid to push “anti-Islamic rhetoric” and allegedly “stop the privatization” of education, a move criticized for selective discrimination.
Earlier this year, the Nordic country’s education minister at the time, Lena Axelsson Kjellblum, told a press conference that her government had presented a bill aimed at “banning the establishment of so-called independent religious schools”.
The bill essentially prevents the schools from expanding by increasing enrollment or opening new branches from 2024 onwards.
Only Islamic schools have so far been targeted by the legislation, which has sparked an outcry from Muslim organizations, scholars and schools, who argue that the decision to close Islamic schools was not based on poor academic performance or other teaching deficiencies, but rather had political anti-Islamic motive.
Mohamed Amin Kharraki, headmaster of the independent Muslim school Framstegsskolan in the Ragsved suburb of Stockholm, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that some 20 schools that classify themselves as Islamic or those owned by Muslims are being closed with only three remaining, which are fighting a trial against them.
In May of last year, the country’s school inspectorate announced that it was closing down Framstegsskolan. However, the school won an appeal and the administrative court said the decision should no longer apply pending a ruling.
Decision made on ‘conspiratorial claims’
The inspectorate’s decision to close the school was based on a report by the Swedish Homeland Security Service (SAPO) with “conspiratorial claims” about the Muslim Brotherhood group, secret agendas and alleged terrorist labels that have puzzled some researchers.
“If I hadn’t had the research background I have, that I studied and researched the Muslim Brotherhood, I would have been afraid of the dark. I would have been afraid of basically all Muslim leaders in Sweden,” the local news magazine Syre quoted Emin Poljarevic, docent in sociology of religion, it says.
“This further shows that we have a social climate where Muslims are exotified and made suspicious. It is a shame that Sapo, of all authorities, has fallen into that pit,” says Poljarevic, who is a lecturer in Islamic theology and philosophy at Uppsala. University.
Islamic preschools were also caught in the crosshairs
Saimagarden’s pre-school in the Akalla district of Stockholm, which is also run by Framstegsskolan, was due to close last August due to SAPO’s claims that children were at risk of radicalisation.
However, the court overturned the move and the preschool remains open until a final judgment has been issued.
Kharraki suggested that SAPO had made no specific allegations about any of the schools in its report and instead referred only to “secret” sources.
He underlined the danger posed by the inspectorate’s argument, saying that if a school is accused of putting children at risk of radicalisation, without any actual evidence or previous incidents, it is “very difficult for you as an accused party to defend yourself because there is no that has happened. It’s something that can happen.”
According to Kharraki, the school inspectorate has never visited Framstegsskolan to observe the alleged radicalization and has refused to challenge SAPO’s report.
Sead Busuladzic, board member of the Nyan political party and its top official in the southernmost Scania county, told AA that the school closures were not about education, but about the anti-Muslim political climate.
He pointed out how the right-wing parties currently in power have explicitly said they have nothing against Christian, Jewish or other schools.
Politicians who, in his words, normalize Islamophobia and make life more difficult for minorities, have only expressed problems with Islamic schools, which are supposed to “stop radicalisation”. By doing so, they “influence public opinion and how Muslims are seen”.
Busuladzic explained that initially the Social Democrats had pushed this issue, as they are “against all private schools”, arguing that the state should run all educational institutions.
In practice, however, only Islamic schools bore the brunt of even the Social Democrats’ policies, despite their alleged general opposition to private education.
In past elections, instead of focusing on issues such as the economy and high unemployment, politicians have fed anti-Muslim sentiment, he said, suggesting the school closures were a reflection of this.
When the bill was first introduced by the government, it claimed that all religious schools would be affected. But in reality this has not been the case as no other religious schools have been closed except Muslim schools.