Sweden will start its first state-funded Islamic theology training program in Stockholm this autumn. The course organizers hope it will provide more locally-educated imams.
The program is aimed at introducing potential spiritual leaders with a “locally anchored” version of Islam, instead of any radical interpretations they may have adopted abroad.
“I welcome it, it’s a step forward,” writes Malmö Imam Salahuddin Barakat, in a comment to the Swedish news agency TT.
The course will last for one year and will be provided by adult education center at Kista Folk High School (Kista Folkehögskola), situated north-west of Sweden’s capital.
“The first year is only an introduction. Over, the next few years, the study program will be broadened and deepened,” Abdulkader Habib, the principal explained to Sveriges Radio.
“The need is great. Today, (foreign) scholars lead most of the mosques in the country, so that there are people who are trained in Sweden is required,” continued Habib.
Salahuddin Barakat claims that there is a great interest in higher education within Islam and to become an Imam. The availability is one reason why he believes it is important to get to a higher Islamic education in Sweden.
The institution has been awarded money from ‘folkbildningsanslaget’, a central government grant that is distributed annually to Sweden’s folk high schools.
The principal believes that by offering Islamic training to young Muslims and immigrants in particular, the high school can help raise clerics who are familiar with Scandinavian values. Such religious training will also fight any radical indoctrination that may take place in some Muslim communities.
According to Salahuddin Barakat It is particularly important for women because of various reasons, often they find it difficult to study Islam abroad.
The question over how Swedish imams should be educated has been debated previously. In 2008 the then education minister Lars Leijonborg made a proposal for state-run courses, arguing that they could serve as a way to counteract fundamentalist groups taking advantage of a lack of locally qualified imams.
Currently there is no possibility for higher denominational theology studies of Islam. Salahuddin Barakat says that scholars in Sweden are not sufficiently proficient in Islamic theology and jurisprudence.
“There are few relevant initiatives, except the Islamic Academy and Kista high school, that I know of in Scandinavia. None of them are at university level,” writes Salahuddin Barakat.
Mina Hindholm Imam Khatib School in the Danish city of Slagelse opened in spring last year and was the first Islamic Theology boarding school, taking on students aged 18 and up from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
State-funded Imam Training in Sweden, edited by Tor Kjolberg