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Muslim schools seek funding from Saudi "fundamentalists"

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15:11 CEST+02:00
The Swedish Radio programme 'Kaliber' reported on Sunday that "almost all" Islamic schools and congregations in Sweden have contacted potential sponsors in Saudi Arabia. Many of these Saudi foundations ask for influence in return. However, an expert thinks the chances are slight that violent organisations will gain a foothold in Sweden's muslim communities.

Islamic organisations have received help from the Saudi embassy in Stockholm to find potential donors. Many community groups can only afford simple basement premises. But with Saudi money, they can build mosques.

'Kaliber' featured the Al Salam school in Örebro, which takes children from nursery age to Year 5 and receives between 150 and 200,000 crowns a month from an Islamic foundation.

In return for their money, sponsors often demand a seat on the board or the right to appoint imams or school leaders. Saudi Arabia practices the strict Wahhabi and Salafi traditions. Women are required to be completely covered and are not allowed to socialise with men outside the family. Men must have long beards and dress in the style of the prophet Muhammed. Music and art are banned.

It's not clear how many schools or other organisations have accepted sponsorship or acceded to demands of influence. But four of Sweden's eleven islamic schools have said that they wouldn't accept donations if demands were attached. Two headmasters have said they wouldn't accept gifts from Saudi sources because the country was associated with terrorism.

Now the government have taken an interest in the issue. Schools minister, Ibrahim Baylan, was concerned that teaching could be affected:

"Our legislation is very clear. In order to qualify for state support, a school's syllabus should be objective and comprehensive. Schools shouldn't alter their teaching in return for money. It's Skolverket's job to make sure that doesn't happen and I'll check to see if they've received any reports on this issue."

Children and young people's minister, Lena Hallengren, also expressed concern. She said that it was primarily the responsibility of the Muslim communities to consider the implications of accepting sponsorship.

"It's a serious matter if these Saudi sponsors are making demands which don't match the community's beliefs," she said. "The government provides a total of 50m crowns in funding to faith organisations and we'll never be able to compete with Saudi billions," she continued.

But Jan Hjärpe, professor in Islamic studies, thinks any fears that fundamentalist or terrorist organisations will infiltrate Sweden's muslim communities are exaggerated. And he doesn't think muslim parents would allow such a development in their children's schools

"Saudi Arabia is very anxious that extreme, violent groups are not allowed to spread. Obviously they don't stand for the most liberal form of Islam either, but parents are more interested in the children getting a career."

Mehmed Kaplan of Sweden's Young Muslims feels the Swedish government could help the financial difficulties of many community groups by being more creative with their funding:

"I think it's up to the government to come up with a constructive solution, for example by providing some form of state credit."

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Sveriges Radio

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