Imams must wait for Swedish education

The Swedish government is ready to invest in the education of imams. But Muslim organizations must first reach agreement regarding their needs, said Education Minister Lars Leijonborg when the issue was discussed in parliament on Tuesday.

Leijonborg’s approach was criticized however by Social Democrat member of parliament Luciano Astudillo, who argued that the time for waiting was over. He felt that a third level institution should immediately be given the task of setting a curriculum based on consultation with Muslim interest groups.

There are around 400,000 Muslims living in Sweden, ranging from the wholly secular to the most devout. According to Astudillo, it is futile to expect that organizations that are as different as night and day will be able to come to some sort of agreement.

“We need to answer the question: what do we want Islam to be? How do we want that religion to develop?” said Astudillo. He also pointed out that many imams who are flown in to Sweden from other countries do not speak the language and do not understand Swedish society.

“It is a dangerous development. If we just let this happen, there is a risk that young, rootless people will be drawn to militant branches,” said Astudillo.

But Leijonborg replied by warning of the dangers of “religious imperialism”.

“We, with our Christian roots, should be careful about formulating what we want Islam to be,” he said.

The outgoing Liberal Party leader also added that it was natural for the state to use tax revenues to finance the training of imams, in the same way that Sweden already finances the education of priests and ministers.

“It is completely reasonable that the state should contribute with economic resources,” said Leijonborg.