The one year course in Islamic theology and leadership will be provided by adult education centre Kista Folk High School (Kista Folkhögskola), situated in the north-west of the country’s capital.
The institution was awarded money from this year’s 'folkbildningsanslaget', a central government grant that is distributed annually to Sweden’s folk high schools.
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.
It was ultimately decided however that the government should not be involved in the training as it was against denominational neutrality.
In the new course, training will be the responsibility of Kista Folk High School, with the Swedish government only involved in providing its funding through their grant. The school’s rector, Abdulkader Habib, describes having religious authorities educated in Sweden as a positive development.
“The need is great. Today, laymen lead most of the congregations in the country, so there is a necessity for people who are educated in Sweden who have both a Swedish perspective and knowledge of Islam,” he told Sveriges Radio.
Malmö-based imam Salahuddin Barakat has also highlighted the need for Swedish-educated imams, and welcomed the announcement of the new course.
“It’s a step forward,” he told news agency TT. “Partly it’s about getting an education in Islam that is locally anchored in order to address local circumstances, and to give students the ability to do the same. It is also important for women, who for various reasons find it more difficult to study Islam abroad,” he added.
At present, formal higher education in Islam does not exist in Sweden, so the course will be the first of its kind. There are doubts however over whether it is possible to cater to all denominations of the religion within one training programme.
While also open to those with Shiite backgrounds, the program will be primarily Sunni oriented, which some argue could lead to difficulties in finding employment upon completion.
“It's complicated. If someone takes the course, who will want to hire them?,” Huseyin Ayata, a board member of the Union of Islamic Culture Centres in Sweden, told TT. “It's the same problem as with free churches. Each and everyone has to start their own imam education,” he added.
The Local approached Kista Folkhögskola for comment, but a representative was not available.