Swedish integration minister rejects allegations of Islamophobia

Stockholm, Sweden - Sweden's new integration minister dismissed allegations of "Islamophobia" by Muslim groups, and vowed Monday to defend the rights of women who are "oppressed in the name of religion."

Nyamko Sabuni, 37, has irritated Muslim leaders by opposing religious schools and suggesting that all schools ban Islamic headscarves for girls younger than 15.

Nearly 50 Muslim organizations signed a petition opposing her appointment as integration minister, saying her views "breathe of populism and Islamophobia."

"I will not let myself be scared into silence," Sabuni told reporters when asked about the petition. "I will never accept that women and girls are oppressed in the name of religion."

The 37-year-old Congolese immigrant became Sweden's first black Cabinet member when she joined the center-right coalition government that took power in October.

Her views on religious schools, which make up a fraction of the country's 5,000 schools, headscarves and other issues have not been endorsed by the coalition, but stirred debate about the place of Islam in Scandinavian society.

Many Muslims feel unfairly singled out by Sabuni's campaign against arranged marriages, genital mutilation and honor killings, saying such practices are linked to tribal traditions rather than religious beliefs.