Swedish investigator rejects state-funded imam education

Stockholm, Sweden - The Swedish government should drop plans to introduce state-funded education for imams, a government-appointed investigator said Monday after a year-long probe. Such education would represent "interference in the internal affairs of religious associations that are at odds with the principle of the state's religious neutrality in faith issues," political science professor Erik Amna of Orebro University told reporters.

Amna's recommendation was that the Swedish state should continue to build on and develop existing introduction courses for immigrants and courses offered at schools and universities.

Amna was commissioned a year ago by Minister for Higher Education and Research Lars Leijonborg. The minister who received the report would distribute it to get opinions from other interest groups.

Leijonborg noted a year ago that many imams are from other countries and only stay a short time in Sweden. There were also fears that some imams "contribute to a radicalization of Islam" but Amna had not found support for that.

Amna noted that Islam has been present in Sweden for some 60 years and is now the second largest religion in the country, citing the effects of globalization as well as immigration and refugee policies.

Sweden has some 100,000 registered Muslims with various Muslim associations and organizations but estimates suggest there are some 400,000 in the country of 9.1 million.

Citing discussions with over 100 imams and representatives for Muslim organizations, Amna said there "was demand for language training and knowledge about Sweden and Swedish society but there was a strong opposition that the Swedish state should engage itself in the religious teachings."

Of 121 imams polled, 47 hailed from Turkey. Some 250 to 300 imams are active in Sweden and over half had conducted some or all their religious training in Europe, according to the report.

Amna underlined there were many different branches of Islam, making it difficult to find a common stance or adopt a centralized approach. Experiences from several other European countries suggested it was not easy to win legitimacy for such state-funded imam education.