OSLO – A long-awaited approval of Norway’s first Islamic school has been facing fierce criticism from far-right and anti-immigration parties, arguing that it would damage children integration in the Scandinavian country.
“I see that there is a legitimate discussion over how separate schools for Muslims and Christians impact on integration in Norway,” Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, the Education Minister, told News in English.no on Wednesday, April 9.
“But when all Parliamentary parties are agreed that we should have a law where religious schools get state funding, it’s a little strange to deny Muslim schools approval.”
The approval of Oslo's Muslim school followed frequent calls by Mothers for a Muslim Primary School (Mødre for muslimsk grunnskole) over the past years to allow Islamic education.
The approval, granted by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, allowed the group to start a new school this autumn, almost a decade after the first-ever Islamic primary school was closed over corruption allegations.
The school “will give education in Islamic spirituality and stimulate versatile formation, on an Islamic basis, with a view to good integration in the larger Norwegian society,” read the application of Mothers for a Muslim Primary School.
Planned to be opened by autumn, the Islamic school is expected to receive 200 students at its premises in east Oslo.
Oslo's Islamic school opponents have alleged that the new school will be ill-fated and will repeat the scenario of the previous one, an allegation that was refuted by conservatives who advised the new school to appoint a different board.
“As far as we can tell, we perceive this is the same application as the last, but with changes in the board,” said Anniken Hauglie, Oslo School Commissioner and member of the Conservative Party (Høyre).
“We are unsure if that is good enough, but assume that the directorate has handled the application properly and is sure that the same won’t happen again.”
Norwegian Muslims are estimated at 150,000 out of the country's 4.5 million population, mostly of Pakistan, Somali, Iraqi and Moroccan backgrounds.
There are nearly 90 Muslim organizations and Islamic centers across the northern European country.
Plans to establish Oslo's first Islamic school were vehemently rejected by far-right parties, urging an immediate withdrawal of its approval.
“I will make a heartfelt plea to the Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen to look at this case again and stop the approval,” said the Progress Party’s (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) integration spokesman, Mazyar Keshvari.
“This is a big backwards step for our city. A separate Muslim school is one of the surest ways to go to get increased segregation in a city which already struggles with too little integration in the first place.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by other FrP members who stirred up speculations about the quality of education in Islamic schools.
“These children need to be in an environment with other Norwegian children,” Camilla Wilhelmsen, the leader of the Oslo Progress Party, told Aftenposten.
“The community is already to a segregated to a degree, and this will not make it any better.”
Unlike FrP, members of the Labour Party were divided on the issue.
The Labour MP Trond Giske, who chairs the Norwegian parliament’s education committee, told The Local: “I'm concerned that if we begin to group ourselves by religion, it will weaken the inclusiveness of Norwegian society.”
“We spend a lot of money on inclusion in Norway, and now we are apparently going to be spending it on segregation.”
On the other hand, Labour's deputy in Oslo’s culture and education committee Andreas Halse has criticized FrP's opposition to the Islamic school, accusing it's members of being double-standard.
“We can obviously not sort people’s rights according to what type of god they choose to believe in,” he argued.
In the recent years, far-right politicians in Norway and across Europe have accelerated their rhetoric against Muslim minorities.
In 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed at least 76 people in twin attacks on a government building and a youth training camp in Oslo.
The right-wing extremist said that his assault was a self-styled mission to save European “Christendom” from Islam.
He argued his victims deserved to die because they supported Muslim immigration, which he said is adulterating pure Norwegian blood.
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