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Stockholm Social Democrats call for end to religious schools

Published onsdag 5 april kl 09.28
Stockholm deputy mayor: Religious schools make segregation worse.
(3:53 min)
Hussein Ibrahim
Hussein Ibrahim, headmaster of the Al-Azharskolan Islamic free school, meets reporters on Tuesday. Credit: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Leading Social Democrat districts are pushing for an end to state-funded religious schools in Sweden, after male and female pupils from Stockholm's Al-Azharskolan were filmed being segregated.

The call is expected to lead to friction at the Social Democrats' national congress this week, given the party leadership's policy that religious schools should continue to exist, albeit with tighter regulation.

"That's a step in the right direction, but it's not enough," Daniel Färm, who is representing Stockholm at the congress, told Swedish Radio. "Because religious free schools, exactly as we see them today, will to a large extent continue to exist."

"I think it's importance that we make it clear that this type of religious education which they are looking for can of course continue, but not within the boundaries of the compulsory, tax-financed school system."

Under Sweden's free school system, religious groups can start their own schools, which are then funded by the state, leading to the foundation of several Islamic schools, of which Al-Azharskolan, founded 20 years ago, was one of the first. 

The proposal, which has the backing of several Social Democrat districts, reads: "School is for pupils, not for religious organisations which want to influence children and youths."

The investigative TV program Kalla Fakta, or Cold Facts, on Tuesday night aired an investigation into segregation at the Al-Azhar school, which showed staff forcing girl and boy pupils to board a school bus through different doors.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven said after the programme that he wanted to tighten controls over religious schools, but has not gone so far as to accept the proposal from the districts who want a ban.

"We shall now meet at the congress to discuss this," he said. "I am saying that in principle, we Social Democrats do not accept that we have schools which segergate in this way, so we want to limit this. And if it so happens that the limits which we now have on the way are not sufficient, then I am ready to go further."

The Al-Azhar school held a press conference on Tuesday, where they said that gender segregation was not their policy, and it was an accidental effect of school staff getting the more disruptive students to sit close to the front, students who happened to be boys.

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