There are 26 Muslim schools in Denmark. While they operate independently of the public schools, the state sponsors them heavily -- as it does other independent schools in Denmark -- covering 75 % of their budget. The demand for Muslim schools in Denmark has grown in the last decade, as Muslim schools have increased their number of pupils by almost 50% since 2007; they now cater to almost 5,000 pupils. (It is unknown, however, how many Muslim children learn in the so-called "Koran schools," where Islam and Arabic are taught after school to those children who do not attend a Muslim day school. Koran schools -- as revealed in the Danish TV documentary "Sharia in Denmark") -- are not under any supervision from state or municipal authorities).
Danish educational authorities are currently investigating seven Muslim schools for failing to follow the laws of independent schools, including the requirement that they prepare the students for life in Danish society, and teaching them about democracy and gender equality. That amounts to more than one quarter of all Muslim schools. The first Muslim school opened in Denmark in 1980. Nearly forty years later, Danish politicians appear to be only beginning to comprehend or take seriously the challenges that several of these schools present to Danish society.
Danish news outlets exposed some of those challenges this summer:
The school leader at Al Quds School in Copenhagen, Waleed Houji, posted anti-Semitic images from the Muslim terrorist organization Hamas on his Facebook profile. A class teacher at that same school, Naji Dyndgaard, a convert, wrote anti-Semitic posts on Facebook.
Another school, the Iqra School, is being investigated by Danish school authorities for not preparing children to become part of Danish society. The school's former deputy leader, imam Shahid Mehdi, ran a website telling Muslims not to have non-Muslim friends. The school also told its students that having a boyfriend or girlfriend was forbidden.
The Nord-Vest Private School in Copenhagen came under investigation by Danish authorities during an unannounced visit after teaching materials were found extolling jihad and encouraging young people to wage it.
The school is also being investigated for the sale of its buildings to Ali Laibi Jabbar in December 2016 -- Jabbar is a leading member of the Almuntadar Muslim association in Malmö, Sweden, which is a part of Iranian Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's organization, the Imam Ali foundation. Jabbar claims he only bought the buildings for investment purposes. At the beginning of September, the former leader of the school, Luqman Pedersen, a Danish convert to Islam, admitted to the authorities that the school wishes to create a parallel Muslim society; he also told them that the plan of the new buyer is to transform the buildings into an Islamic cultural center, which would include the school.
Two former teachers at the Nord-Vest school, Henriette Baden Hesselmann and Gitte Luttinen Ørnkow, described how the children at the school spoke of Danes in terms of "them and us". In a school poetry contest in 2008, several of the children composed poems that detailed their wish to beat up and break the legs and hands of the "Danish pigs". The former teachers described a school culture of intimidation and violence, with the head of the school board yelling at the students in Arabic and beating them. The former teachers added that all their students admitted that they were also beaten at home. The Jew-hatred was unmistakable, as the geography teacher discovered when he almost had to give up teaching a lesson about Israel due to the students' hostility. Another teacher was told not to draw stars in the children's books as a way of showing the children that they had done well, since the star was reminiscent of the Star of David. The girls were not allowed to participate in swimming lessons, sports, or music lessons.
One of the former teachers said:
"In general, large portions of the teaching were censored. I teach religion, but I was not allowed to teach Christianity. Instead, a visiting imam from Iraq taught Christianity... I could imagine that some of the boys I taught could have been radicalized."
The teachers tried to alert both politicians and authorities to some of the problems they had witnessed, but no one would listen.
Following these revelations, several Danish opposition parties, including the Social Democrats, now wish to outlaw Muslim schools completely. According to Mette Frederiksen, leader of the Social Democratic party:
"...it's not a good idea with Muslim schools. When you are a child in Denmark, it is incredibly important that you grow up in Danish culture and Danish everyday life. No matter how you spin it, an independent school based on Islam is not part of the majority culture in Denmark... Nor do I like the lack of equality in schools and these very hateful words against our Jewish minorities. It emphasizes that we have parallel societies."
The government, however, is not enthusiastic; it says it fears that closing the schools would be unconstitutional and contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mette Frederiksen, leader of Denmark's Social Democratic party, says "When you are a child in Denmark, it is incredibly important that you grow up in Danish culture and Danish everyday life... an independent school based on Islam is not part of the majority culture in Denmark... Nor do I like the lack of equality in schools and these very hateful words against our Jewish minorities." (Image source: News Oresund/Flickr)
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.