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3 Background to IRE Within the Framework of the Swedish School System
private matter rather than a public one. In a secular country like Sweden, this coincides with the view of religion as a private concern. For sceptics of religious schools,
this reasoning only covers the fact that some parents want to deny their children the
right to a pluralistic education (Englund 1996: 107ff.). Others argue that religious
schools are needed primarily because students and parents from ethnic or religious
minorities feel excluded in municipal schools. In this case the reasoning is based on
a view that municipal schools are run according to a hegemonic-majority view of
life, and therefore they offer minority students only “heteronomy and submission”.
Examples that have been used to justify such a view show that minority students are
sometimes classified as “students with special needs” and are thus excluded from
the “normal” instead of being offered the “autonomy and community” they are entitled to according to the curriculum (Ajagan-Lester 2001). According to this reasoning, minority schools, such as Muslim schools, give parents greater opportunity to
feel involved and to avoid being constantly regarded as different or alien. A study
concerning the matter of “choice of school” (skolvalfrihet) supports this view: parents who choose to send their children to Muslim schools do so for purposes of
security and wellbeing rather than for the purpose of religion. Thus their choice
might be seen as one way of avoiding discrimination and obtaining acceptance of
difference—i.e. as primarily involving concerns over power of influence and democratic rights (Bunar and Kallstenius 2006).5
The restructuring of the school system is also visible in terms of what is understood as equal rights. There are studies that show that while the variety of schools
and school programmes give pupils and parents a greater choice, segregation and
social exclusion have also increased (Kallos and Lindblad 1994; Lindblad and
Popkewitz 1999, 2001, 2004). Others argue that the “market adjustments” and the
competitive situation between different schools, despite earlier showing segregating
effects, can also be understood from the perspective that for many families from
so-called multicultural and segregated areas this includes “an opening in their integration aspirations” and thus an opportunity to get away from areas that are branded
as “ethnic” (Bunar 2009: 230). The presence of Muslim schools in Sweden also
needs to be understood in relation to these arguments.
Some brief background facts about Muslims in Sweden, Muslim schools and
religious education is also necessary for an understanding of the reasoning that will
follow. In Sweden today there are approximately 450,000 people who have a
Muslim background and there are 14 schools that can be defined as Muslim schools
(Larsson and Sander 2007: 71). What distinguishes a Muslim school from other
publicly funded schools is that some form of Islamic religious education (IRE) is
taught as an extracurricular subject for 1–3 h a week in addition to the compulsory
subjects listed in the national curricula.6 There is no teacher training for those who
See also Ihle (2007:50), who indicates that the choice by Muslim parents to send their children to
Muslim schools in Denmark may be based upon the perception that the state school system is
inclined towards secularism, promoting it as an ideological norm.
Of the schools that I choose to call “Muslim”, nine are classified as Islamic in the National
Agency of Education’s statistics, and thus belong to the category of religious schools. The other
Islamic Religious Education in Muslim Schools: A Translation of Islam…
wish to teach IRE in Sweden, unlike some other European countries such as
Germany and Austria (Aslan 2012; Yasar 2013). The IRE teachers who work in
Swedish Muslim schools are either trained in Muslim-majority countries or do not
have any teacher diploma at all.
Muslim schools are, like other independent schools, funded by the state. To
obtain state funding they must not only teach all the school subjects that are prescribed in the national curriculum (including non-confessional RE),7 but also “instil
and impart” the so-called fundamental values specified in the national curriculum.
Transmitting Islam to the Younger Generation?
A significant theoretical educational implication that emerges from the study of IRE
in Muslim schools is the way in which religious traditions change and adapt to the
context in which they are taught, including the role that teachers have in this process. One problem is thus that religious education is often described in very static
terms both by scholars and by representatives of religions. This easily gives the
impression that religions are static systems without potential for change. In the literature on Islamic religious education, for example, we find that the teaching of
Islam is often described in terms of Islam being “transmitted” from the older generation to the younger (Berkey 1992; Hefner and Zaman 2007; Larsson and Sander
2007; Wardenburg 1979: 360ff.). For example, medieval historian Jonathan Berkey
has done an excellent study about teaching and learning in medieval Cairo. In his
study, he shows that education was considered a very personal process that was
deeply dependent on the relationship between individual religious scholars and their
students, and that teaching, through the lack of official institutions, never became
locked into formal structures. There was no solid educational content, curriculum or
examinations, nor were special buildings used, but instead education was focused
on finding a suitable teacher, a religious scholar, who was supposed to pass on his
knowledge to the learner over a number of years. Probably much teaching took
place in mosques where students gathered around respected scholars in informal
five are classified as “Arab” or as having an “international profile”. Since many (but not all) of
these add subjects such as teaching of the Quran or Islamic culture, I argue that it is possible to
include at least some of them in the category of Muslim schools.
Non-confessional religious education—which is, as mentioned above, a compulsory subject in
Swedish schools—is, in a European but also global perspective, something rather unusual. In many
European countries it is the parents’ right to choose the kind of religious education they want their
children to get at school. In some countries, such as Finland and Germany, there is the possibility
to choose from a variety of subjects (various forms of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc., but in
some cases also a non-confessional option). In other countries (like Poland) there is only one confessional alternative (in Poland, Catholic Christianity). In these cases, parents who do not want
their children to get a confessional religious education can let their kids refrain from receiving
religious education. In some countries there is non-confessional religious education, and Sweden
is one among a few countries where students cannot be exempted from the topic.
“study circles”, but other premises and natural surroundings were used (Berkey
1992: 42).8 Although Berkey’s work clearly indicates the importance of the
individuals and educational context in medieval Cairo and he shows changes in the
teaching processes, he uses the term “transmission” when he describes this process
(Berkey 1992). In my view, the impression that becomes entrenched in the reader
when encountering the concept of transmission in the title of his work (not the content) is that it is exactly the same Islam that is transmitted from the scholar to the
student in Cairo. Use of the term “transmit” is not typical of Islamic religious
instruction, but it is often used when religious education is being described and less
often in discourse about other subject areas. What appears to be typical, however, is
that when the term “transmission” is used, it is confessional religious education that
is being referred to.9 However, describing teaching in terms of transmission is problematic from both an educational and study-of-religions point of view for several
reasons, partly because it brings a static view of religion and education, but also
because such an expression tends to neglect the teacher’s responsibility and power
in this context.
To further illustrate this, there is reason to note how the term “transmit” is used
outside the educational context. The word “transmit” is, for example, used in medical or computer science contexts, and derives from the Latin word transmittere,
which means “to send over” (Smith and Lockwood 1976). This is also how the word
transmit, as well as the related “transmission”, are used within natural and technical
sciences. In computer science they refer to the sending of certain data from one
point to another and in medicine they refer to how nerve impulses are carried
through the body. In other words, “transmit” and “transmission” are often used as
technical terms that refer to moving a fixed entity from one point to another without
any other change taking place. In these contexts it is essential that, for example, the
transmitted files do not change. If files that have been shared through transmission
between computers would be changed, we would most certainly trash the software
or the computer, or at least indignantly call for support!
By studying IRE in Muslim schools, there is the opportunity to demonstrate
empirically that the teaching process does not involve the transmission of Islam
from teacher to student without change taking place and that a teacher’s educational
choices and didactic awareness are of importance to what is actually offered to the
students.10 As with any religious education, there are of course certain facts that are
The educational ideas, as emphasized, were based on pedagogical reasoning by well-known
Islamic scholars such as Al-Farabi (d. 950) and Ibn Sahnun (d.870), whose thinking is characterized by “individual centering” and “lifelong learning” (Günther 2007)—concepts familiar from the
current Swedish educational discourse.
Note however that in the Swedish national curriculum the word “transmission” is used for the
teaching of the “fundamental values” in a similar way that transmission is often used for the teaching of truth claims from a confessional point of view.
The examples are taken from the classroom ethnographic work that is the basis for my dissertation Teaching Islam (2010). In this context it involves classroom ethnography that I have participated in as well as observing IRE lessons and interviews with IRE teachers in three Muslim private
schools in Sweden. In addition to these three schools, where I have followed the instruction at
Islamic Religious Education in Muslim Schools: A Translation of Islam…
“transmitted” in their original sense from one generation to another. When it comes
to Islam, this can be the names of the prophets, the five pillars of Islam and, for
example, the words of the Quran, which are often memorized and recited in a certain way.11
Islam is what every IRE teacher relates to in her or his teaching, but whatever
meaning and significance they attribute to Islam is not expressed in the same way.
However, teachers often express their overall objectives of IRE in a similar way;
they want their pupils to become “good Muslims” in Swedish society, to have
knowledge about the history of Islam, to have knowledge about the Muslim religious texts and to know how to practise Islam. This is part of what may be described
as the common Islamic history (Berkey 2001: 8). The names of the most significant
prophets and what they are thought to have done and said according to Islamic historiography, the five pillars, and how to perform the prescribed rituals and articulate
the six articles of faith constitute parts of this history, as well as the recitation of
some suras of the Quran. What meanings are ascribed to these narratives, rituals and
concepts, however, as well as what social or societal impact they are considered to
have, differ between schools, between teachers or even between different classrooms. Sometimes these differences are large, and sometimes they are only concerned with details. Every single teacher whom I have observed and interviewed in
my research presents Islam with a specific content, function and meaning, but when
comparing the content of these teachers’ teachings, it turns out that Islam is attributed different meanings, and thus it has different meanings in different classrooms.
The reasons for this are, according to my understanding, the differences that exist
between interpretative traditions, but also the teacher’s didactical awareness and the
way in which they perceive their students’ situation in Swedish society. These conditions affect how different teachers make their educational choices in terms of
content for IRE.
A clear example of these differences can be seen in how teachers relate to popular music. There are teachers who believe that pop artists such as Yusuf Islam, Sami
Yusuf and Native Deen (Islamic pop artists who include Quranic verses in their
texts) should be used to teach IRE. These teachers justify their choice of making use
of this halal-pop in their teaching of IRE as a way to advocate Islam’s place in a
modern society in which popular music is part of young peoples’ culture.12 Other
teachers would never use any kind of singing that is accompanied by instruments
close range, I have also visited six other Muslim private schools. During these visits I interviewed
IRE teachers and/or principals and participated in individual lessons.
Here it is also interesting to note the importance given to the chain of transmitters, the isnad,
within Islamic sciences. It is, for example, of importance to know the names of the persons who
have transmitted the words of the Quran, since one of the aims of this is to guarantee that the words
have not been changed. Note therefore that teaching and learning the recitation of the Quran makes
up only a very small part of IRE in the schools studied here; in some schools it is not a part of IRE
at all. See Berglund (2010), for further discussions on the teaching and learning of the Quran
The term “halal-pop” comes from “halal”, which means “permitted” in Arabic. Halal-pop is
considered permissible because the lyrics deal with areas that include the key virtues of Islam, for
other than hand drums because they believe that pop music is one of the problems
for the youth of today’s society. These teachers argue that students instead need to
learn ways of detaching from this kind of youth culture since pop music draws
young peoples’ attention away from God, but also because it is often played in
places where alcohol is present and there is a risk of meeting the opposite sex in an
unsuitable way (interview with IRE-teachers 061217). The perception of popular
music’s value varies depending on what interpretation of Islam the teachers adhere
to. To justify the choice of using music or not in IRE, both proponents and opponents not only use the theological arguments that are attached to each of these interpretations, they also use didactical arguments, as well as arguments that are related
to how they perceive the situation of their students in Swedish society. Both groups
also use arguments about music that are based on previous scholars’ interpretations
and on religious texts, but none of the teachers can thus simply be said to transmit
these teachings of Islam, since in both cases the context perceived by the teachers is
very much visible in their arguments (interview with IRE teachers 061207; see also
Berglund 2010, 2014).
Another example—which in my understanding makes it difficult to talk about
the content of the teaching of IRE as something static and also demonstrates the
teacher’s authority, responsibility and didactical awareness—concerns how IRE
teachers address the issue of the lack of teaching materials. There are no textbooks
produced for IRE in Sweden. Teachers must either import books or produce their
own teaching materials. Most IRE teachers whom I have interviewed import textbooks from Muslim-majority countries. However, many of the teachers also state
that it is not possible to use everything in these imported textbooks. Instead they say
that some books need to be censored, or at least modified, in order to become relevant for students in Sweden. One teacher told me that she cut out or copied parts of
different imported books and thus made her own teaching material, the reasons for
this being that she wants to present an equal number of pictures of women and men
for the pupils and that the imported books often had a much greater number of pictures of boys than girls. She uses a method of counting pictures of men and women,
something that has been discussed in the educational debate in relation to textbooks
for other subjects. This example also shows that it is problematic to describe the
content of teaching as something uniform because the teacher is not satisfied with
the versions of the books that she can get, but instead she presents images of Islam
in a way that she believes is better suited for the students’ situation in Sweden (interview with IRE teachers 2005/10/24).13
example, God’s love, love, the prophets, respect for fellow men, solidarity and so on. For how
music is used in IRE, see for example Berglund (2010) or (2014).
Please note that teachers of most school subjects do not use everything in the textbooks, but often
choose certain parts from them. See Berglund (2009) or (2010), for a more extensive discussion of
textbooks in IRE on Muslim schools in Sweden.
Islamic Religious Education in Muslim Schools: A Translation of Islam…
Problems with Transmission
The above examples demonstrate the problem of both describing religion as immutable and describing the content of IRE as something that can be statically transmitted to the younger generation. Teachers of IRE choose their educational content
from a rich variety of possibilities and, to varying degrees and in different ways,
they adapt the content to the context through their educational choices. Furthermore,
the empirical data from the IRE classrooms show that, through their educational
choices, the teachers are able to influence not only how the curriculum is implemented but also what kind of Islam and which aspects of Islam are presented within
the framework of the Swedish school system. Some choices are planned in advance
while others emerge in the classroom. These educational choices will, at the end of
the day, influence what form of Islam is ultimately offered to the students. These
choices lead to adjustments and even slight changes in interpretation in relation to
the students, as in the above example of teaching material where the choice could be
described in terms of gender quota since it aims to show an equal number of pictures
of boys and girls for the students.
One of the problems that arises when a religion is described in static terms is that
this forms presuppositions about how the people belonging to that religion think,
feel and act in today’s society. It brings about stereotypes that risk adding to existing
xenophobic ideas of how people from various religious are, just because of their
religious belonging, not taking into account other significant factors of identity such
as gender, social class, education and ethnicity. It should thus be noted that from a
confessional (inside) perspective, it is possible to understand the use of the term
“transmit” as appropriate, as it sometimes, but not always, lies in the believer’s
interest to argue that “God’s word” or “the message” is the same now as during the
time of Muhammad. From both educational and study-of-religions perspectives,
this is, however, not adequate.
The confessional use of transmitting Islam is thus also interesting to study from
a power perspective. When the concept of transmitting Islam is used for teaching
Islam from a confessional perspective, a hierarchical teaching order emerges. In
several European countries both Islamic theology and Islamic pedagogy are being
established at state universities. This theological subject is primarily targeted at
educating imams (i.e. prayer leaders, but they fulfil, in many countries, a church
leader and teaching function) and the pedagogical subject of training IRE teachers.
These are two professions that are both expected to teach and explain Islam to a
growing generation of European Muslims. However, the students of Islamic pedagogy are not attributed any religious authority as they are expected simply to transmit Islam to the younger generation. According to Ednan Aslan, Professor of Islamic
Pedagogy in Vienna, Islamic education is regarded as an applied science and not a
theological discipline (Aslan 2008: 427–443). This could be understood as denying
teachers the power, opportunity and responsibility they actually have when they
formulate IRE. Furthermore, if we adopt a gender perspective of the hierarchy that
exists between these different professions, it becomes clear that women are more or
less restricted to professions that are not attributed any religious authority, despite
the fact that IRE teachers through their educational choices have great opportunities
to influence what form of Islam is presented to their students.
To Teach Is to Translate
What alternative ways are there then to describe the teaching of religious traditions?
How can we, from an educational and study-of-religions perspective, describe and
discuss both the processes and content of religious education in a way that does not
imply that religions are pre-packed, non-changeable units that are possible to send
from one generation to the other in a way similar to sending files between computers? The simplest answer to this is that we should stick to the idea of teaching, and
detach transmission from teaching, at least when we are not talking about learning
by heart, as is done with the words of the Quran, German grammar or the great lakes
In my view, it would be beneficial if teaching instead could have a clear connotation of translating. The post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha uses the concept of
translating in a way that I would argue includes the aspects that are missing when
teaching religion is analyzed as transmission. Bhabha discusses, in several of his
works, the necessity of “cultural translation” and uses the concept of translation not
in the strict linguistic sense, but rather as an image. His use includes an aspect of
mimicry, but in a slightly subversive manner, which indicates that the original meaning is not given priority, but rather that a phenomenon can change, be simulated and
made into what he calls a “trope” in a positive sense (Bhabha 2004: 212ff.). The
reason why I claim that Bhabha’s use of translation is interesting in an educational
context is that it includes context as well as the teachers’ responsibility and power.
Responsibility and power are of importance since it is the IRE teachers who, through
their educational choices, translate, not transmit, Islam to the classroom context and
Swedish society. This is an important didactic aspect of teaching that risks disappearing if religions and religious education are described as static phenomena.
Using the concept of translation contributes to an understanding of teaching as a
process where you constantly have to choose and adapt, in a similar way to when
languages are translated and the translator must choose between appropriate words
to adapt the content to a specific audience. Hence, the concept of translating brings
forward the importance of the teacher and his or her educational choices and awareness. Moreover, it makes it possible to understand the different forms of IRE that are
offered to the students of the present study. Regardless of whether it is IRE or any
other school subject that is prescribed in the national curricula, translation signals
agency, responsibility and the power that teachers have when they teach a growing
Islamic Religious Education in Muslim Schools: A Translation of Islam…
The Importance of Educational Awareness
In this chapter, I have shown that the study of IRE can provide knowledge that is of
significance beyond the Muslim schools where the teaching is conducted. The study
of IRE in different Muslim schools shows that it is inaccurate to describe religions
as well as religious education as static pre-packaged systems that can be transmitted
from teacher to student without adaptation taking place. I have highlighted the
teacher’s role in this context because it is the teacher who ultimately chooses what
is taught and how Islam is presented to the students. The educational choices that
are made by the teachers have considerable significance for what type of Islam is
offered to the pupils, thus highlighting the importance of didactic awareness.
Awareness of the power of educational choices is important not only for individual
IRE teachers but also for teachers who teach other school subjects, such as teachers
who teach the mandatory subject of non-confessional religious education in Sweden.
These teachers’ choice of content also affects the image of religions that students
may have access to in classrooms around Sweden. Of great importance for both
teachers of confessional and non-confessional religious education is of course
teacher training. There is a risk that if teachers are not well educated in the history
and diversity that exist within religions, they might teach a static image of religions
that will actually only transmit their presupposed views. This is thus a concern not
only for teachers of any kind of RE subject but also for all teachers who teach about
religion in other school subjects, such as history, literature or art. No matter what
subject the teacher teaches, the teaching process involves opportunities and power
but also responsibility. This is a fact that quite clearly emerges when we now, in
accordance with the bill of education that was mentioned initially, have the opportunity to study alternative forms of education. The study of confessional school
subjects such as IRE can thus also contribute to didactical awareness and pedagogic
innovation, and thereby stimulate the development of schools.
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Interview with IRE-teachers 2005/10/24
Interview with IRE-teachers 2006/12/17
Religion, Education and Religious Education
in Irish Schools
Áine Hyland and Brian Bocking
Abstract The character of religious education (RE) in Ireland is intimately linked
to the religious patronage (ownership) of most publicly funded schools by religious
institutions. Approximately 90 % of schools are run by the Catholic Church. This
tradition of religious patronage is increasingly at odds with Ireland’s contemporary
multicultural and multireligious society and raises pan-European questions of
human rights, especially children’s rights, in the sphere of taxpayer-funded education. The chapter outlines the education system in Ireland (little known outside the
republic) and discusses primary and secondary RE as well as current RE teacher
education programmes including the innovative “Religions and Global Diversity”
undergraduate programme at University College Cork. Progress towards the kind of
multireligious RE recommended by the European Council of Ministers has recently
slowed. The Irish Government exercises only limited control over what is taught in
schools’ RE, and there are still very few teachers properly qualified to deliver education about religions (plural).
In this chapter we look at religious education (RE) in Ireland at a systemic level
before describing some of the key features of the “Religions and Global Diversity”
undergraduate programme at our own institution, University College Cork, which
since 2008 has been equipping prospective RE teachers with the subject knowledge
This chapter has been slightly updated and adapted for this volume from Áine Hyland and Brian
Bocking ‘Religion, Education, and Religious Education in Irish Schools’ published in July 2015 in
the journal Teaching Theology & Religion, 18, 3: 252–261 (DOI: 10.1111/teth.12292). We are
grateful to the publisher John Wiley & Sons Ltd. for kind permission to republish the material from
School of Education, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
B. Bocking (*)
Study of Religions Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
J. Berglund et al. (eds.), Religious Education in a Global-Local World,
Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies 4,