The forced closure of two independent Muslim schools in Sweden has cast a renewed spotlight on efforts by Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamists to radicalize children and establish parallel societies that subvert core Western values.
The two schools — Framstegsskolan in Stockholm and Imanskolan in Uppsala — were closed after the Swedish security service Säpo (Säkerhetspolisen) warned that students were being influenced by Islamist ideology and were at risk of being radicalized.
In its assessment of Imanskolan, Säpo wrote that girls were discouraged from participating in school activities and that gender separation was pervasive. Säpo also noted that it was common for Arab students to “express negative opinions” towards Swedish society and “express radicalized views” and “death threats” with impunity.
The school, where “non-Arab students” were said to suffer systematic discrimination, and where “Arabic is used extensively by students and staff,” “does not celebrate” Swedish holidays and “does not teach” Swedish as a second language, “despite the need being extensive.” Säpo also reported that parents and teachers refused to cooperate with the investigation “because they felt they risked negative reprisals.”
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) subsequently revoked the operating licenses of both schools (here and here). In its decision, which affects a combined total of around 300 students, it warned that “children are at risk of being exposed to radicalization” by “being in an environment that advocates societal separatism” rather than “respect for human rights and basic democratic values.”
Although both schools appealed the decision, the Administrative Court in Stockholm (Förvaltningsrätten) recently ruled that they must be closed because they do not meet the “suitability requirements” established by Sweden’s Education Act. Court councilor Eva Furberg said that the “shortcomings” in the schools’ management circles “are serious and of such a nature” that the “supervisory authorities have been justified in revoking their licenses.”
Other Islamic schools in Sweden have also been closed due to concerns over radicalization. In December 2019, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate revoked the license of Safirskolan (also known as Vetenskapsskolan) in Gothenburg after the school hired at least eleven members of the Islamic State as teachers. The new hires included four jihadists who had returned from battlefields in Syria. In May 2019, the school’s former rector, Egyptian-born Abdel Nasser El Nadi, was arrested on terrorism charges after he illegally transferred millions of Swedish kroner from the school, which was financed by Swedish taxpayers, to personal accounts in Germany, Malta and Saudi Arabia.
Säpo described El Nadi as a “central figure” in Gothenburg’s Islamist milieu, the main “recruiter for violent Islamism” in Sweden, and the principal reason why so many people from Gothenburg joined jihadist groups in Syria. El Nadi, who fled Sweden to avoid prosecution, eventually surfaced in Turkey, where he apparently received sanctuary.
In October 2021, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate revoked the license of Römosseskolan, which operated three Islamic schools in Gothenburg, after the Somali-born headmaster, Abdirizak Waberi, embezzled more than 12 million Swedish kroner ($1.5 million) in taxpayer money.
Waberi, who is also the leader of Somalia’s Islamist National Unity Party, allegedly channeled much of the stolen money to Somalia for charitable projects that were never completed. Swedish media also reported that he spent some of the money on luxury hotels in Kenya and sex clubs in Thailand. Although Waberi denied any wrongdoing, in December 2022, Sweden’s Court of Appeal (Hovrätten) upheld an earlier District Court (Tingsrätten) ruling and ordered him to serve four-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement.
Römosseskolan, which opened in 1988 and catered to around 300 students ranging from pre-school to junior high school, had been under investigation for more than a decade before it was closed. In 2011, a Schools Inspectorate audit revealed systematic discrimination against girls at the school: It found that teachers were physically abusing girls and “turning a blind eye” to boys bullying girls. A male teacher allegedly told a female student who refused to wear a veil that she would have only herself to blame if she were to suffer sexual assault.
Subsequent audits of Römosseskolan found gender-segregated teaching, mandatory prayer times and schoolbooks based on Sharia law. After public funding for the school was halted in June 2021, the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Federation of Sweden (Islamiska Förbundet i Sverige, IFiS), described as “the main driver” of Islamist activity in Sweden, stepped in and paid the teachers’ salaries for June and July.
Waberi, a prominent advocate of Islamic education, is a mover and shaker in international Islamist circles. He was once a vice president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), which has been described as “the overarching organization” for Muslim Brotherhood groups in Europe. Waberi, who has served as chairman of the Islamic Association in Sweden, the Muslim Political Forum and the Islamic Schools of Sweden, is also a member of the board of the Muslim Council of Sweden (Sveriges Muslimska Råd, SMR), which is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood through the FIOE.
Swedish media reported that Waberi’s National Unity Party was founded by Muslim Brotherhood operatives who seek to “advance the global conquest of Islam” and “reestablish the Islamic Caliphate.”
In a 2009 documentary — “The Battle of the Muslims” (Slaget Om Muslimerna) — aired by STV, the Swedish national public television broadcaster, Waberi said that he would prefer to live in an Islamic state where politics are governed by the Qur’an. He also advocated for a strict interpretation of Islam in which females must cover themselves in public, men should be forbidden to hold hands with women, and young people should be banned from listening to dance music.
In the documentary, Waberi, an enthusiastic advocate of polygamy, refused to distance himself from Islamists like the late Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who justified wife-beating. “He is much more knowledgeable about Islam than I am,” Waberi said. “I would never say he is wrong.”
In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, terrorism analyst Magnus Ranstorp said that the Muslim Brotherhood’s overarching objective is “all about Islamizing society, creating a cocoon around Muslims, against non-Muslim influences.” He added that penetrating Western education systems is an important objective of the Brotherhood’s strategy. “The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups work through the schools because it strengthens ideological convictions and prevents children from being tainted with secular ideas.”
Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers, a tireless leader in efforts to expose public financing of Islamist groups, told FWI that education is one of the “primary targets” of Islamists. “It enables them to indoctrinate the next generation, enforces separation from mainstream society and gives them a flow of financial resources to fund other undesirable activities. It is a threat to the cohesion of society and must be stopped.”
In all, six of the eleven Muslim schools in Sweden have now been shuttered due to concerns over radicalization and financial malfeasance. Islamists have reacted angrily to the school closures. Some have accused Sweden’s government of pushing “anti-Islamic rhetoric” and blamed Säpo for spreading “conspiratorial claims.”
The leader of Sweden’s Islamist Nyans Party, Mikail Yüksel, said that Swedish authorities want to “take away the freedoms and rights” of Muslims. Yüksel, who has close ties to the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also accused Sweden of “oppressing immigrants, especially Muslims.”
Soeren Kern is Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.