Europe

Swedish TV Under Fire for Inviting Controversial Imam to Easter Special

On social media, many thought inviting an imam from a disputed school that practices gender segregation and promotes hardline Islam to discuss Easter was far-fetched and argued that diversity appears to be the broadcaster’s foremost priority.

Swedish national broadcaster SVT has landed in hot water over inviting a Sunni Muslim imam from a controversial school to comment on the Christian holiday of Easter in a weekend special.

Imam Nasir Ahmad Arif of the Aysha Mosque represents the Cordoba School, which was previously revealed to offer gender-segregated education, violating Sweden’s gender-equal standards. In reports to the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, the school has also been accused of several Islamist elements in its activities, including compelling small girls to wear Islamic veils and positioning them behind the boys during prayer.

SVT invited the imam along with the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelén and asked both guests what Easter meant for them.

Jackelén said Jesus’ journey from life to death and back to new life was the biggest highlight of the year.

Ahmad Arif explained that he doesn’t celebrate Easter as a Muslim, yet has a “full understanding” that Christians choose to do so. He also compared Easter to the Jewish holiday Passover, which celebrates the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, and the Islamic holiday Ashura, dedicated to the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus, and said it was something Muslims “recognised”.

Apart from representing the ethnic enclave of Järva, Ahmad Arif teaches values at Cordoba School, which in 2020 was revealed to receive Saudi funding. It was also reported to have pronounced religious elements and spread extreme interpretations of Islam.

The interview sparked a backlash on social media.

“It is important and good that the little girls are allowed to sit veiled at the back of the Cordoba school in Akalla. It is important to put feminists in place. Good of SVT to invite their imam for a cosy interview. Quite right to support foundations in the new Social Democrat society. PS. Thank you Saudis for sponsoring the school,” Moderate MP Hanif Bali tweeted sarcastically, sharing a picture from Cordoba School.

​“Feminists think it is important to fight gender stereotypes and gender roles, except when it comes to Islam. Then it is nice to separate children based on gender. It’s apparently so nice that SVT invites their imam to have a warm chat on the morning couch,” another Twitter user wrote.

​Writer David Lindén also questioned SVT’s choice of guest.

“Watching SVT where an imam and the archbishop discuss Easter. Why weren’t the Chief Rabbi and Cardinal Aborelius invited? Nothing against imams. But Easter is a Judeo-Christian holiday. Well, it appears diversity should have its place,” he wrote.

​“How lucky I am having an imam explaining Easter to me. Thanks, SVT,” another one wrote.

​“Exciting new flex by SVT, having a Muslim talk about Easter. I therefore offer myself as an Asatru believer to the next programme to talk about Ramadan! Looking forward for the invitation. Feel free to retweet for distribution!” co-founder of the male website Maskulint Ernst Robert Almgren wrote.

​Others sarcastically tipped the imam as SVT’s Christmas anchor.

​Since mapping citizens according to religion is considered unethical in Sweden, the exact number of Muslims remains unknown. A 2017 estimate by the Pew Research suggested that Muslims made up at least 8.1 percent of Sweden’s population of over 10 million. The Islamic community is also growing in lockstep with immigration from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and the Maghreb.

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