Clergy welcomes teaching of Islam in primary school

Teaching young children about religions other than Christianity will reduce religious prejudice and the radicalisation of young Muslims, politicians and clergymen argue

Members of the Danish clergy have reacted positively to the decision by schools to teach their youngest students about religions other than Christianity.

Danish students used to only learn about other religions once they had reached seventh grade, but a recent decision by parliament has introduced the teaching of other religions, such as Islam, into the Christianity studies curriculum at a much younger age

According to Per Bucholdt Andreasen, chair of the Danish Association of Priests (Den Danske Præstforening), it was a wise move by politicians to alter the focus of the subject.

“Our society is in a completely different situation than it was only a few decades ago so it is about time that religious studies in school is overhauled,” Andreasen said. “I think it is completely natural that the youngest students are taught about other religions. The problem today is that many people are religiously illiterate and don’t know much about the world’s religions. They have a hard time understanding the importance of religion in other people’s lives and in society as a whole.”

The association of church parishes, Landsforening af Menighedsråd, also welcomed the introduction of other religions in to the curriculum for young students.

“In schools where there are students from other ethnic backgrounds it makes sense to introduce other religions even though it isn’t necessarily in the curriculum,” the chair of the association, Inge Lise Petersen, said. “I can’t see anything wrong with it in principle. It would be disrespectful to students with different backgrounds to pretend that they do not exist.”

Bishop of the Fyn diocese, Kresten Drejergaard, said it was a great idea to teach about other religions such as Islam.

“It is in those early years that prejudices arise,” Drejergaard said. “It will ensure both that ethnic Danes develop a realistic view on Islam and that students with Muslim backgrounds feel recognised and of equal standing in the Danish society. Children don’t become Muslim simply because they learn about the existence of Islam.”

Many of the schools that have adopted the new curriculum are in Copenhagen. The deputy mayor for integration, Anna Mee Allerslev, hopes more schools will follow.

“It’s important that we move away from simply teaching about Christianity in the youngest years,” Allerslev said. “Many young Muslims are drawn toward radical interpretations of Islam because they gain much of their knowledge about the religion from the media. Some think that women have to wear head scarves and they have to hate Christians in order to be a good Muslim. Young Muslims can get a much more balanced relationship to their religion if they are taught about it in school. I have long thought that we need to improve our children’s knowledge on the subject.”

Allerslev added that it could improve integration by challenging the prejudices of Christians about Islam.

“Christianity should of course retain its prominence in the curriculm, but I think that our second largest religion, Islam, also requires focus. The earlier it appears in the school system the better,” Allerslev said.

The curriculum change is supported the child and education minister, Christine Antorini, though political parties Konservative (K) and Dansk Folkeparti (DF), both take issue with introducing other religions so early in the curriculum.

“We have to keep a close eye on this development as it could easily lead to a slippery slope where more and more education about Christianity is replaced,” K's education spokesperson, Mai Henriksen, said.

According to DFs education spokesperson, Alex Ahrendtsen, the changes are against the spirit of the law.

“If the subject is called 'Christianity Studies', then students should be taught about Christianity. I also don’t think it’s appropriate that teachers teach English or Chinese in Danish class,” Ahrendtsen said.