HELSINKI – Seeking to teach younger generations about Islam, Finland has introduced textbooks about the Islamic faith and Muslim traditions in public schools.
“The stories are set in Finland so that the events would have resonance with the lives of the pupils,” Suaad Onniselka, an author of the textbook, said, reported Ahlul Bayt news agency.
The new book, tilted “Salam – islamin polku (Salam – the Path of Islam), teaches pupils about the Islamic calendar and Muslim traditions.
It also teaches young Finnish about other religions and the importance of tolerance for others.
The book features two Finnish Muslim children, Fatima and Adam, who visit a forest, a grandmother’s farm, and bake wheat buns.
“The status of Islam as a minority religion is reflected in the fact that the stories also teach how it is possible to live along with other people even though the religion and customs are different,” said Onniselka, who teaches Islam at the lower level comprehensive school in Vesala in the east of Helsinki.
The textbook is designed for the first and second school grades. Books for higher grades are currently being drafted.
The Islam textbook has already won plaudits from young Finnish pupils.
“The stories are good, because the girl and the boy behave well toward each other,” said 8-year-old Sami Dirie.
The young child is planning to read the stories at home with his parents.
For 8-year-old Inas Ahmad, the pictures in the Islam book are nice.
The move comes amid calls for the Finnish government to launch a training program for Muslim imams.
“It’s important that members of the Islamic community—as those of other faiths—have strong ties to Finnish society, its language and culture,” said Archbishop Kari Makinen, the head of Finland’s dominant Evangelical Lutheran Church.
He told a seminar on religious literacy and inter-faith cooperation on Wednesday that home-grown imams would help make Finnish Muslims feel at home.
Finland has no ready formula for national imam training programs.
Finland’s neighbor the Netherland has launched a program in 2006 to train imams in an effort to promote Muslim integration into the society.
“We should redefine what an imam does, and the role of this religious institution in today’s world,” said Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of the popular Muslim online community Muxlim.
“People today have a strong individual identity and won’t just accept information that’s handed down.”
There are between 40,000 to 45,000 Muslims among Finland’s 5.2 million population.
Islam was introduced to Finland by Baltic Tatars at the end of the 19th century.
The Baltic Tatars arrived in Finland as merchants and soldiers at the end of the 19th century. They were later joined by other family members.