Finland has introduced its first official; textbook to teach Islam in its public school system.
Salam–islamin polku, or “Salam–the Path of Islam” is intended for children in the first and second grades. Books for higher grades are currently under development.
Religious instruction is available at Finnish schools for pupils who are members of the established Lutheran and Orthodox Churches, as well as for those who are members of other officially registered religions if there is enough demand for the instruction in the school. Pupils who are not members of any religion take classes in ethics.
Though Islam is offered as a religious class in a number of public schools, previously there had been no textbook for the subject. Instead, the same handbook-type guide had been used at all grade levels.
Suaad Onniselkä, who teaches Islam at the lower level comprehensive school in Vesala in the east of Helsinki, is one of the authors of the textbook.
In the book, two Finnish Muslim children, Fatima and Adam, learn the Islamic calendar year, and Muslim customs and behaviour. The book also teaches pupils about other religions, and the importance of tolerance for others.
In the stories in the book the children visit a forest, a grandmother’s farm, and bake wheat buns.
“The stories are set in Finland so that the events would have resonance with the lives of the pupils. 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”, Onniselkä says.
The different variations of Islam are also taken into consideration in the book.
“There are differences especially in the terminology, so we have tried to use terms that are suitable to all.”
Comments for the book were collected from various Muslim communities and from representatives of different mosques. Onniselkä says that the reception was positive.
Eight-year-old Inas Ahmad is enthusiastic about the new book. Inas feels that the pictures are nice. Before the book came around, they would use photocopied texts and their own notebooks.
“The stories are good, because the girl and the boy behave well toward each other”, says Sami Dirie, age 8.
Dirie plans to read the stories at home with his parents, who have already asked him about the new textbook.
Onniselkä says that older Muslim pupils are also anxiously waiting for their own religion textbooks.
“Having their own book is truly important for the pupils”, she says. “Since there are books for other subjects and not for Islam, they have felt that it is not appreciated as much.”
Next spring a textbook from the same series will be ready for grades 7-9. After this the books for grades 3-4 and 5-6 are scheduled to come out.
Textbooks at the high school level will appear in the spring of 2012, and they might also be translated into Swedish.