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18 June 2007

Copenhagen: Hizb ut-Tahrir kindergarten

A private kindergarten in Copenhagen's Nørrebro neighborhood had been taken over by Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now it is being run by the municipality, and faces closure.

Earlier in the year Salam kindergarten went on an outing to the zoo. At the end of the trip they received Santa hats as a gift. When the parents saw their children coming back with the Santa hats on their heads, there was a commotion. The parents, who are among the most religious Muslims in Denmark, saw it as a Christian religious symbol being forced on their kids. Some of the parents demonstratively threw it into the trash, while others cut it up before doing the same.

Salam was created as a Muslim women's center to help immigrant women. Salam kindergarten has in the past ten years developed into a purely Muslim kindergarten with a long waiting list. Religious Muslims from all over Copenhagen sign up their children to the kindergarten.

It is a private institution, financed by the municipality, but the parent's committee was the employer, with full freedom to hire and fire employees and run the kindergarten as they saw fit.

During Fastelavn (the Danish Halloween), the kindergarten's personnel bought the children costumes, but were told by the parents that Muslim children will not celebrate the holiday. Some of the parents refused to have their children draw people or animals, or let them sing or dance. The children were not allowed to go through the Christian Assistens Cemetery and were not allowed to go to parks and beaches when it was warm, since they risked seeing naked people.

The kindergarten's and the municipality's ambition to open the door to another world for the fundamentalists and their children were put in doubt with such stories.

Many of the parents were Danish converts, who were forceful and eloquent and even a little arrogant. It was almost impossible to start a dialog.

Last year Copenhagen's municipality decided that they will have more control over private institutions, with supervision coming in 1-4 times a year. Salam's teachers, who were two non-Muslim Danish women, and the administration at the time, which consisted of immigration women with children in the kindergarten, had no problems.

Together they started preparing new regulations and a new operating agreement with the municipality. They wanted to protect Salam's values. The two danish teachers wanted everything to be clear, so they could say that children in a Danish kindergarten are allowed to draw and sing, and that koran lessons belong at home. Koran lessons had been given at Salam for a few years.

With these regulations in hand the kindergarten could ask parents to leave if they were not interested in following them. But the municipality had difficulty in finding legal support for such rules. It wasn't possible to write in the rules that children should learn about Danish Christmas, for example, but rather that they should learn about Danish culture.

The case exploded in December, 2006. In a call for help to the municipality, the kindergarten's personnel said that Hizb ut-Tahrir was taking over the administration. They came up with twenty parent's signatures to have new elections. On election day at the end of January they Hizb ut-Tahrir criticized the new rules, saying that children were taught equality and a democratic spirit.

A pedagogic consultant from Frie Børnehaver, an association for private kindergartens, was present at the elections meeting. She had never experienced anything similar and she asked for a meeting with the municipality.

Four new parents were chosen to the administration, with completely different attitudes to raising kids than the existing administration. The consultant had the impression that there were no other candidates because the older members were threatened to stay away. She wrote that the voting was completely unpleasant.

A new member of the administration said that his children will not be raised to have understanding for democracy. The Hizb ut-Tahrir members also wanted to make sure that boys and girls will not be together in the institution.

By the beginning of February the two teachers had enough, and quit at the end of March. There are 25 Muslim kids in the kindergarten and it is currently run with six helpers. The municipality's supervision stops by every day since there are no teachers there.

The municipality gave the administration two options - either the municipality will take over running the kindergarten, or the municipality will stop the grants.

Therefore Salam today is municipal. If the kindergarten doesn't find a new administration, the place will be closed, and the children be spread out in other institutions. If they do succeed, the municipality will keep the kindergarten open and ensure that the children have contact with Danish society.

"It is indisputable that tensions between what people popularly call religious or fundamentalist Muslims and Danish democratic notions, have been important in this case. Naturally the municipality has experienced tensions in institutions, also of religious character, but all together the situation around Salam has been exceedingly critical," says Jan Dehn from Copenhagen's municipality's Department for children and Youth.

One of the prominent parents in Salam's disputed administration, convert Abdul Hamid Henrik Lund, confirms his connection to Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying all the parents are what the Danes call "fanatic". They want their kids to grow up Muslim so they don't run around and behave like apes. and that they put the emphasis on teaching values to the kids, so that they will know what is "halal" and "haram".

Source: Berlingske 1, 2 (Danish)

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