Spain has devised a school textbook it calls unique in Europe — a primer for Muslim first-graders to learn about Islam but do so in the local language and thus not feel like outsiders, officials said Wednesday.
A first run of 15,000 copies of the Spanish-language book "Discovering Islam" was printed as part of the project, said Jose Manuel Lopez, managing director of the Pluralism and Harmony Foundation, which is part of the Justice Ministry. The ministry oversees religious issues.
The book, written by a Spanish Muslim leader and financed by the foundation, was exhibited at the Frankfurt book fair this month and drew keen interest from people in other European countries. The same thing happened when it was formally unveiled in Spain on Tuesday, as representatives of the governments of Germany, France and Italy attended the ceremony, Lopez said.
"Europe has 40 million Muslims and governments don't know what to do to assimilate them," Lopez said in an interview. "This book is a hint."
In other European Union countries with significant Muslim immigrant communities, primers on Islam are written in Arabic or French if they exist at all, Lopez said.
Indeed, in major EU countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy, there is nothing equivalent to the book now out in Spain, officials in those nations said.
The idea in Spain is to help Muslim children in public schools learn about their faith in Spanish and thus integrate better into society, Lopez said.
Spain has a Muslim community of around 800,000 people out of a total population of 44 million.
But only an estimated 3,500 Muslim first-graders — 6-year-olds — study Islam formally in public schools and there are only 33 teachers who give those classes, Lopez said.
Under Spain's system of giving self-rule to its regions, some of these have complete say over their education systems. Others still depend on the Education Ministry in Madrid.
And it in these latter regions — mainly in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the coast of Morocco — where a handful of Muslim children are taught Islam in public schools.
In larger, powerful ones like Madrid, there is no formal teaching of Islam in public schools even though the law says that if 10 families at a given school ask for classes in Islam for their children, the school has to provide them.
Riay Tatary, the Spanish Muslim leader who wrote the primer, complained at its unveiling Tuesday that the Madrid region still offers no classes in Islam, despite 6,000 requests for such schooling.
The vast majority of Spain's Muslims are immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. But it is just a matter of time before the country has a significant native-born population of Muslims, and the government aims to be ready for that new duality — children who are both Muslim and as Spanish as any of their classmates.
"What we want to do is integrate the Muslim students," Lopez said.
Source: IHT (English)