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Controversial Muslim “Parliament” Planned In Switzerland

A group of Swiss Muslim organizations are hoping to set up a national parliament of sorts. The Umma Schweiz, as the representative body would be called, could be up and running by 2013. But not all of Switzerland’s 400,000 Muslims are convinced it’s a goo

A mosque in Olten, Switzerland (wikipedia)
A mosque in Olten, Switzerland (wikipedia)


ZURICH - Some of Switzerland's leading Islamic organizations want to set up a single national body that will allow the country's approximately 400,000 Muslims to "speak with one voice," as community leader Farhad Afshar puts it. But the proposal has raised eyebrows, as much as anything for the term used to describe it: a "Parliament."

Afshar, a Bern-based sociologist and president of a Muslim umbrella group called KIOS, is one of several organization heads involved in setting up the "Umma Schweiz," as the body is to be called. The Arabic word ummah refers to a Muslim community or the Muslim world.

Nicole von Jacobs, who heads the half-canton of Basel City's special "diversity and integration" section, says the term "parliament" is "an unfortunate choice, and misleading." Rather, the goal is to create a new entity that would have the legal status of an association and a democratically elected board. "It's important for us to be in contact with all the different Muslim groups," says Jacobs.

Muslims in Switzerland have been shaken in their rapport with the state since 2009 when Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum banning the construction of minarets, the Islamic prayer towers.

"Pseudo-democratic structure" arouses suspicions

Jasmina El Sonbati, a Basel high school teacher with Egyptian roots, sees positive aspects to the idea but worries that an attempt may be made to apply various aspects of Sharia law to Swiss Muslims. "That is absolutely unacceptable," she says.

Elham Manea, a Swiss born in Egypt, says the fact that Muslims are trying to build a strong umbrella organization is "legitimate." However, adds the University of Zurich political scientist, "we don't want a parallel parliament. They had a very bad experience with something similar in Great Britain, where the entity was basically a mouthpiece for fundamentalists."

For her part, Saïda Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for a Forward-Looking Islam, calls the parliament project "irritating." The main problem, she says, is that taken together the Islamic associations in Switzerland only represent some 10% to 15% of Muslims in Switzerland – "the ones that go to mosques."

"How can a body speak for all Muslims, when the 85% to 90% of Muslims in Switzerland who define themselves as non-religious are excluded?" Keller-Messahli, a Swiss who grew up in Tunisia, asks. It only feeds the suspicion, she says, that a small minority are serving their own agenda "behind a pseudo-democratic structure."

Read the full story in German by Willi Herzig

Photo - wikipedia

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