Organized Islamism in Switzerland is Worrisome

October 05, 2017

A warning from Saïda Keller-Messahli, a native of Zurich and author of the survey-book "Switzerland, Islamist Turntable: A look behind the scenes in the mosques"

On August 26, 2017, Saïda Keller-Messahli answered the questions of NZZ am Sonntag, the Sunday edition of the Zurich newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Saïda Keller-Messahli, a Muslim and the founder of the “Forum for a Progressivist Islam” in 2004, dedicated several years of work to this book that was published in the beginning of September by NZZ Libro Editions.

Born in 1957 in Tunisia, the author believes that Switzerland is taking too few measures against radical imams. The imam whose preaching encouraged hatred in a mosque in Bienne was not an isolated case, she says. This type of preaching, that seeks to stir up feelings of victimization, aggression, intolerance, and hatred in the audience, can be found in various mosques. Radical imams also bring many Salafist brochures into prisons and into most mosques. “Such preachers prepare the spiritual grounds for violence.” 

Most of the imams preaching in Swiss mosques lean towards Salafism and “represent an Islam to which the majority of Muslims in Switzerland cannot relate,” she continues. For most of them do not want to have anything to do with this world of the mosques and with politically organized Islam. One has to understand the relation between the secular Muslims in Switzerland – 85% of the Muslims – and politically organized Islam: the majority of them are non-political. What is more, many of them do not principally define themselves as Muslims. Just like most Christians, she explains: They do not commit and do not expose themselves in religious matters.

A Stricter Approach to Islam 

Saïda Keller-Messahli believes that the authorities need to be stricter and watch all mosques and guest speakers very closely. Radical Islamists have taken advantage of the political laxity to establish themselves, she explains. Imams and Muslim chaplains in Switzerland should have to be publicly registered. An official authorization should also be required to exercise this function, as well as a formation recognized and approved by the State, and totally independent of foreign influence. Today, she recalls, anyone can call himself an imam. The expert also observes that many of these actors who spread radical thoughts are linked to organizations outside of Switzerland. “There is a system. We get the impression that these imams have a clear mission,” she warns.

The president of the Forum for a Progressivist Islam explains that the Muslim World League directed by Arabia and followed by about fifty Islamic States cooperates closely with the Muslim Brothers and Salafist groups in over 120 countries. The League uses these structures to reach Muslims and exercise its power through the mosques; it also helps finance mosques, Koranic schools, and imams in Switzerland, in order to have as many mosques and Islamic cultural centers as possible.

That is why, says Saïda Keller-Messahli, we need to declare that we do not want any more mosques in Switzerland: 300 is more than enough, and we have more mosques in Switzerland than in Belgium, she adds. Switzerland is a platform for radical imams, she declares. Many officials and politicians unfortunately do not realize the close connections between Muslim fanatics in Switzerland and in other countries:

...they display flagrant naivety in the face of organized Islamism. Switzerland should systematically expel Islamist preachers or keep them from coming into the country. The authorities could also cooperate more decisively with foreign persons and organizations fighting Islamist preachers.

A Growing Public Backlash

On August 27, a survey by the Alemannic Sunday weekly SonntagsBlick revealed that 81% of the Swiss think the authorities are too permissive towards imams who preach hatred, and they believe Salafism should be forbidden. 76% think the government should be able to place individuals considered as dangerous in preventive detention for an unlimited amount of time.

Generally speaking, the survey shows a strong increase in distrust towards Islam in the country. Today, 38% of the Swiss feel threatened by the 400,000 Muslims living in the country, compared to 16% in 2004: a 137% increase. Those who participated in the survey also say they desire more control over the mosques and their financing and increased surveillance of imams. 55% would like imams to have to follow a formation in Swiss universities. For 83%, imams who wish to preach in Switzerland should have to obtain an official authorization. 80% think that only Muslim dignitaries who recognize the rule of law, the equality between men and women, and the separation of religion and the State should be allowed to enter the country. 60% of the 1003 people surveyed reject the idea of the government recognizing Islam and placing it on an equal footing with the Churches.