Switzerland : Imams “helvetized”

Source: FSSPX News


The imams who preach in the mosques of Switzerland should be trained in Swiss universities. Fr. Agnell Rickenmann, general secretary of the Swiss Bishops Conference (CES), declared himself convinced of this necessity in an interview given to NZZ am Sonntag, and reported by Apic on November 21. In his opinion, structures should be set up in Switzerland in order to train imams. This idea is also being considered by the Federation of Protestant Churches of Switzerland (FEPS) and the major political parties.

 The only exception on the political scene: Ueli Maurer, president of Democratic Union of the Center (UDC), is fundamentally against. He considers that such training has no place in a “Christian country” like Switzerland. Ueli Maurer does not believe that imams trained in Switzerland would be less radical than their foreign counterparts. “A certain fanaticism is a part of this religion. Training in Switzerland will change nothing!”

 Rather than control places of worship and ban the entry of imams considered to be fundamentalist into Switzerland, the Swiss churches are proposing university training for imams in Switzerland. The demand by muslims for the formation of preachers or imams in Switzerland is “justified”, according to Fr. Agnell Rickenmann. In his view, it actually makes a big difference whether or not a preacher knows the local culture. We are well and truly faced with two different worlds, when we see an Imam in an Albanian mosque who moves into a European cultural context, or an Arab preacher who speaks none of the languages of Switzerland and scarcely any English. Which is why structures are necessary in Switzerland in order to train these preachers.

 Markus Sahli, director of interior relations at FEPS, is of the same opinion. The Protestant pastor considers that the integration of Muslims into a liberal society such as Switzerland is important. Muslim preachers must therefore also be formed in Switzerland, and “not end up just anywhere”. It would guarantee that the imams would master the country’s language and get to know Swiss habits and customs, for example, in matters concerning the place of women in society.

 The main Swiss political parties – with the exception of the UDC – have also declared themselves in favor of training for imams in Swiss universities. The president of the Christian Democrats (PDC), Doris Leuthard, expressed the hope that such a formation would have “a positive effect”, the NZZ reported. The president of the socialist party, Hans-Jürg Fehr, considers that, because of the large numbers of Muslims in Switzerland, the need for well-trained personnel is being felt.

 According to the NZZ am Sonntag, discussions are currently taking place at the University of Basel with the Academy of Islamic Religious Education (IRPA) at Vienna. The question is to see if a scientific foundation of imams can be established at Basel. In Austria, where since 1979, Islam has been an official religion recognized by the State, the IRPA trains Muslim preachers.

 Farhad Afshar, co-president of Coordination of Muslim Organizations in Switzerland, advocates the creation of an institute of Islamic theology attached to a university. This sociologist from Bern University, considers that Switzerland, a country with no colonial past, would be an ideal place for the creation of such an institute, which would permit European Muslims to receive a theological formation locally and no longer, as is the current situation, in Egypt or Iran.

 Farhad Afshar sees this institute integrated with a State university. The teaching personnel would have to be recognized as well from the Swiss and European point of view as from the Islamic. He considers that such a formation would reinforce the integration of Muslims. “The religious training of Muslims,” he thinks, “would then no longer be in the hands of religious arriving from abroad and not familiar with the context of Western Europe, but Muslims from here, born and educated in this country.” He has already made his plans known several years ago, at the universities of Basel, Bern, Lucerne and Geneva.

 According to the last federal census, in the year 2000, there were 310,000 Muslims in Switzerland, that is around 4.3% of the population. 88% of these people are foreigners, 45% are women. According to current estimations, there are more than 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, as this population has continued to grow since the year 2000, and the federal census does not take into account people without a legal residence permit. Approximately half of the Muslims in Switzerland (200,000) come from the former Yugoslavia; 80,000 are of Turkish origin and 40,000 come from Arab regions. Switzerland’s Muslims come from more than fifty countries. They are organized into 160 communities, founded principally on ethnic and national criteria. It is for this reason that it is difficult to found a national organization of Muslims in Switzerland, just as it is in other countries.

 According to Samuel-Martin Behloul, specialist in religions – notably Islam – at the University or Lucern, quoted in NZZ am Sonntag, the vast majority of Muslims living in Switzerland qualify as moderates. But some “radical” Muslims – a very small number – could however cause major trouble.

 For Agnell Rickenmann, the current debate on Islam represents an opportunity for the Church. “The presence of Islam obliges us to become aware again of our own roots. Our legal tradition, the rights of the human person, these are all benefits of our Christian tradition and the Enlightenment”. Such values are acknowledged by many people only when they come under attack. He believes that the Church must stop being embarassed and constantly excusing herself when taking a stand for her values. The general secretary of the CES actually believes that the Muslims are helping us to rediscover our own identity. “If we succeed, then we also have a good basis for surmounting our conflicts with Islam.” – No comment.

 A survey in the SonntagsBlick on November 28, revealed that the vast majority of the Swiss are not worried about the presence of Islam, only 16% think otherwise. 1,100 people from 15 to 74 years of age, from all regions of Switzerland, were asked about Islam: 76% did not consider the presence of 400,000 Muslims in their country to be a threat. 61% approved of the idea of a university chair for the formation of Muslim “clergy”, but only 54% in the French speaking region. 30% of those asked were opposed to it. Commenting on the survey, the president of the Coordination of Muslim Organizations in Switzerland, Farhad Afshar, affirmed that Swiss citizens were very tolerant of minorities.

 In spite of this, three members of the Islamic Center of Vissigen in Sion, in the canton of Valais were the object of a criminal denunciation on account of their radical speeches and incitement to racial hatred. A complaint was filed against them by two Muslims, one of whom is the head of the El Falah association, who runs this center.

 Jean-René Fournier, a state councillor, confirmed to the daily newspaper of Valais, Le Novelliste of November 27, that he had filed a criminal accusation with the cantonal examining magistrate, after having examined the complaints filed against these Muslin preachers. “The factors indicated concern the public incitement to commit a crime or to violence, as well as racial discrimination,” he said. “It will have tobe proved that the facts indicated by these two accusations are false. If this is not the case, we will take very severe administrative action,” he said.

 “I have filed this complaint following threats and verbal aggression to me and my family, because I refused to allow one of these three people to preach without my permission,” said Mohammed Tounsi, president of El Fatah. The other person who filed a complaint was even more explicit about the attitude of the preachers. It is Fatiha Jordan, of Sion. “These three people have behaved violently towards some members of our community. One of them attacked me, calling me a westernized whore, because I do not wear the veil and I go to the swimming pool and that I am one of the few women to go to the center,” she told Le Nouvelliste. “They demonize Westerners. According to them the law of Allah is superior to all State Constitutions. Western influence is harmful to Islam and a source of depravity and debauchery.”