The Situation of Muslims in Switzerland

on Thursday, June 27, 2013

Muslims account for about 25 percent of the world’s population. Islam is the second largest religion according to the number of followers, and it is the fastest growing religion in the world. Although the roots were planted by Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) in the city of Mecca and Medina more than 1400 years ago, the religion has spread to far reaching corners of the world and even to places that would not be expected to be homes for Muslims.

Now, I am not saying that countries like Switzerland are not expected to house the followers of Islam, it’s just that the image of the country presents otherwise, so does their lack of connection to the current affairs pertaining to the Muslim world. That does not mean that Islam is nonexistent in Switzerland; according to a research published in 2011 by The Pew Research Center –an American think tank organization, there were 433,000 Muslims in Switzerland. That is nearly 5.7 percent of the population of the country at that time. The research, which is popularly known as The Future of the Global Muslim Population, tells that this is an increase from the 2001 census results that placed the Muslim population at exactly 5 percent. Surprisingly and in contrast to the usual European setting of Muslim populations that tend to be more saturated in certain parts of the country and be virtually nonexistent in others; the Swiss Muslim population is quite evenly spread throughout the country. To me this shows a more intermingled society –a welcome step.

Most of this population is a result of immigrations that started in the post World War Two era though there was a time when certain Arabs settled in Valais –a canton in Switzerland and St. Gallen back in the 10th century. Notable changes in the Muslim presence accrued nearly a millennium later when the first mosque was built in 1978 called the Geneva Mosque of the Le Petit-Saconnex neighborhood. This mosque also has the honor of having the first Muslim mosque minaret in the country. Since then, numerous other mosques were built, but there in stood an expected problem.

The Swiss government, in opposition to international human rights conventions, in opposition to the core values of their own constitution; put a ban on building minarets on mosques. A referendum was held and 57 percent votes went in favor of the ban, and since then no new mosque can have a minaret on it. This was called “religious defamation” and “islamophobic” by the UNHRC, an “expression of intolerance” and “religious oppression” by France and “prejudice” by Sweden. The Swiss Federal Assembly and the Swiss Federal Council itself opposed the decision that was taken under the referendum. It was a clear violation of human rights, and it does not matter that the population of Muslims there is a minority –in fact it was a reason to make sure their rights were not subjugated. This was clear evidence that it’s not just Muslims who need to change their behavior –and when I say Muslims it does mean the extremists - since the ordinary Muslims have nothing that the west needs to fear.

Moving on, the people of Switzerland do have trouble mixing up in the society to some extent –the aforementioned must be evidence enough. According to Francis Piccand a Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs analyst; Islam is generally restrained to meetings in backyards, garages and shops because most of the times Muslims do not have enough mosques or Islamic centers around them –mostly owing to the slightly prejudiced behavior of the government towards such institutions. He also states that Muslims face troubles when it comes to residences and work permits –another attempt to limit the inclusion and propagating exclusion. All this is mostly because of the exclusivists among Christians who are the majority and other hardliners among the public. Muslims on the other hand, hope for their rights and freedom of expression that the west –including Switzerland, advocates all over the world; they urge the majority to allow inclusion.

The story is the same as it is with many other countries where Muslims are a minority. Hence, I suggest the same solution; a joint dialogue. There are troublemakers on both sides, there are prejudicial behaviors, but there are people on both sides who want peace and harmony. For the people who want to coexist; the Swiss population might need to put aside their premade notions about Muslims and give them a chance. The acts of a few cannot be used to label a whole faction of human beings, and it certainly doesn’t give anyone the right to discrimination against them.

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