A new Islamic Central Council founded in Switzerland

A newly-founded Islamic Central Council of Switzerland says it aims to be the main grassroots Muslim organization in the country. The group currently has about 500 members and hopes to win a total of 10,000 participants by the end of 2011, according to spokesman Qaasim Illi. The group represents the orthodox Sunni Muslims and has launched a public information campaign to help re-shape the image of Muslims in Switzerland. It seeks to win broad recognition among the Muslim community and help institutionalize the Islamic religion in Switzerland, officials said.

In the wake of the anti-minaret vote the group organized a rally in Bern which was attended by an estimated 700 people but did not have the support of any of Switzerland’s main Muslim groups. The event was supposed to host German radical preacher Pierre Vogel, but he was denied entry to Switzerland. The justice ministry did not invite the Islamic Central Council to roundtable talks with Muslim organizations in December. The Swiss Council of Religions, a platform for the main Christian churches as well as the Muslim and the Jewish communities said that it would continue to cooperate with the two established Muslim organizations.

Reactions to the minaret ban: results reveal a “turning point” in Swiss-Islamic relations

Swiss voters’ clear decision on Sunday to ban the construction of minarets has generated a wide range of emotions, from stunned joy to rueful concern. Supporters of the initiative said the Swiss electorate wanted to put a brake on the Islamicisation of their country, whereas opponents were concerned about the violation of rights, not to mention an international backlash and possible boycott of Swiss products.

Nevertheless, Saida Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for an Advanced Islam, said the public’s fears had been too great and “hatred had won over reason”. She said there would now be legal consequences, since the ban violated the freedom of religion. The Federation of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland also regretted the result, saying the propaganda of the campaign supporters had succeeded in frightening the majority of voters.

“Switzerland has lost,” said Rifa’at Lenzin from the European Project for Interreligious Learning in Zurich, adding that the country was “leading the way” for Islamophobia. Reinhard Schulze, a professor of Islamic studies at Bern University, said he was “very surprised” by the acceptance of the initiative. He described the result as a “turning point”, in that after many years of going in the other direction, voters had once again spoken for an unequal treatment of faiths.

The Council of Religions, a body comprising Christian churches, Jews and Muslims, said in a statement it regretted the result. People of all faiths must work together even harder, it said, for the respect of rights of freedom, for dialogue with the Muslim community and for integration.

“These are values that make Switzerland strong,” it said.

Swiss Christians and Jews join Muslim opposition to minaret ban

The Swiss Council of Religions, which groups Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, has issued a statement rejecting a call for the country to ban the construction of minarets at mosques. “For the members of a religious community, religious buildings are not only places to gather but also a symbol of their faith and an expression of their reverence for God. For many Muslims, therefore, mosques need to have minarets,” the Council stated in a five-page declaration published on 2 September 2009. Stephen Brown reports.

Switzerland: Religions’ council aims to defend Swiss values

The president of the Swiss Council of Religions, which was set up last year, says interreligous dialogue is more necessary now than ever. Thomas Wipf gave an interview to swissinfo in the context of a new dossier on the changing face of religion in Switzerland, which was launched on Monday. But Wipf says the principles of human dignity, religious freedom and the separation of church and state must not be compromised by the growth of some faiths. Wipf, who is also president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, believes the council can help preserve religious peace in Switzerland in an evolving religious landscape.