Demands for muslim cemeteries stirs debate

The president of the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, Farhad Afshar, has called for a legal solution on the federal level with respect to the question of separate burial grounds for Muslims. This comes following the rejection by authorities in Köniz, a suburb of Bern, to create separate cemetery plots for Muslims. Afshar has said goes against freedom of religion, and is now supporting the creation of separate Muslim cemeteries throughout the country

However, his initiative has met with criticism from both scholars and representatives from the Swiss Muslim community. Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at the University of Lausanne, stated that in almost all cases where discussions concerning Islamic cemeteries had taken place, solutions had been found at the local level. Lathion also raised the point that a large number of Muslims are also repatriated, while Afshar was more generally criticised by experts for not being representative of Switzerland’s mostly Turkish and Bosnian Muslim community.

Some Muslim leaders such as Abdel Lamhanger, a Socialist councillor in the canton of Fribourg, agree that the issue is relevant; however, it should be the object of negotiation and consensus, rather than federally-imposed legal rulings. In an interview with the French-speaking national radio show Forum, Lamhanger said: “when things are imposed by the judicial system it’s the rule of law, but when they are imposed by negotiation it’s adhesion and the building of a future.”

In some special cases, such as in Geneva, Muslim and Jewish communities have fought together for separate plots. However, according to Nicole Poëll, deputy president of the Platform of Liberal Jews in Switzerland, “the issue of religious cemeteries is not an issue – it’s been resolved.”