Still a Long Road towards Recognition for Islam

The Federation of Swiss Islamic Organizations (FIDS) and the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (KIOS) announced recently their intention to merge and create a “religious parliament” in order to represent the Muslims of Switzerland and receive official recognition from the state.
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, specialist of Islam and coordinator of the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, believes however that there are still too many obstacles in the way before recognition on the state level would be possible. He highlights especially the low degree of institutional organization in Islam, while also pointing out that the issue concerns perhaps only 15% of “Muslims” in Switzerland, i.e. those who practice their faith. Moreover, given the ethnic cleavages among Muslim immigrant groups which still persist, he states that it is still too early to begin speaking of a unified movement.

New Muslim Organization under Discussion

13 March 2011

Two of Switzerland’s largest Muslim federations have announced their plans to found a new religious organization with the goal of representing all Muslims in Switzerland. According to the president of the Federation of Swiss Islamic Organizations (FIDS) Hisham Maizar, the new organization is to be called the “Swiss Umma,” and will be formed together with the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (KIOS).
Maizar stated as well that another of the main goals would be to improve the image of Islam in Switzerland. The two organizations plan to create a type of parliament, whose members would be voted in by the 400 000 Muslims in Switzerland. The first election is planned for the beginning of 2012 at the latest, while a commission has already been established so as to ensure that the statutes of the new organization are in accordance with both Islamic and Swiss public law.

Criticism of the swiss coordination of islamic organisations and its president

In a recent interview with Zürcher Landzeitung, the president of the Swiss Coordination of Islamic Organisations (KIOS), Farhad Afshar, stated that Muslims in European countries accept the rule of law and the social order of the country to which they have immigrated on the condition that they are not racially discriminated against. This comment is more easily understood as one of many questionable positions taken, including support for Islamic tribunals at the end of 2008.

Afshar seems alone in many of his positions, which raises significant questions concerning the legitimacy of his presidency and the KIOS. One of only two organisations that operate on the national level, the KIOS ostensibly represents the cantonal federations of Zurich (the Union of Islamic Organisation of the Canton Zurich – VIOZ), Bern (Umma), and the region of Basel (the Basel Muslim Commission – BMK). However, within the VIOZ there exists an important group which would rather be represented by the other major national federation, the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations (FIDS), while the latter two organisations are both riven by internal disputes.

Furthermore, the KIOS has neither webpage nor official office, while its phone number and email address are difficult to obtain. This lack of transparency as well as its undemocratic structure has even led one scholar at the University of Lucerne, Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, to call it a “phantom” organisation.

Afshar’s position as one of two Muslims on the Swiss Council of Religions, as well as his regular contact with Swiss officials, is all the more problematic given the lack of legitimacy of his organisation. As stated by Hisham Maizar, president of the other major national-level federation, the FIDS, the goal is to have all Muslims represented by one single federation, which could then be recognised and accepted by public authorities as a reliable and accountable partner.

Criticism of the swiss coordination of islamic organisations and its president

In a recent interview with Zürcher Landzeitung, the president of the Swiss Coordination of Islamic Organisations (KIOS), Farhad Afshar, stated that Muslims in European countries accept the rule of law and the social order of the country to which they have immigrated on the condition that they are not racially discriminated against. This comment is more easily understood as one of many questionable positions taken, including support for Islamic tribunals at the end of 2008.

Afshar seems alone in many of his positions, which raises significant questions concerning the legitimacy of his presidency and the KIOS. One of only two organisations that operate on the national level, the KIOS ostensibly represents the cantonal federations of Zurich (the Union of Islamic Organisation of the Canton Zurich – VIOZ), Bern (Umma), and the region of Basel (the Basel Muslim Commission – BMK). However, within the VIOZ there exists an important group which would rather be represented by the other major national federation, the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations (FIDS), while the latter two organisations are both riven by internal disputes.

Furthermore, the KIOS has neither webpage nor official office, while its phone number and email address are difficult to obtain. This lack of transparency as well as its undemocratic structure has even led one scholar at the University of Lucerne, Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, to call it a “phantom” organisation.

Afshar’s position as one of two Muslims on the Swiss Council of Religions, as well as his regular contact with Swiss officials, is all the more problematic given the lack of legitimacy of his organisation. As stated by Hisham Maizar, president of the other major national-level federation, the FIDS, the goal is to have all Muslims represented by one single federation, which could then be recognised and accepted by public authorities as a reliable and accountable partner.