SWITZERLAND: No Muslims in the Cemetery

On Monday, The City Council of Schlieren, a town of 13,000 inhabitants on the outskirts of Zurich, rejected a proposal to create a space for Muslims within the town’s cemetery.

Many religious organizations have reacted branding the decision as a “regrettable setback in integration policy.” This is a particular travesty because 16.5% of the population of the town are Muslim.

New Islam-Professorship at the University of Hamburg

22.06.2011
The University of Hamburg established a professorship for Islamic Studies and Islamic Theology at the Academy of World Religions. In the fall of 2011, Katajan Amirpur (40), a German of Iranian origin who has previously worked at the University of Zurich, will take up the professorship in Hamburg. The University honoured Amirpur as an excellent academic in the area of innovative approaches to Islamic Theology. The Academic of World Religions, which was implemented in 2010, focuses especially on religious and cultural diversity.

Switzerland not a Top Target for Terrorism

A recent conference held by the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich has restated the belief that Switzerland is not a top target for international terrorism.
While some participants called for caution concerning the very term “terrorism,” Guido Steinberg from the Berlin Foundation of Science and Politics warned that given the growth of the Islamist terrorist scene in Germany and the close connections between German-speaking countries, Switzerland ought to remain vigilant. In addition, the vice-director of the Swiss intelligence services Jürg S. Bühler spoke about so-called “control crimes,” and the need to be able to keep watch over the concerned segments of society.

Winterthur Approves Muslim Cemetery

November 1-9, 2010

Following Bern, Lucerne and Zurich, the city of Winterthur will soon become the latest Swiss city to have a Muslim section in the local cemetery. The project has been planned since 2008, and following a unanimous vote in the city council it will also receive a loan of 1.53 million Swiss francs. If, as expected, the project passes the communal council, Muslim burials could begin as soon as 2011.
12 per cent of the population of Winterthur is Muslim, and the new 380 graves were supported by all except one member of the Christian Democrats (CVP) who argued that it would symbolize yet another form of separation. Nevertheless, even the far-right Swiss People’s Party came out in support of the project, stating that “we don’t always have to be against everything.”

Government Takes Action against Forced Marriages

16 September, 2010

Following the publication of a report on forced marriages in Zurich, the Ministry of Justice is now drawing up a bill on the issue which is expected by the end of 2010. The bill may lead to tougher penalties, and is designed to improving the legal tools which can be used to fight forced marriages.
Many of the cases in the Zurich report involve Muslim families, however the issue is “not related to Islam as such,” according to Janine Dahinden, professor of transnational studies at Neuchâtel University. “It is more of a generational conflict between parents and children.”

The report also indicates that the number of people seeking advice with regard to forced marriages is growing. This is seen as a positive step by Karin Aeberhard, co-director of the Mädchenhaus Zürich, Switzerland’s only girls’ refuge. “It’s not such a taboo anymore,” she says.

Ben Kader, a Nebulous and Painful Identity

22 August 2010
The Editions de l’Aire will soon be publishing a French translation of Zurich author Daniel Groetsch’s novel Ben Kader. The novel shifts between Algiers in 1957 and Zurich in 2001, and explores the contrasts between father and son, adopted and assumed identities, Eastern and Western cultures, Islam and Christianity.
Ben Kader himself is believed to be Arab during the Algerian War of Independence; however, he is in reality descended from an immigrant Armenian family. His son in today’s Zurich is derided by a travel agent as “not a real Swiss… he didn’t really feel like he had the same culture as us, he was lacking something like an identity.” A book that juxtaposes two characters and two worlds with one question: who am I?

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.

“The Radicalization of Diasporas and Terrorism”

Throughout history, diasporic communities have been susceptible to a variety of forms of radicalization. Indeed, even in the pre-Christian era, ethnic and religious diasporas were prone to religious and separatist radicalization. Since the end of the Cold War, ethnonationalism has continued to fuel radicalization within some diasporic communities. With respect to contemporary global terrorism, militant Islamism, and in particular, its Salafist-Jihadist variant, serves as the most important ideational source of radicalization within diasporas in Western Europe and North America. Within the global North, this radicalization has frequently pitted the political desirability of relatively liberal immigration politics against the core requirements of internal security.

© 2009 Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich

The Problems begin outside of the University

This article introduces us to Sara and Fzilat: two sisters born and raised in Zurich, who live according to the Qur’an, wear a headscarf and attend the University of Zurich. Pakistan, the land of their parents, they barely know – their homeland is Switzerland.

Neither one of the girls is afraid to speak about their religion, or the wearing of a headscarf, while surrounded by other students. Fzilat explains that she began wearing hers at the age of 14, and that her mother had no influence on the decision: “Back then in secondary school I just thought, it’s about time for it.” Though she has covered her entire face on certain occasions, in Zurich, at the university or on the ski slopes she would not, as it simply does not fit. According to her, that is also in accordance with the Qur’an.

Sara, seven years the elder, runs off quickly to the bathroom to switch from an azure headscarf to a turquoise one for the photo shoot. “She has scarves in every color,” says Fzilat jokingly. Sara is what is generally called a “working student”: while majoring in English and minoring in pedagogy and Russian, she worked as an English teacher for large companies and accompanied clients during language trips. Though she stills lives at home, she covers all her other costs.

How is it, studying with a headscarf? “No problem,” they answer in choir. A few looks every now and then, but nothing compared to “outside,” says Fzilat. Sara tells a story of how once while visiting an elementary school as an English teacher, a teacher told Sara to sit next to her and said: “This is what a Muslim looks like.” In the teachers’ room people would switch their accent and ask her “what are you looking for?” She laughs while telling these stories – moments to encourage some indirect awareness training, she says, while assuring that she breaks the ice quickly each time.

Her sister Fzilat would have liked to become an elementary school teacher. Following high school she was accepted into a faculty of pedagogy and began along with two other headscarf-wearing women. “That’s when the knife was put to my throat, so to speak.” While she was finishing a compulsory internship, the father of one of her students threatened to get the press and politics involved, because he did not want a Muslim teaching his son. The school administration forced Fzilat to remove her headscarf while teaching, but it made her feel uncomfortable. After hours of discussion with those involved, she ultimately decided to leave pedagogy altogether after three months. Since that time only one of the three Muslims women has continued in pedagogy. At the faculty the rules are clear: studying with a headscarf is allowed. The transfer to the classroom, however, is full of hurdles.

Oppression of women, forced marriage, holy war – for Sara, none of this fits with her understanding of Islam. “Islam also means freedom,” says Fzilat. The prophet Mohammed said that women should cover their beauty; however, he did want for women to be able to work. “That’s why the eyes, hands, and feet need to stay uncovered,” she says. The sisters pray numerous times daily, go to the mosque on Fridays and attend the monthly meetings of the community. They also find it self-evident that their parents will be involved in the choice of their future husband (most likely a Muslim from the community). “My parents know me the best,” says Fzilat.

And what do the sisters do to try and remedy all these misunderstandings about Islam? Sara’s method is through personal encounters. She is involved in interreligious dialogue across Switzerland. “My dream is to give public talks on Islam throughout all of Switzerland,” she says.