Sunday 13 January 2019

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Switzerland

Islam in Switzerland is a rather new religion as compared to many European countries as it entered Switzerland after substantial immigration in the 1970s. However, it is spreading at a remarkable rate from just 1% of Swiss population in 1980., it is now over 5% as per 2013 estimates. Most of the Muslims came to Switzerland from Yugoslavia (most from Kosovo) and Turkey. 

Islam was virtually absent from Switzerland until the 20th century. It appeared with the beginning of significant immigration to Europe, after World War II. Muslim presence during the 1950s and 1960s was mostly due to the presence of international diplomats and rich Saudi tourists in Geneva.

The majority of Muslims in Switzerland follow the Sunni branch of Islam. The largest concentration of Muslim population is in the German speaking Swiss plateau. Geneva is the only non-German-speaking canton where the Muslim population is slightly above the average (4.35%). However, unlike many other European countries, the Muslims are relatively equally distributed throughout the country. Swiss Muslim organizations begin to form in the 1980s. An umbrella organization (GIOS, Gemeinschaft islamischer Organisationen der Schweiz) was formed in Zürich in 1989. This was followed by a number of other organizations. [1]

There are two mosques that predate 1980s. However, since then a number of mosques have appeared in various places across Switzerland. However, of the 250 mosques and prayer rooms across the country, only four mosques have minarets. The construction of minarets was banned throughout the country in the wake of the "stop minaret" movement in November 2009. “Most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, who runs the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland. “Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.” [3]

Living as a Muslim in a non Muslim country has its own pros and cons. Sometimes, one is forced to given in to the laws of the land even if these clash with the aspirations of the Muslims. Herein under are few examples of how the Swiss laws have affected the living of the Muslims:
  • A Swiss court blocked a Muslim couple's bid to become Swiss nationals over their refusal to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
  • A young Muslim man was fined 210 Swiss francs for saying ‘Allah hu Akbar’ in public to express shock at seeing his friend. 
  • In 2016, there was national uproar over revelations that a middle school in the north of the country had allowed two Syrian brothers not to shake their teachers' hands after they complained that doing so was counter to their religious beliefs if the teacher was a woman.
  • in 2017, The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Muslim female students must attend mixed swimming classes in Swiss schools. The ruling came after a lawsuit was filed by a Muslim couple living in Switzerland who sought to prevent their daughter from enrolling in swimming classes alongside boys. The European court ruled that public interest in following the full school curriculum should prevail over the applicant’s private interest. The school had rejected to exempt the girl from the swimming classes but offered that the girl could wear full-body swimsuits.
Besides, there is an increase in Islamophobia in Switzerland and Christians feel threatened due to the increasing Muslim population. However, Swiss experts on religion believe that increasing Muslim population will have to be taken with a pinch of salt. 

However, as I said before there are pros and cons of living in a non Muslim country, the rules may vary and may come to support one's view point if put across with logic. A Muslim woman was awarded compensation after claiming a job interview was ended abruptly when she declined to shake hands with a male interviewer. It so happened that the 24 years old Farah Alhajeh rather than shake a man’s hand, said she smiled and placed her hand on her heart while explaining her religious objection to physical.

As for the sensitive issue of whether to allow Muslim women to wear burqas in public, some local authorities in Switzerland have legislated against it before, only to be overturned by other government apparatuses afterwards. At present, the Swiss government is following a middle course on this highly controversial issue: while wearing burqas isn't banned, some government departments are given the authority to order Muslim women to lift up their veils for inspection.

Watch a video on court ruling on mandatory mixed swimming sessions:
Nevertheless, despite the growing public dismay at Muslims, Switzerland is still currently among the most religiously tolerant countries on the European continent. According to the statistics of Religion Monitor, only 17 percent of Swiss have claimed that they are unwilling to have Muslims as their neighbors, which is quite low by today’s European standards. Switzerland in 2018 has rejected a proposed law preventing mosques from accepting money from abroad, and compelling them to declare where their financial backing comes from and for what purpose the money will be used. [6]

Disclaimer: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. IF any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |
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