by Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch
An initiative to create a democratically elected body representing Switzerland’s 400,000 Muslims, a so-called “Swiss umma”, is steadily gaining ground.
The organisers say the parliament could be up and running by next year. But certain critics question whether the Muslim body will see the light of day or actually makes sense.
“Our goal is to create a legitimate democratic believers’ community that represents all of Switzerland’s Muslims,” Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations of Switzerland (KIOS), told swissinfo.ch.
KIOS and the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland (FIOS) are the two leading groups behind the “Swiss umma” idea, which has been circulating since 2009, and which they claim could be in place by as early as 2013.
They believe a new grassroots community would improve understanding of Muslim issues among the authorities and the general population.
“The parliament should agree on social and political questions that concern Muslims so that we can talk with one voice,” FIOS president Hisham Maizar told the Südostschweiz newspaper.
It would also be an important step towards the formal recognition of Islam as an official religion, says Afshar.
“Whenever this question is raised the answer is always that you are not democratically organised and your groups do not represent the Swiss Muslim community. With such an organisation we can speak on the same level,” he commented.
The alpine country of more than seven million people is home to around 400,000 Muslims, mainly from Bosnia, Kosovo and Turkey, but also from North Africa and the Middle East. They are represented by 300 associations, and several umbrella organisations, but only 72,000 Swiss Muslims are actually members.
After contacting Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups for advice, the initiators have formed a commission of public law and Islamic legal experts to examine the new body’s future statutes to ensure they respect federal and cantonal legislation.