How and what does an imam preach in a Swiss mosque? How much does he know about secular society? swissinfo.ch sought answers during a visit to a nearby mosque.
The Kevser Mosque in Ostermundigen outside Bern is only about two kilometres from the swissinfo.ch offices. However, neither the German-speaking journalist, who knows the city like the back of his hand, nor his colleague from the Arab service, have ever been there. On their way to Friday prayers, the two reporters have to rely on the locals’ directions since the centre hides behind the brown-grey façade of a former wine shop.
The Turkish-Islamic Association has used this building as a mosque since 2010. Even though most of its 300 members have Turkish roots, the mosque is open to all Muslims. Men from Somalia, Ghana, Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also joined Friday prayers. Among the approximately 200 believers there are a few adolescents and a handful of boys.
From an adjacent room women and girls can watch the prayers through a window, which is transparent from one side to protect them from the looks of the male worshippers.
The journalists are allowed to join, irrespective of their beliefs. imam Abdullah Dikmen preaches in Turkish, switching to Arabic whenever he quotes from the Koran. Just a few weeks ago, his name was in the Swiss media after he shared a Facebook post about the attempted coup in Turkey, calling for opponents of the Turkish regime to be executed.
Following the incident, Dikmen was questioned by the local authorities. “The imam managed to credibly defend his position by saying that he acted in the heat of the moment and that it was triggered by the dramatic events happening in his home country,” says Aliki Panayides, a local councillor. The member of the Ostermundigen government is also the managing director of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) in canton Bern. Since the hype surrounding the Imam’s ‘appeal to revenge’, she has kept in contact with people in the mosque.
There is no talk of politics or social issues in Dikman’s prayers – only religion. Excerpts of the prayers, which come from the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, are projected onto the wall in three languages: German, French and Arabic.
Following media reports about the alleged radicalisation of areas around Swiss mosques, calls for transparency have been getting louder across the country. Some politicians want to make it mandatory for imams to preach in one of Switzerland’s national languages.
After the sermon is over, the journalists’ questions are diverted by the imam to the president of the association, Ahmet Cindir.
Unlike the imam, Cindir speaks fluent German, even dialect. “We are a Turkish-Islamic association. It is in our interest that the Imam preaches in Turkish; it is also laid down in our statutes. We have informed the Swiss authorities that we practice our religion in our language.”
A board member taking part in the conversation adds: “Most of our members speak German pretty well, but when it comes to their religious vocabulary they usually resort to their mother tongues. The religious jargon was not part of the Swiss curriculum.”
Both men are convinced that there are no signs of radicalisation in the vicinity of their mosque. “Our young people are well integrated.” Despite its modest infrastructure and scarce financial resources, they say, the association was trying to facilitate the integration of its young members by offering recreational opportunities. They have even considered giving computer courses as well as helping with job searches.
Almost all interviewees are practicing Muslims. They have different reasons for following this religion. Islam can be an emotional pillar, a guide for life or a set of rules to follow.
(Source: Swiss News Agency)