RELIGIOUS INTEGRATION: New mosque spotlights Swiss fracture lines


MAY 13, 2017 – 
With no minaret, Switzerland's newest mosque tries to fit into the local community
With no minaret, Switzerland’s newest mosque tries to fit into the local community(Keystone)

A new prototype for mosques in Switzerland – one meant to blend in and to minimise any possible offence – has arisen in a place that was ground zero in a bruising fight over the construction of minarets.

The new mosque that has opened in Wil,external link Switzerland, conforms to the 2009 Swiss voter-approved constitutional ban on the construction of new minarets, reflecting a significant local-led effort to overcome the European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

The weekend-long dedication culminates a years-long effort by Muslim groups in Switzerland to overcome resistance to putting in a new mosque in Wil, the third-biggest city in canton St Gallen. The resistance is a reflection of Europeans’ fractured views toward migration, Islam, nationalism and European unity. Due to the ban on construction of the iconic mosque towers, Muslims in Wil had to adapt their blueprints.

The surprise vote eight years ago put Switzerland in a harsh spotlight, with Muslims condemning the vote as anti-Islamic and prejudiced and Swiss businesses cautioning that it undermined efforts to promote an international image of Switzerland as a tolerant and liberal society.

A solemn start

The new mosque, which was built at the end of a street near a football stadium, bears an inscription, “Mosque Wil – Xhamia Wil”, serving as a welcome for the area’s many Albanian-born Muslims.

“It is a great pleasure for us to invite you to the solemn inauguration of the new Islamic Meeting Center Wil. Together with you we would like to celebrate the opening,” said the Islamic Culture Center of Wil in a statementexternal link posted online.

“Since the submission of our planning material for the establishment of the Islamic Center of Excellence Wil, much time has passed,” it said. “This path was no easier for us, both politically and economically. Nevertheless, we have remained firm and have fought for our right and intent.”

With enough space for about 400 visitors, the centre for Muslim prayer in Wil took two years to build at a cost of about CHF5 million ($5 million). The project also overcame numerous local objections among some who feared the mosque might invite some adherents of radical extremism into the community.

It is the newest of more than 200 Swiss mosques – another new one is in the works in the Geneva area – that serve up to 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, or nearly 5% of the nation’s 8.3 million population.

Diverse population

About one of every ten is a Swiss citizen, but the Muslims in Switzerland represent an extremely diverse community divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. Around 80% originate from the Balkans region and Turkey.

A decade ago, plans to build minarets on mosques in the towns of Langenthal, Wil and Wangen near Olten in the German-speaking regions, sparked controversy. It peaked in a nationwide ballot on November 29, 2009, when voters approved an initiative by rightwing parties to ban the construction of new minarets with a majority of 57.5%.

The result was seen as a major political upset and made headlines around the world. The seven-member cabinet external linkthat heads Swiss government had announced strong opposition to the initiative, but said it accepted the vote and moved to enforce an immediate ban on minaret construction.

Concerns about growing Muslim minorities have spread across Europe in recent years, prompting French moves to ban the full-length body covering known as the burqa and some German states to introduced bans on head scarves for Muslim women teaching in public schools.

Mosques and minaret construction projects elsewhere in European have been met by protests.

More recently, people in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino since July 2016 have not been allowed to wear clothing that covers their face in public. The measure resulted from a 2013 cantonal vote calling for a ban on such clothing typically worn by Muslim women. A committee is now collecting signatures for a similar nationwide ban.

Few actual minarets

In Switzerland, only the mosques in Geneva, Zurich and Wangen, near Olten, have a minaret. Winterthur’s mosque has only a small one. But the call to prayer is not made from these minarets.

But even a local politician in Wil, Lukas Reimann, who helped lead the anti-minaret vote as a member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, Switzerland’s largest, said he never opposed the building of the new Wil mosque.

The city of Wil external linkhas about 23,000 inhabitants, about 15% of which belong to the Islamic faith and are organised in a separate association. Most come from Albania and Bosnia. In November 2011, the association submitted a building permit for the construction of an Islamic meeting place.

Against the project there was resistance from local residents and the Swiss People’s Party. The approximately 200 objections were rejected. After several changes of location, the prayer room is now housed in a backyard on the railway line.

“The Muslims should have a representative place where they can exercise their faith,” Reimann was quotedexternal link as saying in the Aargauer Zeitung.


4 replies

  1. I wonder whether the Swiss are not just a little bit ashamed of their law ‘banning the construction of minarets’. I just cannot believe that they are such cowards that they are afraid of the shadow of a small minaret …

  2. Native Brits must learn to respect and tolerate those who are different. Muslim community in all western countries need Masajid, state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers, halal meat, sharia laws, time of for Friday afternoon prayers in the Masjid, two religious official holidays per year and Muslim cemeteries. Stop treating foreigners like garbage and they will stop ruining your precious country. Why did you let them in in the first place if you didn’t want them here? They left everything in their countries because of your promises. Are you so anxious to please that you can’t say “no”? I would love to see you go to a foreign land where you don’t have any friends, you don’t even know anyone and you don’t speak the language, and start from scratch. I would just LOVE to watch you do that. Let them integrate and stop segregating them. What I want is people being nice to each other. I don’t care about race.

    Multiculturalism is not about integration but about cultural plurality. It is not about separation but about respect and the deepening awareness of Unity in Diversity. Each culture will maintain its own intrinsic value and at the same time would be expected to contribute to the benefit of the whole society. Multiculturalism can accommodate diversity of all kinds – cultural, philosophical and religious – so that we can create a world without conflict and strife. Britain can assume the role of accommodation and concern for all peoples, for our planet and indeed for our survival. Multi-Culturalism is even more important and crucial after 9/11 and 7/7. Muslim youths are also likely to feel alienated by a focus on shared Brutishness, rather than multicultural diversity. Rather than promoting a single British “us” teaching should acknowledge that “us” can be diverse and plural. Children should be encouraged to explore differences in appearance, history and religion to reduce social and educational fears.

    God has created diverse human beings to live in this tiny global village of one family. Creation by its very nature is diverse with different species, different communities, different cultures and languages. These differences represent the beauty and wonder but diversity is sometimes not fully appreciated, resulting in all sorts of clashes. Almighty God created all the races and put each person in the racial group He wanted them to be in. Each person should be thankful for where he or she was put and not be taught that some other race is “superior” and that if you refuse to believe that you are a “racist.” Let each race stand or fall on its own merits and quit all this cultural engineering, which is really cultural genocide. The British society and Establishment must learn to respect and accommodate others, as if in a family. Today the elected Mayor of London is a Pakistani Muslim and tomorrow the elected British PM would be a Pakistani Muslim. Have you got any objection?

    West must learn to respect and tolerate those who are different. The problem of extremism we are experiencing is not “mass immigration”, immigration has been happening since the dawn of mankind. The problem we are experiencing is a direct result of lack of respect and tolerance substituted by ignorance. The problem we are experiencing is the direct result of poor consciousness and awareness of selective “information” being conveyed to us through various mainstream media sources. There’s a new mainstream anti-Muslim racism that is built on fears for the survival of Western values. That’s the product of a nervous society in which social betterment is becoming increasingly difficult and in which there is a sense of omnipresent competition and struggle. The emotions generated by this are often not directed at a system, but at those who are different, at foreigners. This is also launched from the political arena and absorbed at grassroots level.

  3. Mr Tschannen. It is very strange that you write an article and then are the first to comment on your own writing. What makes you think that the Swiss people whould be ashamed of any banning?As you should know- I presume that you are Swiss- decisions are made by general voting.
    Furthermore why should Swiss people be cowards, because they do not want minarets in their landscape. Muslims are not forbidden to practise their faith in Switzerland. Is a minaret in your opinion more important than to be able to practise one’s own faith in whatever accomodation.
    Have you ever seen Christian churches with a cross on top in muslim countries (except Indonesia, but the churches there are a heritage of Dutch colonialism). The difference is that christians cannot practise their faith in whatever accomodations and are even persecuted because of their faith. I hope that you are aware of this fact?
    I would suggest Mr. Tschannen that in future please add to your comments that it is your own personal opinion, instead of giving the impression that your comment is the opinion of Swiss people in general.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment. I have noted what you said. Yes, of course my comments are my personal opinion.

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