A growing immigrant population determined to avoid assimilation.
Leading Islamic groups in Switzerland are seeking to establish a single national representative body that will enable all of the country’s Muslims to “speak with one voice.”
The organizers say their new “parliament” will be called “Umma Schweiz” and be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia law. The headquarters of the organization will be located in Basel with “representatives” in all 26 cantons (or “states”) of Switzerland. The first “test vote” of Umma Schweiz will be held in the fall of 2012; the group will be fully functional in 2013.
Ummah, an Arabic word that means “nation,” refers to the entire Muslim community throughout the world. In recent years, Muslims have stepped up efforts to unify the globally fragmented ummah in an effort to revive an Islamic Caliphate or empire. Many Muslim scholars view the political unification of the ummah as a prerequisite to the consolidation of global Muslim power and the subsequent establishment of an Islamic world order.
Swiss analysts say the initiative is an effort to establish a “parallel” legislative body in Switzerland that will be a mouthpiece for Islamic fundamentalists who are seeking to impose Sharia law on the country, according to an exposé published by the newspaper Basler Zeitung.
Umma Schweiz is being spearheaded by two of the leading Muslim groups in Switzerland: the Coordination of Islamic Organizations of Switzerland (KIOS), led by an Iranian; and the Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organizations in Switzerland (FIDS), led by a Palestinian.
The effort to unify Muslims in Switzerland comes amid calls by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to establish an umbrella organization for all Swiss Muslims to counter discrimination.
The OSCE, which sent three observers to Switzerland in November 2011, warned that Muslims in the country are being exploited by “the extreme right and populist parties.” The OSCE also noted that Muslims in Switzerland are increasingly unifying around their religious identity, according to an advance copy of the OSCE trip report, which has been seen by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. “Groups like Bosnians and Albanians, who were previously defined by their ethnicity, are now identified by their religion,” the OSCE report says.
Currently, there are more than 300 Muslim associations in Switzerland, and several umbrella organizations, but none is regarded as representative of Muslims as a whole.
The Muslim population in Switzerland has more than quintupled since 1980; it now numbers about 400,000, or roughly 5% of the population. Most Muslims living in Switzerland are of Turkish or Balkan origin, with a smaller minority from the Arab world. Many of them are second- and third-generation immigrants firmly establishing themselves in Switzerland.
The new Muslim demographic reality is raising tensions across large parts of Swiss society, especially as Muslims become more assertive in their demands for greater recognition of their Islamic faith.
In September 2011, for instance, an immigrant group based in Bern called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it “no longer corresponds to today’s multicultural Switzerland.”
The ensuing controversies are fuelling a debate over the role of Islam in Swiss society and how to reconcile Western values with a growing immigrant population determined to avoid assimilation.
Many of the disputes are ending up in Swiss courts, which have been packed with Islam-related cases in recent years. In one proceeding, for example, Muslim parents won a lawsuit demanding that they be allowed to dress their children in full-body bathing suits (aka “burkinis”) during co-ed swimming lessons. In another, a group of Swiss supermarkets created a stir by banning Muslim employees from wearing headscarves.
In September 2010, the secretary of the Muslim Community of Basel was acquitted of publicly inciting crime and violence. The charges were pressed after the 33-year-old made comments in a Swiss television documentary saying that Islamic Sharia law should be introduced in Switzerland and that unruly wives should be beaten. The judge said the defendant was protected by freedom of expression.
In January 2011, a 66-year-old Turkish woman living in Bern was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for encouraging the father and brothers of her daughter-in-law to carry out an “honor crime” against her for her “risqué lifestyle.”
In August 2010, five Muslim families in Basel were fined 350 Swiss Francs ($420) each for refusing to send their daughters to mixed-sex swimming lessons. In August 2009, the Swiss basketball association told a Muslim player she could not wear a headscarf during league games.
Swiss voters have also been fighting back against the Islamization of their country by means of the ballot box.
In November 2009, Switzerland held a referendum in which citizens approved an initiative to ban the construction of minarets. The initiative was approved 57.5% to 42.5% by some 2.67 million voters. Only four cantons or states opposed the initiative, thereby granting the double approval that now makes the minaret ban part of the Swiss constitution.
In November 2010, Swiss voters approved tough new regulations on the deportation of non-Swiss immigrants convicted of serious crimes. The measure calls for the automatic expulsion of non-Swiss offenders convicted of crimes ranging from murder to breaking and entry and social security fraud.
Also in November, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the approval or extension of residency permits should be closely linked to the efforts immigrants make to integrate themselves. “Compulsory schooling must be respected. Children should attend all courses and exceptions made on religious or other grounds, for example in swimming classes, should no longer be possible,” Sommaruga said.
In December 2010, the Federal Commission on Women’s Issues called for Islamic burqas and niqabs to be banned in government offices and in public schools. The government-appointed committee said the move would prevent gender discrimination.
In May 2011, voters in canton Ticino, in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region, collected enough signatures to be able to launch a referendum that would ban burqas, niqabs and other Islamic head dresses. If the referendum goes ahead, it will be the first time in Switzerland that citizens have been asked to express an opinion on burqas.
On February 14, 2012, the far-right Swiss People’s Party, the country’s largest, filed a petition supporting a cap on immigration to Switzerland. The petition, which is the result of a months-long campaign to gather the required 100,000 signatures, is now being reviewed by Swiss authorities. If the proposals in the petition are deemed acceptable, it will then go to a popular referendum, in accordance with Switzerland’s unique system of direct democracy.
On February 27, the Swiss Parliament is scheduled to debate a series of proposals to crack down on Muslim forced marriages in Switzerland. There are an estimated 17,000 forced marriages in Switzerland; one-third of the victims are between the ages of 13 and 18, according to a ground-breaking study of the problem conducted in 2006.
The proposals being considered include: amending the Swiss Penal Code to make forced marriage a criminal offense; outlawing the marriages of minors; reviewing all future requests for marriage to ensure that no one is being married against her will; and mandating the deportation of any immigrants found to guilty of forcing someone to marry against her will.