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Thursday, Oct 23 , 2014 ( Thul-Hijjah, 1435)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Swiss Muslims Promote Understanding

OnIslam & Newspapers
Swiss Muslims
The dialogue has helped put woes facing the Muslim minority in the fore
Muslims, Switzerland

BERNE - Marking a year of dialogue with the Swiss government since banning the construction of mosque minarets, Muslims see the move a step forward toward a better understanding of Islam and the sizable minority.

"From the Muslim side we have been able to make clear what our issues are, what our priorities are and what our understanding is of a sustainable dialogue,” Amira Hafner-Al-Jabaji, a Swiss Muslim of Iraqi origin and one of those involved in the dialogue, told Swissinfo on Friday, January 7.

The dialogue between the Swiss government and the Muslim minority was first launched after a ban on building mosque minarets last November 29, 2009 through a referendum called for by the far-right Swiss People Party.

Al-Jabaji praised the dialogue for creating a platform to share difficulties facing Switzerland's second largest religious minority, after Christianity.

"This dialogue has led us to find ourselves together and to promote a mutual understanding among Muslims themselves," said Jabaji, the president of the Interreligious Think-Tank.

"So it’s a very important step for the Muslims themselves as an internal dialogue."

The Muslim leader said that the dialogue has helped move the focus from only security to other issues of Muslim concern.

"The controversial vote had merely highlighted an existing need for dialogue between the Swiss authorities and the Muslim community," Jabaji said.

"One positive thing one year on was that the dialogue had moved away from security issues to that of the integration and participation of Muslims in Swiss society."

According to the CIA Factbook, Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims, representing 5 percent of the country’s nearly eight million people.

Integration

Jabaji said that the dialogue has helped put woes facing the Muslim minority in the fore.

"The government has defined several fields where they have to get active and we also discussed how we can be active in these fields," she said.

"One of these was how to make Muslims more fit for the economic [job] market, another is how to deal with the media and a third is issues in the field of health."

She cited the issue of integration as one of the thorniest issues facing Swiss Muslims.

"From the government side, it [integration] is the issue of language, being fit for the [job] market," she said.

"But I claim that in Swiss society there is another feeling of what it means to be integrated and this differs greatly from the lawful thinking. So this gap has to be filled.

"It cannot mean that Muslims or any other group have to be assimilated and give up their faith and way of living. I think we could make clear that we have a difficulty with society’s understanding of what it means to be integrated."

The media bias against Muslims was also topping the dialogue with the government.

“A national research project showed there is not enough knowledge about religion and specifically Islam among journalists,” she said.

“So steps need to be taken in the education of journalists and how they treat issues regarding Islam."

Jabaji urged Swiss Muslims to initiate dialogue among themselves to help tackle difficulties facing the sizable minority.

"Now we have to find what kind of projects we as Muslims, and without the help of the government, can promote.

"I would say regarding an internal Muslim dialogue that we are at the very beginning. But the beginning is always the most important step," she said.

"And we are really willed to start initiatives and activities in society. But I want to stress we are not doing this as Muslims for Muslims but in the understanding that we are first of all citizens in Switzerland. We are doing this for the sake of society as a whole."

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