Thousands of curious visitors made the trip to a new mosque in Wil in northeast Switzerland, which was inaugurated last weekend. The place of worship was at the centre of a controversy over the construction of minarets eight years ago.
The modern building, located in the German-speaking town of Wil in canton St Gallen, opened its doors to more than 6,500 visitors on May 13 and the same number on Sunday, a mosque official told swissinfo.ch.
The weekend-long dedication culminates a years-long effort by Muslim groups in Switzerland to overcome resistance to building a mosque in Wil. The new mosque also conforms to the 2009 Swiss voter-approved constitutional ban on the construction of minarets.
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 57.5% of voters approved an initiative by rightwing parties to ban the construction of minarets.
It is the newest of more than 200 Swiss mosques that serve up to 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, or nearly 5% of the nation’s 8.3 million population. Muslims in Switzerland represent an extremely diverse community divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. The vast majority, however, originate from the Balkans region and Turkey.
The town of Wil has about 23,000 inhabitants, about 15% of whom 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.
The new mosque is led by imam Bekim Alimi, a Macedonian who speaks German. At the mosque opening on Saturday, Alimi told Swiss Public Radio, RTS: "Integration is also about showing oneself, not just hiding."
The new building, 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.
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.