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Appeal for tolerance toward Muslim community

There are about 340,000 Muslims living in Switzerland from over 100 different countries

(Keystone)

An anti-racism commission has called for greater efforts to combat daily discrimination against the Swiss Muslim community.

The Federal Commission against Racism is concerned about anti-Islamic sentiment and has launched an appeal for tolerance and equal treatment of the 340,000 Muslims living in Switzerland.

Discrimination against people of Muslim faith is a fact, warns the commission in a 50-page report published on Friday.

"The report highlights examples of discrimination in daily life, as well as the burden of collective suspicion on Muslims," Boël Sambuc, the commission's vice-president told a news conference in Bern.

It also puts forward recommendations under the slogan "All different – all equal".

Prejudice

The commission warns against stigmatising the entire Muslim community as collective "scapegoats" for events taking place in other parts of the world.

It criticises the much-heard arguments about the Muslim community's lack of integration or confusion over the wearing of the veil, which some people have interpreted as a symbol of extremism.

Among the examples of discrimination, the commission highlighted the fact that some Muslims – both men and women - are denied Swiss nationality because of their faith. It also pointed out that prejudice makes it harder for young Muslims to find training places.

The anti-racism body appealed to the authorities to make much greater efforts to fight discrimination and demanded recognition for the Muslim community and its legal rights.

Minarets

Improvements are needed in specific areas, said the commission, in particular regarding the construction of religious buildings. No other minority faith is shown so little understanding over places where it can practise its religion, it added.

The report highlights the ongoing controversy in Wangen, northern Switzerland, where local authorities are blocking the construction of a minaret.

The commission called on cantonal and communal authorities to show greater flexibility over building and zoning restrictions to allow the construction of religious buildings and to "reduce populist pressures".

It also recommended that public cemeteries modify their regulations so that Muslim burials can be carried out.

The commission supports the creation of posts for teaching of Islamic studies at public universities. In general, it says, teaching should be better adapted to the current situation, where many religions co-exist.

It says changes might be necessary in the organisation of the schools, teaching programmes and methods, and the design of specific subjects.

The teaching of religious studies at school should be encouraged and appropriate premises should be made available, it added. Equal treatment of all religions should be ensured through a fair dispensation and holiday system.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

There are about 340,000 Muslims living in Switzerland, from over 100 different countries, with the majority from the Balkans or Turkey.

Numbers have almost doubled in recent years, from 2.2% of the population in 1990 to 4.3% in 2000.

Much of the increase was due to an influx of refugees fleeing war in former Yugoslavia.

There are two mosques in Switzerland – in Geneva and Zurich. Prayer houses also exist in Islamic cultural centres. Many Muslim communities would like to build small minarets on their centres.

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Key facts

Religious adherence in the Swiss population (2000):
Catholic: 42%
Protestant: 35%
Old Catholic: 0.18%
Orthodox: 2%
Other Christians: 0.19%
Jews: 0.24%
Muslims: 4.26%
Other religions: 0.8%
No religious affiliation: 11%
Unknown: 4.33%

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Federal Commission against Racism

The Federal Commission against Racism was created in 1995.

The commission reflects the government's desire to combat racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and rightwing extremism.

It deals with racial discrimination, promotes better understanding between persons of different racial backgrounds, colour, national or ethnic origins and religions, combats all forms of direct or indirect racial discrimination and pays particular attention to effective prevention.

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