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Geneva Muslim groups join forces

Yahia Basalamah (left) and Esma Demirtas addressing a news conference in Geneva

(Keystone)

Ten Muslim groups in Geneva have come together to create a federation which they say should give them a stronger voice on Muslim community issues.

Geneva is the latest region in Switzerland to form an umbrella group of Muslims and the move comes amid a row over the building of minarets in the country.

The Federation of Muslim Organisations in Geneva is open to all, even those not practising Islam, said Hafid Ouardiri, spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Foundation in Geneva.

The aim of the federation is to better communicate the Muslim point of view, which up until now has not always been presented as a common position, he added. Issues for discussion include minarets, headscarves and cemeteries.

The group also wants to play a role in promoting integration, such as offering lessons on life in Switzerland. According to its president, Yahia Basalamah, who is also the Imam of the Mosque in Geneva, there is a real need for information about how the country works.

"Our first concern is to coordinate our efforts and to better understand the Swiss system," added Hani Ramadan, director of the Islamic Centre in Geneva, also a member of the federation.

"We want to find solutions, not create problems," he said.

The move follows on from Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, where Muslim groups have already formed a similar regional association.

There are around 66,500 Muslims living in and around Zurich. Geneva is estimated to have around 20,000 Muslims.

The 2000 census put the total number of Muslims in Switzerland at 340,000. They are quite disparate, coming from around 105 different countries and belonging to a variety of Muslim faith communities. There are said to be around 300 Muslim organisations across the country, including private clubs and associations.

Minaret row

Opposition to the planned construction of minarets in the German-speaking part of the country has clouded inter-religious relations over the past few months.

In September the Zurich cantonal parliament said it would look into banning the construction of minarets following an initiative from the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

Minarets already exist in Zurich and Geneva but are symbolic and are not generally used to call the faithful to prayer.

Two Islamic cultural centres planned for Lausanne and la Chaux-de-Fonds in the French-speaking part of the country are not said to be intending to build minarets.

Earlier this year, the Federal Commission against Racism called for more tolerance towards Muslims. It urged the authorities to ease restrictions and allow the construction of religious buildings and reduce "populist pressures".

It also highlighted the general need for greater efforts to combat the daily discrimination of Swiss Muslims and demanded more recognition for the community and their rights.

swissinfo with agencies

Federal Commission against Racism

The Federal Commission against Racism was created in 1995. It was set up by the government to fight racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ...

Key facts

There are about 340,000 Muslims in Switzerland, coming mainly from the Balkans and Turkey.
Their numbers are growing in Switzerland. They represented 2.2% of the population in 1990 and 4.3% in 2000.
One of the main reasons for the rise is the arrival of refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

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