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Up close and personal with young Muslims

Young Muslims in Switzerland. Museum der Kulturen Basel

Young Muslims walking the line between tradition and modernity are the subject of an exhibition at Basel's Museum of Ethnology.

The multimedia show opens at a time of renewed focus on Islam following the controversial publication of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a number of Western newspapers.

Entitled “Urban Islam. Between mobile phone and Koran”, the exhibition illustrates the everyday urban life of Muslims in Turkey, Senegal, Morocco, Surinam and Switzerland.

Hanane is a 20-year-old Moroccan biology student who sees herself as a modern Muslim. Her diary is displayed in a glass cabinet and the young woman can be seen in a video clip.

Writing in French, she confides an important decision to her diary – she wants to wear the Islamic headscarf. “I am anxious,” she writes, “I am afraid of not being able to fulfil the promise I have made to God.”

Hanane is one of four young people featured in the exhibition. The lives of the four protagonists are as different as the way they are presented.

Nearby, visitors can pick up a mobile phone and listen to a friend of Hanane’s reacting to the major step she is taking and asking questions.

Colourfully staged, with collages, music clips, films and videos, the exhibition portrays the role of Islam in private and public life.

TV preacher

On another video screen, the Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled bewitches his public – the young faithful – who risk losing their bearings wherever the traditional and the modern collide.

Khaled, dressed in a beige suit and tie, leads them to the “right path”. With elaborate rhetoric and cleverly made points, he shows a keen understanding of young people’s need for beauty, fashion, money and love in their lives.

“But God must be number one on your list of priorities,” he urges in a friendly tone.

Whereas Hanane is preoccupied with the choice of different Muslim lifestyles, Ferhat from Istanbul sees the separation between religion and state as a central theme.

Secularisation has gone so far in Turkey that the wearing of religious symbols, such as the headscarf, is forbidden in public buildings.

In multi-religious Paramaribo in Surinam, where Muslims make up 20 per cent of the population, Farina wonders about the numerous Hindu traditions that have been adopted by Surinamese Muslims.

And in Dakar, Senegal, visitors to Urban Islam accompany Alioune on his way from the worldly surroundings of the market to spiritual experiences in the sanctuary of the Mouride Brotherhood.

Swiss Muslims

Based on a collaboration with Amsterdam’s Troppenmuseum, the Basel exhibition includes a Swiss component. A short film shows school children giving their views on Muslims living in Switzerland, while Muslims also have their say.

“We Muslims who live in Switzerland must create our own chances. We should learn German and show our neighbours the real world of the Muslims, then they will also offer us more,” says an Albanian from Macedonia.

Museum curator Bernhard Gardi told swissinfo the exhibition would help break down fear and prejudice against Islam.

“The goal is not to explain Islam conceptually, but to present different ways of living,” he said.

The show also includes some religious artefacts, including a decorative calligraphy wall hanging of the Muslim profession of faith and a battered Koran from 1640, with Persian commentaries and translations penned in red between the black Arabic script.

“Whether or not we come to accept each other depends less on how many books about Islam we’ve read than on how we interact with people in our daily lives,” believes Gardi.

swissinfo, Susanna Schanda

The exhibition “Urban Islam. Between mobile phone and Koran” at Basel’s Museum of Ethnology runs until July 2.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10am–5pm.
A talk on the theme “Islam – Integration or Ghettoisation” will take place at 8pm on February 9 at the museum.

Some 311,000 Muslims live in Switzerland. Almost 90% of them come from former Yugoslavia and Turkey, and just 6% from Arab countries.

11.8% of Muslims living in Switzerland are Swiss citizens. Almost half the Muslims living in Switzerland are under 25.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR