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Religion behind bars Prison imam fights Muslim radicalisation

Muslims make up about 5% of the Swiss population, and one in three prisoners worship Allah. But only a few jails allow imams to visit. The regional jail in Bern is one of them.

Mustafa Memeti visits once a week, acting as an intermediary between the prison authorities and Muslim inmates. He offers support and spiritual solace, speaking to inmates about religion, family life and their personal problems.

The imam is also there to try and stop the radicalisation of prisoners. Extremist ideologies can flourish in prison through the recruitment of vulnerable, disenchanted people. Prison director Monika Kummer describes what she sees as warning signals: “If somebody suddenly grows a beard, stops listening to music or watching TV, we begin to look a bit more closely.”

Memeti says that when he sees signs of radicalisation, he tries to talk the inmates out of it. “I tell them it’s a way of misusing religion. As a theologian and priest, I present arguments and facts. I try to convince them that what they are thinking is not real life.”

Serbian-born Memeti has lived in Switzerland since 1991, and became a Swiss citizen in 2005.

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