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Bern imam named Swiss of the Year

Mustafa Memeti (left), speaking in 2008 with then Swiss President Pascale Couchepin in the House of Religions in Bern. Keystone

Imam Mustafa Memeti of Bern has been named Swiss of the Year by the newspaper SonntagsZeitung. He was chosen for “his courage and his engagement in the most explosive debate of our time”.

The Islamic religion was a dominating theme of the year 2014, according to the newspaper. Memeti was an outspoken supporter of religious tolerance and of the integration of Muslims in Switzerland.

“Constant reports of terrorism and extremism make it a challenge for us,” said Memeti in an interview published on Sunday in the SonntagsZeitung. “At Friday prayer services I often stress that we don’t have any choice other than to open ourselves to Swiss society. We cannot operate in closed circles, we cannot construct parallel societies.”

Memeti, who serves as the imam of the Muslim Association of Bern and as President of the Albanian Islamic Association of SwitzerlandExternal link, says that choosing between traditional and modern Islam is difficult for many members of his religion. They “have double standards: they say one thing but in their hearts they think the opposite.”

A Serb born in Albania, Memeti has lived in Switzerland since 1991, and became a Swiss citizen in 2005.

Many Muslims in Switzerland are afraid of losing their identity, he says. “Today I show the young that it is possible to be both an imam and a Swiss citizen. That you can integrate without losing your identity or your religion.”

It is important for Muslims in Switzerland to respect Swiss values – such as order, safety, democracy and freedom – above all others, says Memeti. This is possible without giving up your own culture, he said.

His wish for Switzerland is that its diversity is seen as worthy of awe; as an enrichment rather than a danger.

“Religion should bring people together, not separate them,” says Memeti. “Christmas provides a good opportunity for that.”

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR