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Lost in translation? Swiss welfare ‘Imam’ denies hate preaching

Abu Ramadan will fight against being thrown out of Switzerland

(Keystone)

A Muslim preacher denies calling for the destruction of Jews and Christians whilst receiving Swiss welfare payments. In a newspaper interview, Abu Ramadan says the Arabic message he preached at a Biel mosque has been mistranslated.

In the interview with the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, which first drew attention to the issue along with Swiss public television SRF, Ramadan also denies even being an imam and says reports of how much welfare money he has received are exaggerated.

Last month, Ramadan found himself at the centre of a media and political storm when the Rundschau television programme broadcast a recording of his sermon.

“Oh Allah, I beg you to destroy the enemies of our religion. Destroy the Jews, Christians, Hindus, Russians and the Shia,” he is heard saying. "He who befriends a disbeliever is cursed until the Day of Judgment.” The sermon was delivered at the Ar’Rahman mosque in canton Bern.

The media stories prompted the local authorities to threaten to deport the Libyan political refugee. 

Answering the allegations

Ramadan has now spoken out against the allegations against him, calling the interpreter who translated his sermons a “liar”.

“My prayer was not an incitement to people, but a call to Allah to ‘take over’ the enemies of the religions that are descended from Abraham - Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” he told Tages-Anzeiger. “You have to see the whole thing in the context of wars like in Afghanistan or Iraq. There, the US government has destroyed people. I hate that. But I do not call anyone to act. I do not want that. That would be a crime. I only ask Allah for justice.”

“The translator is a liar. I will take this to court once my life quietens down,” he added.

Swiss public television said in its report on the Tages-Anzeiger interivew that it had shown the quote to a second Arabic speaker who had confirmed it. The newspaper interview mentioned that the Bund newspaper, also associated in the original article on Ramadan, had shown the quote to several sources as well.

He denied being an imam himself, saying he only stood in as a preacher when the regular imam at the Biel mosque was unavailable. Ramadan also denied being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and says he received death threats after being “the first person in Switzerland” to issue warnings about the Islamic State terror group.

Visits to Libya

Ramadan admits visiting his elderly mother in Libya around a dozen times since 2013, but claims he has stopped going after receiving new threats from people in his homeland. He says he also did not know these trips violated the terms of his refugee status in Switzerland. He said he will appeal any attempts to deport him.

The 64-year-old insists he is “well integrated” in Switzerland despite never learning a Swiss language in the 20 years he has been in the country, or holding down a job. In the interview, he also takes issue with earlier reports that he received CHF600,000 in welfare payments in a 13-year period. Without revealing how much he received in total, Ramadan said he survives on CHF500 to CHF600 per month for food and other essentials after he has paid rent and utilities.

swissinfo.ch/mga

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