The head of the Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League (MWL) has vowed to reform Switzerland’s largest mosque, which has attracted scrutiny from French and Swiss authorities over links to extremists.
In an interview with the Tribune de Genève paper on Friday, the secretary general of MWL Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa said that he will constitute a new board of the Islamic Cultural Foundation of Geneva, which manages the Geneva mosque in Petit-Saconnex. MWL underwrites a substantial part of the mosque’s finances.
Al-Issa said that two mosque employees, who have been placed by French officials on a backlist known as “Fiche S” since at least 2012, will be removed from their posts. Their homes were raided by the French police in 2015. Fiche S, or “S file status”, is reserved for individuals who are considered potential threats to French national security. It is divided into 16 categories depending on the level of threat.
“Anyone hired in the future will be subjected to a thorough background check,” said Al-Issa.
The 52-year-old head of MWL also said that his organisation was open to offering financial support to a programme instituted by the University of Geneva to train imams. At the same time, he denied that the Geneva mosque was a centre for indoctrination of extremists.
“The danger does not lie there. It happens when youth come out of the mosque with extremist ideas. If the mosque is a vehicle for extremist ideas, it will not be forgiven,” he said.
In 2015, the Tribune de Genève paper had reported that 20 young extremists had attended the mosque for several months, two of whom allegedly travelled to Syria.
Al-Issa shared he had ambitions for the Geneva mosque to become a model of culture, dialogue and integration, and if this was not achieved, MWL would seriously considering withdrawing all support to the centre.
Regarding questions of transparency on MWL funding, he said that the accounts of all 25 MWL-funded mosques in Europe should be made accessible to the authorities. The Islamic Cultural Foundation of Geneva, that runs the Geneva mosque, opened up its accounts to cantonal scrutiny and auditors in late 2014. A cantonal authority checks money coming in and out and whether the use of the funds corresponds to the aims outlined in the organisation’s statutes.
The Geneva mosque was inaugurated in 1978 by the former king of Saudi Arabia, Khaled Ben Abdulaziz. It is the biggest in Switzerland and can host 1,500 worshippers.