Catholic bishops in Switzerland are to set up an Islamic working group to improve understanding of the religion.This content was published on December 8, 2001 - 10:34
At its regular meeting in Bern this week, the Swiss Bishops Conference said it had decided last March to set up the working group to address ignorance about Islam in Switzerland.
It stressed that the decision had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, but that it was timely given the animosity towards Islam since then.
Muslims make up the second largest religious group in the country, after Christians.
Agnell Rickenmann, general secretary of the conference, emphasised that there was greater need for formal dialogue between the two religions.
"I don't think the Christians know enough about the Muslims and vice versa, and I feel that many conflicts could be avoided if both religions knew more about each other," he told swissinfo.
The Bishops saw the need to form a special commission for Islam because of the changing profile of people immigrating to Switzerland.
In the past four decades, Muslims from Africa and the Middle East have replaced Europeans as the largest group of immigrants.
"Twenty years ago it was mainly Italians and Spanish who emigrated to Switzerland, but now a lot of people arrive from Northern Africa and Turkey. We feel that it is even more important to intensify the contacts between our people and the people of these cultures," Rickenmann said.
The 200,000 Muslims living in Switzerland are spread out evenly across the country, but most - 73 per cent - have settled in urban centres. The largest communities are found in the cantons of Zurich, Aargau, St Gallen and Bern.
According to Rickenmann, it is important to intensify the dialogue with all religions.
"The Catholic religion is open and ready for such a dialogue and I have noticed that the Muslim community in Switzerland is now also ready to begin this dialogue."
by Billi Bierling
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