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Passion Islam I August 2008 SPECIAL FEATURE I 25
in Switzerland) based in large part on the
fact that the imam had studied in Medina
(Saudi Arabia); the cantonal authorities
considered the imam a potential threat to
religious peace.
Islam and Law in Switzerland
Muslims in Switzerland must abide by all
Swiss laws and regulations. In general, no
Swiss laws exist that directly interfere with
any Islamic duty. For example, no Swiss
laws forbid Muslims from exercising
their religious beliefs or practices, such
as praying or fasting. However, some
conflicts with Islamic rights may be found
in the Swiss family law. For example,
according to the shari’a, polygamy is
a right for the Muslims, but not a duty;
however, in Switzerland like in other
European countries, polygamy is legally
forbidden. Similar conflicts may also arise
in estate law or in cases where women
are called to testify in Swiss courts.
Religion at school
At the Swiss primary school level,
catechism is often given as religious class.
However, this type of education is evolving
as catechism is slowly being replaced with
non-religious and inter-religious classes.
In secondary school, only an introduction
to the history of religions is offered and is
most often taught as non-dogmatic or non-
confessional. ’’Enbiro’’ (Enseignement
Biblique Romand) developed a new
pedagogy for teaching religion at school.
This new program gives an introduction
to the most influential religions of the world.
This religious teaching was in general
openly accepted in French-speaking
Switzerland, but not in the canton of
Wallis where a controversy exploded
in November 2003. Some conservative
Christian parents removed their children
from religion class when they learned that Koran and Arabic. So far, Muslim pupils against foreigners in general - gaining
Mohammed was presented as a prophet (as well as pupils of other religious in popularity. Note that the controversy
receiving God’s messages and that communities) do not beneficiate from mentioned above about religious classes
the Koran was treated as a holy book. any free hours to attend those classes. was largely supported by the UDC (Union
These parents were concerned that Islam They often take place on Saturdays or in Democratique du Centre), a political
teachings were contrary to the religious the early evening. To date, there is one party often identified as far right. The
education that they wanted to provide to exception. In the canton of Lucerne, two UDC initiated a similar movement in
their children. All of the objections made communes decided to introduce Islamic November 2003. The canton of Zurich
towards this new religious teaching aimed religious classes for their Muslim pupils in was preparing a vote for a modernization
at Islam, to the exclusion of all other fall 2002. This class is given in German of the relations between state and church
religions taught. These parents have language to all nationalities together and and the recognition of new confessional
requested that the ’’good old’’ classes of is optional. After a difficult start largely communities. This project intended to
catechism, which respected the Christian diffused through the media, this decision give some religious communities an
faith, be brought back. has now been accepted. official status that would allow them to
The question of religious studies falls perceive religious taxes and organize
under the competence of the cantons. Each Political Participation religious teachings. The UDC, opposed to
canton’s department for public education To date, no Islamic or Muslim political this project, directed its entire campaign
decides what weight to give to religion in parties exist in Switzerland. Only a few against Islam, underlying that violence
its schools’ programs (usually offering no Swiss Muslims are involved politically and was a daily fact in Muslim countries, and
more than one hour per week). Therefore, the few Muslims elected to office have not arguing that the confrontation of Islam with
in order to provide religious education for made Islam their battle. To the contrary, other religious communities had always
their children, Muslims must organize it their religious belonging usually remains led to violence. The UDC also publicly
themselves. The religious socialization silent. Similarly, no Swiss political party claimed that the shari’a (Islamic law) is a
is done through the families, and Muslim has directed its political views against threat for the lawful state of Zurich. The
organizations that offer different classes Islam, even with the far right Swiss UDC’s campaign was a success and lead
such as introduction to Islam, the Holy parties - which tend to take a hard line to the refusal of the project.
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