The Imam of the mosque is in custody.

A mosque in the Swiss city of Winterthur was raided last week Image for representation
news Monday, November 07, 2016 - 12:06

Most people may have heard of Zurich in Switzerland. Few may know of Winterthur, a prosperous city north of Zurich. Judging by media coverage, fewer have heard that Swiss police raided the An’Nur mosque there and opened criminal proceedings against four people including the Imam of the mosque who hails from Ethiopia. 

The religious teacher stands accused of inciting violence after he called on worshippers to murder other Muslims who did not take part in their prayers.

Swiss police have been quoted as saying the Imam also called on those present at the sermon to call out others who were not present at that time. This incident is recorded as having occurred on October 21st 2016 and is seen as a direct incitement to violence.

The country’s mass circulation Sunday daily SonntagsZeitung (SZ) newspaper is reported that the umbrella association of Islamic organisations in Zurich (VIOZ) has suspended the mosque.

“We are shocked that an Imam in one of our houses of prayer called for violence," Mahmoud Al Guindi, the association's president Mahmloud El Guindi has been quoted as saying. The VIOZ’s executive board unanimously decided to suspend the mosque until further notice and distanced itself from the Imam’s statements.

“We require our members to commit to the rule of law and Swiss democracy…we want to bring radical elements back onto the right path. In certain cases that calls for tolerance,” El Guindo told SZ. 

The arrests have added to a growing malaise about radicalisation via mosques in a country where there are 400,000 Muslims – roughly five per cent of the population. Some fifty per cent of Swiss Muslims are from the Balkans, Bosnia, Kosovo and many have become part of Swiss life. There are some 100 mosques in the country and they are well integrated into the Swiss countryside. 

Muslims The News Minute (TNM) spoke to said they were alarmed at the developments and failed to understand how Islamic law can be applied in a country which is the modern world’s oldest democracy.

“How can a Constitution be secular and religious at the same time – you cannot have the benefits of a Swiss democracy when it suits you and resort to laws according to your religion when it suits you,” a Swiss Constitutional lawyer told TNM on conditions of anonymity. 

The malaise stems from the VIOZ’s statement that tolerance must be practised ‘in certain cases’. What are those 'cases' and which body other than the Swiss Supreme Court can adjudicate is the question doing the rounds in informed circles.

The suspension is widely viewed as a warning to the association that runs the mosque and also includes a second chance. The VIOZ has said closing the mosque down is not an option as there was no legal basis for it but added that the association needed to put together “requirements for preachers in our mosques”. 

The Imam and a member of the mosque’s association’s board remain in custody while two other have been released. have been remanded in custody. 

So why has the world not heard about this serious development in the modern world’s oldest democracy?

One view is that the phlegmatic Swiss do not want to add to tensions in Europe as they are right in the middle of the Continent facing a series of issues ranging from unemployment to the migrants' crisis to terrorism. 

The Cantonal Police in Zurich is tight lipped about the exact role of the other suspects and their links to sermon. 

The News Minute has learnt that the raid on the mosque followed a period of observation to determine whether or not it had links to radical Islamic movements. When the mosque was raided, the police found four other people who are suspected of having breached Switzerland’s immigration laws. 

The An’Nur mosque itself has not commented on the issue, but the search and seize operations have re-launched a debate that comes up with regularity. Earlier this year a school in Bâle (Basel) found itself in the middle of a controversy when two Muslim pupils said they would not shake hands with their teacher – as it habitual in the country – because it was against their religion and practice.

The school succumbed to the demand which was thrown out at a higher instance which said Swiss schools have one rule for all pupils and there can be no derogation on the basis of religion. The Grand Mosque in Geneva, funded by Saudi Arabia has also been in the news in Switzerland almost as often as the royal family of Saudi Arabia which is often in and around Geneva on the other side of the country from Zurich

With additional reporting by Chitra Subramaniam

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