Zurich’s Muslim organisations have decided to fight prejudice by adopting a groundbreaking charter that underlines their commitment to Swiss values.
The document, the first of its kind in Switzerland, aims to improve the integration and image of Muslims.
On Monday Ismail Amin, president of the umbrella association of Zurich’s Islamic organisations, said that a study carried out by the local university showed that Muslims were portrayed negatively in three out of four Swiss media reports about their community.
"We decided to publish this charter to fight against prejudice and misrepresentations," he said.
The charter demands that the association’s 15 members defend democracy, peace, human rights, equality, integration, promote dialogue between religions and reject violence.
Amin said that some political parties were using fear of Islam as an electoral tool. He pointed to recent campaigning in the run-up to the nationwide vote on the Schengen/Dublin agreements with the European Union on security and asylum.
The charter says that the association is not attempting to create an Islamic state in Switzerland, nor does it place Islamic law above Swiss law.
"The democratic state guarantees a peaceful and harmonious life for all, including the Muslim minority."
The section on integration specifically calls on Muslims to be a part of Swiss society.
The Zurich organisations say they are in favour of the integration of the Muslim community in Switzerland. But they also want respect and tolerance from the Swiss population.
"We want to keep our religious identity," says the charter.
According to Amin, the charter is based on similar documents produced in Germany.
"Because of growing anti-Muslim prejudice and terrorist acts, Germany’s Islamic organisations decided to react," he said. "I hope that other Muslim associations in Switzerland will now follow our example."
The mayor of Zurich, Elmar Ledergerber, hailed the charter as an "unmistakable sign" that Muslim associations were committed to Swiss values. He added that the document made it clear there was no other path to follow other than integration.
swissinfo with agencies
According to the 2000 census, 311,000 Muslims live in Switzerland.
66,000 live in canton Zurich.
Most of the country's Muslims come from the Balkans or Turkey.
Numbers have risen sharply in recent years, rising from 2.2% of the population in 1990 to 4.3% in 2000.
Much of the increase was due to an influx of refugees as a result of the war in the former Yugoslavia.
Zurich’s Islamic organisations created an umbrella association to defend their interests in 1995.
Last year, the association accomplished one of its major goals – the opening of a Muslim burial area.
The association is also overseeing a project to build a central mosque for all of Zurich’s Muslims.
In 2003 voters in Zurich refused to recognise Islam as an official religion.
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