BERN - Swiss Muslim activists are cooperating to create a democratically elected body representing the country's Muslim minority, hoping that such a body would improve understanding of Muslim issues among the authorities and the general population.
Our goal is to create a legitimate democratic believers' community that represents all of Switzerland's Muslims, Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organizations of Switzerland (KIOS), told swissinfo.ch.
The idea came to light following consultations with the country's Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups.
Leading the initiative for the new body, KIOS and the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (FIOS) have been working to formalize the Swiss umma idea.
Circulating it since 2009, both organizations claim the new body could be in place by as early as 2013.
The initiators have formed a commission of public law and Islamic legal experts to examine the new body's future statutes to ensure they respect federal and cantonal legislation.
Organizers believe a new grassroots community would improve understanding of Muslim issues among the authorities and the general population.
The parliament should agree on social and political questions that concern Muslims so that we can talk with one voice, FIOS president Hisham Maizar told the SÃ¼dostschweiz newspaper.
It would also be an important step towards the formal recognition of Islam as an official religion, in Switzerland, says Afshar.
Whenever this question is raised the answer is always that you are not democratically organized and your groups do not represent the Swiss Muslim community, he said.
With such an organization we can speak on the same level, he added.
Switzerland is home to an estimated 400,000 Muslims, out of a population of more than 7 million, most of whom are immigrants from Albania and elsewhere in the Balkans.
In 2009, the far-right party led a 57 percent of the voters' approval on a proposal to ban the construction of mosque minarets nationwide.
The huge propaganda surrounding the voting, however, was regarded as a main cause of tarnishing the image of peaceful Muslims in the European country.
The idea of grouping under one organization was also urged earlier this month in a report released by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that recommended the formation of an umbrella organization for all Swiss Muslims.
Getting organized is always useful, but it needs to be done democratically, Hafid Ouardiri, general-secretary of the Geneva-based interfaith foundation Entre-Connaissance, told Swiss Info.
I think it's good to have a common voice as lots of subjects get deformed through communication.
Religious specialists questioned whether the concept of organizing and regrouping is actually urged.
I can understand people's wish to have a body that can speak with a certain weight with the authorities or in public on behalf of Muslims, said Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, from the Religion Research Centre at Lucerne University.
But I'm not sure all Muslims in Switzerland are interested in this initiative.
Zanetti added that none of the current Muslim groups in Switzerland represents the 400,000 Swiss Muslims.
I think the federal authorities would not hinder the creation of such a body, but they would not promote it either, he said, adding that the organizers were still a long way off realizing their dream.