18.01.2019 – Culture & Nightlife

‘We also take part in Friday prayers’

Interview: Eva Hediger

Muslims have been living in Zurich for more than fifty years. What are their daily lives like? How do they live their faith? You can find the answer to these questions by taking one of the daily city tours led by Islamic scholar Rifa’at Lenzin.

How prevalent is Islam in Zurich?

Muslims make up about 10% of the population of the city and conurbation of Zurich. But Islam isn’t particularly visible. You generally can’t tell whether a man is a Muslim, and the same goes for women unless they wear the hijab. And most mosques don’t obviously look like mosques. The one at Balgrist is an exception..

‘Most mosques don’t obviously look like mosques. The one at Balgrist is an exception.’

This is also the starting point of the ‘Islam in Zurich’ city tour. It lasts a whole day. Why’s that?

I show people the history of Muslims and Islam in Zurich, but I also want to introduce them to two different milieus that are typical of Switzerland – one Turkish, the other Balkan. I explain the differences, but also the similarities. We also visit the Muslim burial area at Witikon cemetery. That takes time, and it’s a while before people dare to start asking me questions.

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Do they have any prejudices?

JYes, sometimes. Particularly in the afternoon, once they start to feel more comfortable with me. They always ask me about the hijab and whether it is discriminatory. And recently there have been a lot more questions about the relationship between the mosques and the Turkish state. I think it’s important that people can ask these questions.

Do people have an opportunity to meet other Muslims?

Yes, sometimes. Particularly in the afternoon, once they start to feel more comfortable with me. They always ask me about the hijab and whether it is discriminatory. And recently there have been a lot more questions about the relationship between the mosques and the Turkish state. I think it’s important that people can ask these questions.

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Profile pictures: Patrick Lüthy

What kind of people come on your tour?

All kinds. Some are locals who walk past the mosque every day and want to know more about it. Then there are teachers or people who have contact with Muslims. But most people just want to learn more about Islam and the function of mosques, but they don’t dare visit them on their own.

‘It’s all very strange to them and they often have inhibitions.‘

Why not?

It’s all very strange to them and they often have inhibitions. If people are praying in the mosque, they usually don’t know whether they are allowed to visit. And if there’s nobody there, it doesn’t really make sense to go in because all they see is a bare room..

Should the people of Zurich get more involved with Islam in their daily lives?

Not really. Some people are more curious, perhaps because they have a Muslim colleague, or they’re generally interested in social and religious issues. But most people have enough to do in their daily lives without wanting to spend their free time on this kind of thing.

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Is that bad?

No, I totally understand it, particularly as everyone generally lives happily side by side. But all the same, it’s important to show that the portrayal of Islam in the media has nothing to do with the daily lives of Muslims in Switzerland. Unfortunately, far too few people understand that.

Address

Reformierte Kirche Zürich-Balgrist
Lenggstrasse 75
8008 Zurich

Info

The tour on Friday, 15 February, is organised by the Zurich Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and the Zurich Adult Education Centre. It begins at 9 am in front of the Balgrist Evangelical Reformed Church and lasts the whole day. If you are interested, please register by Friday, 25 January, at info@ziid.ch.