Public (in)Visibility of Faith: The Contrasting Responses of Two Muslim Organizations to the Debate on the Public/Private Divide in Switzerland

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:30
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Amir SHEIKHZADEGAN, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Michael NOLLERT, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
With a gradual transformation of Muslim migrant groups into diasporic communities (Schiffauer 2007) and their transition “from the status of the invisible migrant-worker to that of visible Muslim citizenship” (Göle 2011), an awakening of Muslim identity can be observed in almost all Western European countries.

The increasing public visibility of Islam has triggered hot public debates on the question of how to reconcile two core issues in the social contract of Western European societies: freedom of faith and the public/private divide.

Taking part in these debates, Muslim organizations have taken different stances to address the concerns of the autochthonous population. Based on narrative interviews and participatory observation, the study analyzes contrasting responses of two Muslim organizations: the Jamaat Ahmadiyya (AJ) and the Islamic Central Council Switzerland (ICCS).

The AJ, a persecuted minority in Pakistan, views secularity as an excellent framework for its congregation to freely observe its religious rituals. Internally a conservative, traditionalist community, the AJ follows externally an accommodationist policy thus retreating into private spaces to carry out religious rituals.

By contrast, the ICCS, an Islamist organization founded by a group of second generation Muslims and converts, sees in secularity a violation of freedom of faith and try to persuade its members to publicly live up to an orthodox code of conduct.

Finally, the paper shows how these two approaches are linked to the identity politics of the respective organizations

The study is part of a larger project funded by The Swiss National Science Foundation investigating the narrative identities of Muslims actively engaged in voluntary associations.