Islam and society30.03.2022

Transnational influences losing importance in Muslim communities

Transnational networks such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt, and the Islamic World League, which is financed by Saudi Arabia, have played an important role in the creation and development of several Muslim associations and mosques. Compared to other countries, however, in Switzerland they were only able to gain a minor foothold and have lost importance in recent years. These are the results of a new study by the Schweizerisches Zentrum für Islam und Gesellschaft (Swiss Centre for Islam and Society – SZIG).

This is the first study that examines the relationship between transnational relations and local networks, with a focus on Arabic-speaking Muslim communities in Switzerland. The study concludes that in more recent times umbrella organisations structured at the cantonal level have taken on important representative functions with respect to politics, the media, churches and society.

Adapting to the reality of life in Switzerland
The paper written by Hansjörg Schmid, Noemi Trucco and Federico Biasca starts with an exemplary analysis of a media and political debate in which influences from abroad are frequently assumed to play a key role. This is followed by a description based on most recent research of four transnational Muslim networks and their influence in the West (Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat, Al-Ahbash and Wahhabiyya). These have undergone many adaptation processes due to a change of context. The focus then shifts to seven case studies on important Muslim communities in centres that include Zurich, Basel, Bern, Delémont, Lausanne and Geneva.. Based on documents as well as around 40 interviews and expert consultations, the studies analyse the relationship between external influences and local networks. A large number of the organisations founded in the 1970s are now multilingual. While some tend to be more inward-looking, others maintain close relationships with authorities, schools and churches. The large mosque in Geneva, for example, is strongly influenced by developments in Saudi politics, but also offers space for women’s groups and religious instruction that is geared towards the reality of life in Switzerland. The example of a mosque in Zurich, on the other hand, shows how financing from the United Arab Emirates generated by business relationships is handled with transparency.

Dynamics and diversity
The study clearly shows that the field of Muslim organizations is incredibly dynamic. Muslim communities have diversified far beyond transnational networks and have developed activities such as education and training schemes, mosque tours and spiritual care. The transnational networks are only partially integrated into the locally established dynamics and structures. The study thus refutes a generalized picture of an externally controlled Islam in Switzerland and shows that transnational relations require a careful analysis that distinguishes between personal, ideological and institutional dimensions. Social debates and the religious policy of the cantons also have a great influence on the Muslim communities.

On the study
The study was funded by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). It builds on studies carried out by the SZIG on imams and Muslim communities in Switzerland. The SZIG is an interfaculty institute of the Faculties of Theology, Law and Philosophy at the University of Fribourg. Founded in 2015 as a Swiss-wide competence centre, the SZIG is the result of a multi-year discussion process at the federal level.

Link to the study:

Image: Geneva Mosque