At the University of Geneva, Muslim students will pray at any cost

On April 21, an article appeared in Topo, the student magazine of the University of Geneva, in which Kawthar, a star, recounts the daily life of Muslim students turned to prayer at the stairwell on the campus. the reason? The university does not provide a room that would allow most religious students to perform the five daily prayers. The status quo of the founders lasted for four years and today the situation is getting worse among the students.

The article already denounces the facts of “provocation”: “The posters showing the cover page of Charlie Hebdo magazine with sensitive representations of the religion of Islam have been pasted on the walls of the stairwell,” illustrating his paper with the image of a prayer rug thrown into the trash. The information was confirmed by Othman El-Ainawy, member of the Arab World League at the University of Geneva (AMAGE). The latter notes that the Muslim students, who are linked to the same WhatsApp group, had sent these images there, denouncing the existence of a harmful atmosphere, without prompting any reaction from the institution.

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Secular Law

The students are calling for the creation of a “meditation room,” as stated in an online petition that began four years ago and was recently relaunched. According to the 3,000 petitioners, members of all sects should be able to mingle in a place that would allow “their batteries to be recharged and to enjoy a quiet place on a spiritual level.” They also point out that this is already the case at the universities of Zurich, Saint-Galll ​​or Lausanne. “The meditation space at the University of Lausanne hosts services and audiences, and a large number of students benefit from coming to meditate there multiple times a day,” explains Anouk Troyon, Reformed chaplain.

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For Yves Flückiger, President of the University of Geneva, “There is no opposition in principle to thinking of a space for contemplation – not a space for prayer – that is open to all, believers or non-believers, and that respects the rules of secularism. Moreover, there is a Christian church (Protestant and Catholic) on the campus. But its activities, according to its charter, fall under “a service of a social character” and “open to all members of the university community.” Jean-Michel Perret, a Protestant pastor present, asserts that he is only a “tenant of the State of Geneva”, receives no support from the university nor It practices “neither worship nor prayer” within its infrastructure.

According to Hafeez Al-Wardiri, a former spokesman for the Geneva Mosque and director of the Mutual Knowledge Foundation, this kind of place should indeed be seen, “as an interfaith slave where everyone can gather according to his confession.” But what if the students decide to pray there? Hafeez al-Wardiri, who supports the demands of Muslim students, believes that “the secularism law should be extended to include this possibility.”

Indeed, the law, updated in 2018, provided for the prohibition of any religious activity in institutions governed by common law (with the exception of medical, social and medical departments). Thus, University President Yves Flückiger explains his refusal to enter into the subject of a room that could be used for prayer: “The University of Geneva guarantees freedom of conscience and belief as well as strict religious neutrality, as any religious activity is prohibited in all its buildings.

outstretched hand

In April 2018, Geneva Protestants heard the call of Muslim students, as Rev. Carolina Costa of LAB explained, a “Christian, progressive, puritanical, inclusive community” located in the Temple of Plainpalais. “At that time, at the instigation of our youth, I received a representative of the Muslim Student Association to offer them to come to pray in the temple. Unfortunately, this proposal was not pursued, ”sorry. When asked about this outstretched hand, a student close to the Muslim League at the University of Geneva answered frankly: “Many Muslim and Christian students looking for a place of prayer have not felt comfortable or recognized by this church.”

Finally, if some students “arrive at all costs” on campus, according to the same student, the institution will not impose penalties. Says Yves Flückiger, whose administration should soon receive a new written request for a meditation room from several Muslim Student Associations, with support from the University Conference of Student Associations (CUAE), an umbrella organization of student associations.

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