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Mustafa Memeti, the imam who is against the burqa in the name of Islam

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From his office upstairs to the mosque of the House of religions, in Bern, Mustafa Memeti sees the prayer room reserved for women. He sits behind a table littered with piles of papers. “Could you take off your mask?” he asks, running his hand over his mouth. Clearly, the imam does not like faces covered, whether it is a piece of medical cloth or a niqab.

In the debate on the full veil, it appears as an unexpected support for the Egerkingen Committee, the nationalist right at the origin of the initiative against concealment of the face. For him, it is clear: the niqab has no place in Swiss society. However, he distanced himself from the political forces behind the March 7 vote. “I am aware that the authors of this initiative are trying to instrumentalize this garment, and I do not wish to participate in that. But I share the second goal of this initiative: the emancipation of women, ”he explains.

I have speaks in German with a Balkan accent. He was born in southern Serbia, between parents of Albanian origin, in a conservative environment. His father and grandfather were imams before him. He freed himself from his family universe by studying theology and law in Syria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. He permanently fled his country during the war in Yugoslavia and arrived in Switzerland in 1991. Today, he leads Friday prayers in three languages ​​in the Swiss capital: German, Albanian and Arabic, chairs the Albanian Islamic Association and exercises as chaplain in prison.

Public confidence

He could have chosen to stay in the background. But this is not the kind of this 59-year-old Bernese, naturalized in 2005, used to taking part in the public debate on Islam. “This initiative presents us with a great challenge. Most Muslims don’t want to hear about niqab, it’s anything but their priority. Yet it is a fact: this garment leaves an unpleasant feeling and harms the image of Islam. Faced with the fears of society with regard to Islam, we must in no case be silent. We have to provide answers. ”

Whether he is reacting to a terrorist act in France or denouncing a radical sermon in Switzerland, Mustafa Memeti never misses an opportunity to condemn religious extremism. Are we worried about the rise of radicalization? He pleads for more control of Muslim places of worship and local training of imams. “Muslims, like others, have an interest in being able to freely practice their religion in a democratic society, with economic prospects and where the rule of law takes precedence over religion. I don’t want my children to evolve in a parallel society, ”he says.

With his critical discourse against conservative Islamic forces, he has profiled himself as a moderate and won the confidence of public opinion, even in circles most hostile to Islam. His family embodies the model of integration he calls for. His daughter is a secondary school teacher: “She teaches German to Swiss people,” he says with pride. His first son, a computer scientist, works at Swisscom. His younger brother studied law at the University of Bern. His wife wears a veil, but not his daughter. “The bottom line is that they have a choice.”

In 2014, the Sunday newspaper designates Mustafa Memeti “Swiss of the year”, in particular for its “fight for the peaceful cohabitation” of religious communities. Because the imam of Bern is one of the promoters of the House of Religions, which pursues an ecumenical mission by bringing together under one roof the representatives of eight religions: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Alevis, Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs.

Not in the Quran

His exposure also earned him insults from “ultra-conservative circles”, he said, who taxed him as “hypocrite”, “booty”, or even “Islamophobic”. He shrugs his shoulders: “Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in Switzerland.” By supporting the ban on the full veil, he intends once again to attack an interpretation of the Koran which has no place in “modern society”: “The niqab is not a religious symbol and is not has no theological basis. It is a phenomenon that was invented by Puritan Islamist forces of a bygone era. Nothing in Islamic theology requires a person to cover their hands and face. Therefore, there is no reason to defend this garment. ”

In the liberal society he loves, could we not refuse to ban it without defending it? Mustafa Memeti narrows his blue eyes: “The niqab excludes women who wear it from public life. How do we see the future of Muslim women in our society, with or without? For me, it’s without. “

He refuses to consider that the full veil could be a matter of choice: “What is freedom if it is stolen?” asks the imam, who feels invested with a duty of clarification. Because if women wearing a niqab are not forced to do so, it is because they are “victims of a misinterpretation of religious texts,” he thinks. The full veil prevents them from having a public existence. Islam is not a religion which excludes or which forces. It is our duty to explain to them. “


1962 Born in southern Serbia.

1991 Flees the war in Yugoslavia for Switzerland.

2005 Obtains Swiss nationality.

2014 Opening of the House of Religions in Bern.

2018 Completes training for chaplains of different religions Religious Care im Migrationskontext, first of its kind proposed by the Faculty of Theology of the University of Bern.

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