On Saturday, more than 2,000 people gathered in Bern at a protest organized by the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland to demonstrate against discrimination against Muslims.
The protest, which took place at a square in front of the Swiss parliament and had a festive feel to it, also attracted a number of Muslim organizations and dignitaries from other Western countries. They were there to show their support and raise awareness about discrimination against Muslims.
“This event is a pioneering one and is expected to become the biggest Islamic festival in Switzerland which addresses the issue of discrimination against Muslims as well as the stereotypes associated with Islam,” Elie Qassaim, the Swiss Islamic Council’s spokesman, who converted to Islam a few years ago, told the Kuwaiti news agency, KUNA.
“This festival offers an opportunity to present the activities of the council and to express its commitment to working towards the guarantee of principles of human rights and the freedom of religion in Switzerland,” Qassim added.
Switzerland in 2009 voted on a referendum to decide three issues, among them a contentious bill that banned the construction of new minarets in mosques. The ban passed with 57 percent in favor of the proposal.
Lorraine Booth, media journalist, activist and sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recently converted to Islam, attended the event.
“After becoming a Muslim, why all this sudden panic and shock?” Booth said in her speech to the crowd as she referred to an article in The Guardian newspaper as she narrated her story of how she became a Muslim.
Booth, who urged the West to drop their “advice” to Muslim women, was joined by a fellow British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, who was once held by the Taliban and converted to Islam after her release.
“This festival is considered to be a chance for Muslims and non-Muslims to stand together and support each other to guarantee human rights essentially the protection of freedom of religion,” Qassaim said.
“It is an ideal opportunity for the participants to have an in-depth idea of the lives of Muslims in Switzerland,” he added.
The Swiss Islamic Council was formed in 2009, and it includes more than 2,000 members in addition to 13 Islamic committees. Observers tout the council as a success story, saying it it strives to help Muslims in the country with social, political and legal issues.