At the University of Geneva, Muslim students will pray at all costs

On April 21, an article appeared in topo, the student magazine of the University of Geneva, in which Kaouthar Najim recounts the daily life of Muslim students reduced to praying in a stairwell on campus. The reason? The University does not provide a room allowing the most observant students to perform their five daily prayers. An institutional status quo that has lasted for four years and today a situation that is getting worse between students.

The article indeed denounces facts of “provocation”: “Posters showing the cover page of Charlie Hebdo with sensitive representations touching on the Muslim religion have been stuck to the walls of the stairwell”, writes the student , which illustrates his paper with the image of a prayer rug thrown into a trash can. Information confirmed by Otmane El Ainoui, member of the Arab World Association of the University of Geneva (AMAGE). The latter notes that Muslim students, connected to the same WhatsApp group, would have sent these photos there, deploring that a deleterious climate is in the process of settling, without this arousing any reaction from the institution. .

Read also: “In the name of the image”: a dialogue between Islam and Christianity at the Rietberg Museum

secularism law

Students are calling for the creation of a “meditation room”, as mentioned in an online petition initiated four years ago and recently relaunched. According to the 3,000 petitioners, members of all denominations should be able to mingle in a place allowing “to recharge their batteries and enjoy a soothing place on a spiritual level”. They also point out that this is already the case in the Universities of Zurich, Saint-Gall or Lausanne. “The meditation space at the University of Lausanne hosts services and masses, and a large number of students take advantage of coming to meditate there several times a day”, explains Anouk Troyon, reformed chaplain.

Read also: In Neuchâtel, the recognition of religious communities will wait

For Yves Flückiger, rector of the University of Geneva, “there is no opposition in principle to a reflection on a space for meditation – and not a space for prayer – open to everyone, believers or not, and respectful of the rules of secularism. Moreover, on campus, there is a Christian chaplaincy (Protestant and Catholic). But its activities, according to its charter, fall under a “service of a social nature” and are “open to all members of the university community”. Jean-Michel Perret, the Protestant chaplain in place, assures that he is only a “tenant of the State of Geneva”, does not receive any subsidy from the University and does not exercise “neither worship nor prayer” within his infrastructure.

According to Hafid Ouardiri, former spokesperson for the Geneva mosque and director of the Foundation for Inter-Knowledge, it is indeed this type of place that should be considered, “an interreligious chaplaincy where everyone could gather according to his confession. But what if the students still decide to pray there? For Hafid Ouardiri, who supports the demands of Muslim students, “the law on secularism should extend to this possibility”.

Indeed, the text of the law, updated in 2018, stipulates that any religious activity is prohibited in establishments governed by public law (excluding medical and medico-social circles). Thus, the rector Yves Flückiger explains his refusal to enter into the subject of a room which would be used for prayer: “The University of Geneva guarantees freedom of conscience and belief as well as strict religious neutrality, where the prohibition of any religious activity in all its buildings.

an outstretched hand

In April 2018, the call of Muslim students had however been heard by Protestants in Geneva, as explained by Pastor Carolina Costa of LAB, “Christian, progressive, militant and inclusive community” located at the Plainpalais temple. “At the time, at the instigation of our young people, I received one of the representatives of an association of Muslim students to offer them to come and pray at the temple. Unfortunately, no follow-up was given to this proposal,” she regrets. Asked about this outstretched hand, a student close to the Muslim Association of the University of Geneva answers bluntly: “Many Muslim and Christian students looking for a place of prayer did not feel comfortable or recognized by this church.”

Finally, if some students “pray at all costs” on campus, according to the same student, the institution will not take sanctions. “The University will always favor discussion and dialogue,” says Yves Flückiger, whose administration should soon receive a new written request for a room for meditation from several associations of Muslim students, supported by the University Conference of student associations (CUAE), umbrella organization of student associations.

We wish to say thanks to the writer of this short article for this remarkable web content

At the University of Geneva, Muslim students will pray at all costs

You can find our social media accounts as well as other related pages