Islamic Cultural Foundation Mosque
Mosquée et Fondation Culturelle Islamique
Chemin de Colladon 34
|Type of Building:||Mosque with minaret|
|Area:||approximately 2576 m2 (building) - 2956 m2 (land)|
|Building height (minaret):||22 m|
|Cost:||Approximately CHF 13 million|
|Objections:||Yes (preservation of older parts of the complex)|
|Owners:||Kingdom of Saudi Arabia|
|Architects:||Zollikofer & Cie, Osman Gürdogan, Jean-Pierre Limongelli|
|Laying of the first stone:||November 1975|
|Construction period:||2.5 years|
|Inauguration:||1st June 1978|
|Religious tradition:||Sunni Islam|
|Conception through to inauguration:||3 years|
Place de Petit-Saconnex. Not far from here is the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations. However, our destination is the «Fondation islamique», the large mosque. The bus drives through a host of residential complexes, then turns into the Chemin de Colladon: «Prochain arrêt Colladon!» We get out. Apartment buildings still rise up on either side of us. Soon, however, we notice a rather low building, surrounded by gardens and trees, and conspicuous by its octagonal cupola. The closer we come, the clearer it is that this is the tip of a small tower, no doubt, the minaret of a mosque. Reaching the main entrance, the entrance hall is visible with its multi-faceted glass roof – the foyer between the Islamic Cultural Foundation and the prayer room.
It is busy here, with a steady coming and going of young and old. The many children give an even higher pulse to the already vibrant place. These children go to the foundation’s school, which teaches Arabic and the Qur’an. The mosque and cultural centre is surrounded on three sides by housing blocks, whose heights are reflected in the height of the minaret, as we will later learn.
The first place for Muslims in Geneva, the Islamic centre in the Eaux-Vives quarter, was established in the early 1960s. Over time, however, it became much too small. The initiative for a new mosque in Geneva came in 1975 from Dr. Medhat Sheikh El Ard, a former U.N. delegate and family physician to the first King of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Âl Saud. His sons, kings Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Âl Saud (reigned 1964-1975) and Fahd Bin Abdulaziz Âl Saud (reigned 1982-2005) provided the necessary finances.
The search for an architect placed a high value on the ability to synthesize oriental and western culture. The choice fell on Osman Gürdogan, a Geneva-based architect of Turkish origin. Hafid Ouardiri, spokesman for the mosque until 2007, explains: «Turkish people, in the history, were known to be always in contact with the West. This architect was able to propose a project that shows a good compromise between the European and the Oriental architecture.» Moreover, it was necessary to intergrate the preservation regulations concerning the historical building which had been acquired with the property. «After having revived old history we can add our own part of history, the mosque. We do this in order to show we are not here to demolish but to rebuild. We are not here to rub out people’s history but to revive it and bring it together with our history.» says Ouardiri.
At that time, the minaret made no political waves. Ouardiri says: «When the former mayor Jacques Vernet of the Liberal Party saw the plans, he said: ‘what a minaret! It is riquiqui (too small), make it at least as high as the surrounding buildings.’ We followed his advice and made it higher.» Later, however, the height had to be reduced as part of the planning application. The mosque was dedicated in 1978, in the presence of the then President Pierre Aubert and the Saudi King Khaled Bin Abdulaziz Âl Saud.
Hafid Ouardiri was born in Algeria and studied sociology and anthropology in France. He came to Geneva in 1972, and soon became involved in the mosque, acting as its spokesman from 1986 to 2007. He says: «I realised that it was important for the people of Geneva to learn about Islam, because many have misunderstandings about the religion – on the other hand, it was also important to give Geneva-based Muslims the opportunity to better understand Swiss society. My approach was to merge the two value systems.»
The Moroccan Youssef Ibram studied in Saudi Arabia and came to Geneva in 1983 to act as Imam for ten years. He then worked in Zurich at the mosque on Rötelstrasse. From 2005 to 2011 he returned to Geneva as the main Imam.
Ouardiri still remembers his first experience with the neighbourhood: «People were apprehensive and interested. They were curious to know if this place would really be open for them. This inspired me straight away to write on a big board outside of the mosque doors: This is not only for Muslims, push the door and enter, you are most welcome!» Ouardiri notes, however, that the relationship was better prior to 11th September 2001: «Today unfortunately some neighbours are anxious about Islam. In the past nobody was asking to whom belonged the mosque and though the donation came from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This made the people affirm strongly this place belongs to the Kingdom of Saudi. Muslims have to prove they are able to handle this situation as citizens far from manipulation.»
Youssef Ibram, says for the record: «We have done a very good work with our neighbours. [...] For example we do a property-day in which the majority of our members go in to our quarter and help to clean it. [...] We also organise a neighbours-day.» The efforts made to have a good relationship with the neighbours is demonstrated by the signs on all the windows of the mosque: «Attention! It is strictly forbidden to open the windows during evening prayer so as not to disturb the neighbours.»
«Islam» means «surrender (to God)». A Muslim is one who surrenders to God. Islam also strongly emphasises the unity, uniqueness and omnipotence of God. It stands in the Judeo-Christian tradition of revelation, with Abraham as the archetype of the faithful, and thus counts as one of the «monotheistic-Abrahamic religions». Islam emerged in the 7th Century C.E. in the Arabian Peninsula. The Meccan Mohammed (ca. 570-632 C.E.) was witness to revelations from about 610 until his death, which were memorised by his followers and in the decades after his death were collected as the Qur’an (literally «recitation»). According to the Qur’an, Mohammed is the last in a series of God’s messengers starting with Adam, and the bringer of the final revelation, he is «the seal of the prophets». In his home city of Mecca, Mohammed initially experienced such strong hostility that he moved with his followers to Medina, where he was welcomed as a mediator between warring tribes, and was subsequently able to establish a religious community.
After Mohammed’s death the carefully collected records (hadiths) concerning his actions and sayings were the second point of reference for his young community of followers after the Qur’an. These describe the exemplary behaviour of the Prophet, the Sunna. Following this, the community called themselves the Sunni, who now make up about 90% of Muslims. The rest are mostly Shiites, who broke from the community after they stood behind Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law Ali as leader in the decades after Mohammed’s death, and later further divided amongst themselves. The five basic duties of adult Muslim men and women are the Shahadah, the profession of faith («There is no God but God and Mohammed is the messenger of God»), praying five times a day at specific times towards Mecca (Salat), fulfilling the alms tax (Zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan between sunrise and sunset, and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).
Switzerland is home to about 400,000 Muslims, 12,000 of them Shiites. About 58% of Muslims in Switzerland come from former Yugoslavia, 21% from Turkey, and 12% have Swiss citizenship. Noteworthy are also the 25-35,000 Alevis, mostly Turkish supporters of a special form of the Shiite tradition, but who are independently organised, and often do not consider themselves Muslim.
Text : Edwin Egeter
Photos : Edwin Egeter
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Center for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 15th April 2015
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