Mosque in Wangen near Olten
Olten Türk Kültür Ocaği
4612 Wangen b. Olten
|Type of Building:
|Assembly rooms with mosque (conversion)
|approximately 1150 m2 (building), 2272 m2 (land)
|Approximately 15.7 m
|Approximately CHF 920,000 (including land purchase and complete conversion; minaret: CHF 50,000)
|Olten Türk Kültür Ocagi (Turkish Cultural Association)
|Çelikerler, Bartin, Turkey / Hanspeter Studer, Hägendorf
|Start of Conversion:
|Construction period for the minaret:
|Conception through to inauguration:
|Approximately 7 years
From Olten, the regional train departs towards Solothurn. On the right it passes the industrial-zone Hammer, and on the left the traveller passes gravel pits. A few minutes later the train stops in Wangen. Leaving the station, the eye first alights on the Jura, with the Catholic Church and village centre in front of it on the right, and houses and apartment blocks on the left, interspersed with gardens. Further left is what appears to be a industrial zone, with parked trucks, freight cars on the trains, and a bridge for traffic over the railway tracks. To the right of this, on the edge of the residential area is a small building complex: a house, behind which a small blue spire is visible. As one approaches it becomes clear that the spire has a short, white octagonal shaft with golden edges and a small circular balcony, and it stands on a white podium on top of the house. It is capped, scarcely visible, by a dull gold bar with three balls right at the top and a small crescent. On the building a red sign declares: «Olten Türk Kültür Ocagi – Turkish Cultural Association».
As with many other «cultural associations» of Muslim migrant workers in Switzerland, this one also contains a mosque. The minaret which indicates this brought the association to national attention even before it had been constructed. «The association was founded in 1978», says spokesman Mustafa Karahan, in Olten, as the name suggests. In 2002 they bought the assembly rooms, the site of a disused paint and ink factory in Wangen – the lettering can still be seen at the entrance, «Rechsteiner & Co.» – to convert it for use in the many association activities: prayer rooms for women and men in the basement, laundry rooms, a hall with game tables, several lounges with kitchenettes, other rooms for offices, meetings and training sessions, and an apartment for the Imam. There is much more space here than in Olten, even a garden with space for the 70 families which make up the community to have summer picnics.
«It’s not only Turks who come», says Karahan, «but also people from the Balkans, Arabs, and Swiss. Other people come and take part in the various activities, as we are not only a mosque, but also have a clubhouse and are an association.»But why did the club want a minaret for it s prayer hall? Karahan says: «Every mosque usually has a minaret. The minaret is like a church steeple. Moreover it is a sign for all Muslim foreigners here, if they see the minaret they know: Here I can go and pray». The minaret was manufactured in Turkey by the Çelikerler company in 70 days, and on 9th January 2009 it was set on the pedestal with a crane. Hidden within the podium is the lift shaft of the former paint factory.
Mustafa Karahan has lived and worked in Switzerland since 1979. «I did teacher training in Turkey. Here I work in a factory.» He was elected spokesman by the association board - during the debate over the minaret the spokesman had a lot to do. More important for him, however, is his other role: «For a long time I have organized various courses through the association: tutoring for school children, computer courses, German courses for adults including women, health courses, driving lessons. More than 35 women have already passed their driving test, thanks to our course. We are constantly offering new courses: whatever the people want. We already have had partial funding from the EKM the Federal commission for migration.»
The minaret, which could finally be erected on 9th January 2009, had kept the association busy for the previous four years, as well as the local and cantonal authorities, the media and even the federal court. Even the conversion of the former factory into assembly rooms and mosque had received objections from the neighbourhood, although these were dismissed by the planning commission of the local council. The same commission decided differently when the association filed a petition for a 6 m high minaret, which would not cause a noise disturbance, but rather be “symbolic”. The association raised objections with the Solothurn Building and Justice department, who awarded in their favour. This was only the first of many rounds, however, as after the publication of the building plans in September 2005 seven more objections were received, including one from a local church parish and one collective objection with 381 signatures. The building commission upheld the objections on the grounds that the minaret would turn the former factory into a sacred building, which was not allowed in an industrial zone. As well as the proposed minaret and a lack of parking, it was decided that the building violated building regulations and did not fit aesthetically into the surrounding area. Again, the association called on the cantonal building and justice department, which again ruled in their favour. As a result, two private objectors brought the case to the federal court, which on 4th July 2007 also decided in favour of the association. But there was a round still to come, as in autumn 2007 the Wangen building commission declared that the period of the planning permit had elapsed. The cantonal building department overturned this.
Not only the minaret gave rise to discussion, but the image of a wolf on the association logo, which can be seen at the entrance to the house, on one of the flags in front of the building and on the association’s homepage. The inside of the centre also has many images and symbols which are important to Turkish culture. In Turkish mythology it was the mother-wolf Asena who in prehistoric times led the Turks through a maze of mountain valleys to more habitably land. Asena is to this day used by many Turks as a symbol of their origins. Opponents of the association and the minaret, however, claimed that this symbol showed a connection with the «Grey Wolves», an organization which championed extreme nationalism through terrorist activities in the years before 1980. On this Karahan is definite: «We have no connection to them. The grey wolf simply comes from history. This is part of our culture in the same way that the rooster is a symbol for the French.» The Swiss intelligence service, who in 2006 had suggested a vague link between the association and the «grey wolves», have since retracted this suggestion.
«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 : Andreas Tunger-Zanetti
Photos : Andreas Tunger-Zanetti
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Centre for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 21 July 2020
© 2020 Department for the Study of Religion, University of Lucerne