Islamic Religious Education in Switzerland

Hansjörg Schmid, Andreas Tunger-Zanetti and Monika Winter-Pfdndler

State-Church Relations and the Muslim

Communities in Switzerland

State and Church in Switzerland

Switzerland was founded in 1848 as a federal state with a strong democratic and federalist system. Many areas of government responsibility lie with the cantons, such as education, police, and social services. Until the 20th century, Switzerland was influenced by the two “confessional cultures”: those of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformed traditions. Since the Reformation, these two cultures have usually been separated by “bright boundaries” (Alba, 2005), mostly coinciding with cantonal borders. With the creation of the federal state, freedom of residence was guaranteed. This caused, in its turn, an increasing intermingling of the population, although mixed marriages remained very rare until World War II.

Within the last 50 years, the Swiss religious landscape has changed considerably. Until the 1970s, the churches recognised under public law (i.e., the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformed Churches) represented almost the entire population, but today they represent only 60%. Although the majority of the Swiss population still describes itself as predominantly Christian, the National Research Programme “Religious Communities, State and Society” demonstrates the increasing diversity of religious orientations (Bochinger, 2011). Besides, one in four Swiss residents is not affiliated with any religion or denomination (Bundesamt fur Statistik, 2019).

The relationship between the state, churches, and religious communities is intended to ensure a balance between religious interest groups and thus to secure religious peace in the country. Historically, three different leanings can be distinguished between the cantons: Reformed, Catholic, and parity between both confessions. However, a major demographic change can be observed today. It can still be said that cantons with Reformed traditions such as Bern, Vaud, or Zurich maintain a relatively close relationship between church and state, while the churches are granted extensive autonomy in Catholic cantons such as Fribourg, Lucerne, or Ticino. In cantons with parity traditions, such as Aargau or St. Gallen, the state has issued autonomous framework regulations for the two large churches.

It is the responsibility of the cantons to shape the institutional relations between the state and the religious communities. In this regard, religious communities can be recognised as a body under public law (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts). This recognition encompasses, among other things, the right of the local parish to levy church tax (Weibel, 2007). At present, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformed Churches have been recognised under public law in all Swiss cantons, with the exception of Geneva and Neuchâtel. The Old Catholic Church is recognised under public law in nine cantons, and Jewish communities are recognised in four cantons (Basel-Stadt, Bern, Fribourg, and St. Gallen). Four cantons (Basel-Stadt, Fribourg, Vaud, and Zurich) also have a more symbolic form of recognition, often referred to as “minor recognition” (communauté religieuse d’intérêt public). In Basel, the anthrop-osophical Christian Community (Christengemeinschaft), the Alevi community, and the New Apostolic Church obtained this status between 2010 and 2012. The Alevi community is the first example of a non-Christian and non-Jewish community to be recognised, but otherwise no Muslim community has obtained major or minor status in any canton. Hence Muslim communities are in most cases organised as private associations or foundations.

Muslim Communities in Switzerland

According to the categories of the Federal Statistical Office, about 500,000 people, or 5.5% of Switzerland’s population (including Alevis) declare adherence to Islam, and according to the PEW Research Center (2017), 6.1% of the Swiss population belong to Islam. The proportion of the total population is comparable to that in neighbouring countries, and the ethnic origin is very heterogeneous. Muslims originating from one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia make up slightly over half; people of Turkish origin less than a fifth; and Arabs less than 10%. During recent years, refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have added to ethnic diversity among Muslims in Switzerland. Nowadays, almost two out of five Muslims hold Swiss citizenship.

Muslim religious life is centred in some 270 mosques, mostly lodged in converted industrial premises. Most of the Islamic associations or, in few cases, foundations, operating in these prayer halls are still dominated by the ethnic group that founded them, some as early as the 1960s when Yugoslavs and Turks began coming to Switzerland as migrant workers. However, only a minority - an estimated 15% to 25% percent of all Muslims - are members of a mosque association.

The diversity among Muslims, combined with Switzerland’s linguistic plurality and the small scale of many cantons, have contributed to the slow pace at which mosque-affiliated Muslims have organised themselves in the last three decades. Umbrella organisations exist in only eight out of the 26 cantons, and until today, no Muslim (umbrella) organisation has received, or solicited, the status of body governed under public law. The more symbolic status of minor recognition was conferred on two Alevi associations in the city-canton of Basel-Stadt in 2011 and requested by the umbrella organisation L’VAM (Union vaudoise des associations musulmanes, Vaud Union of Muslim Associations) in the canton of Vaud in 2019 (pending). However, the Swiss system of semi-direct democracy1 means any such request has to pass a high hurdle, as, depending on the canton, a referendum might be called on the question.

Religion and Education in Switzerland:

General Overview

The Swiss education system is the responsibility of the cantons, and education is organised in German, French, Italian, or Rhaeto-Romanic -depending on the language area. The 26 cantons and their communes together finance 90% of education expenses. Schools are organised by municipalities and are free of charge. Public (or governmental) schools account for 87.1%; 4.5% are private and subsidised by the state, and 8.4% are private and not state subsidised. Every state-recognised private school (faith-based or other; subsidised or non-subsidised) is subject to approval and state control and must follow the cantonal curriculum. Only 4.6% of the pupils attend a private school (Bundesamt fur Statistik, 2020). Given that around 95% of pupils complete compulsory schooling at their local commune’s public school, these schools play an important role in integration. There are eight years of compulsory schooling at primary level from ages 5 to 12 (including two years at kindergarten) and three years at secondary level from ages 13 to 15. The federal government and the cantons are responsible for the subsequent vocational training, together with grammar schools and universities (Schweizerische Konferenz der kantonalen Erziehungsdirektoren, 2017).

Since the 19th century, education in the areas of ethics and religion in elementary schools has been characterised by Zweigleisigkeit, meaning “two tracks”. Jakobs et al. (2009) used this term because the schools in most Swiss cantons had both “Bible instruction”, for which the state was responsible, and church-based religious instruction (RI). Bible instruction included an introduction to the Bible from a Christian viewpoint and topics related to the real-life situations of the children. In Catholic and mixed confession cantons, church RI was generally given throughout the entire period of primary school, parallel to state Bible instruction. In Protestant Reformed cantons, church instruction was often limited to the secondary level (confirmation instruction), while in primary schools, Bible instruction was simultaneously structured as Protestant Reformed instruction. Catholic children and children of other faiths were exempted from Bible instruction here, and their RI took place outside of school.

The modernisation of Swiss society in the second half of the 20th century increasingly called into question Bible teaching in schools and required further development of the professional understanding of cultural and religious diversity. As the different models and developments of religious education (RE) also represent the framework for Islamic religious education (IRE), the five main cantonal pathways are briefly outlined below:

  • 1 Following the new cantonal curriculum of 1995, the Canton of Berne- influenced by French-speaking cantons - divided the subject of religion and life skills (corresponding to the earlier Bible teaching) into a general educational part of “religion, humanity, ethics”, which was included in the subject of “nature, humanity, environment”, and into a church part, which was conceived as “church instruction” by the Evangelical Reformed Church in extracurricular form (Erziehungsdirektion des Kantons Bern, 1995; Baumann et al., 2004).
  • 2 The Canton of St. Gallen, which had traditionally close cooperation between churches and the government, also revised its Bible teaching in schools in 1997. As “interdenominational instruction”, it was integrated into the subject of “humans and the environment”, in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Reformed Church of St. Gallen canton (Bildungsdepartement des Kantons St. Gallen, 1997; Hautle, 2000). It could then be taught by school or church teachers who had been trained to do so. In parallel, RI in the church continued.
  • 3 The Canton of Zurich was also familiar with this kind of cooperation with national churches at the secondary level. However there, so-called denominational-cooperative RE, like the primary school subject of biblical history, was transferred to a new independent subject, “religion and culture”, which was introduced between 2004 and 2007 after a long debate (Bildungsdirektion des Kantons Zurich, 2008; Pfeiffer, 2005). In Zurich, too, biblical history had previously been presented at the same time as Protestant Reformed basic education. Confessional educational goals have now been implemented by the Protestant Reformed Church in extracurricular form, within the framework of the “overall religious educational concept”.
  • 4 In the canton of Lucerne, the subject of “ethics and religions” emerged from biblical teaching (Bildungsplanung Zentralschweiz, 2005). As a complement to this new school subject, which is not dependent on religion, RI is now offered by regional churches within the school framework (Römisch-katholische Landeskirche des Kantons Luzern &• Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche des Kantons Luzern, 2006). This model was adopted by numerous other German-speaking cantons.
  • 5 In the French-speaking canton of Vaud, efforts had already been made in the first half of the 20th century to clearly distinguish RE in schools from church catechesis. For example, in all curricula from 1899 onwards, the term “biblical history” was used in state teaching. From 2006, this technical term was supplemented with “religious cultures” (Rota and Müller, 2015).

In 2014, these new, tried and tested models were given official recognition in the German-speaking cantons as part of Curriculum 21 in the subject area of Ethics, Religions, Community {Ethik — Religionen — Gemeinschaft [ERG]). With the exception of the cantons of Berne, Zurich, and Solothurn, religion and ethics have remained “zweigleisig’' and have continued to follow the two-track model in German-speaking schools. In 2010, the Plan d’études romand (French-Speaking Cantons Study Plan, PER), which also applies to Italian-speaking Switzerland, had already been introduced in the French-speaking cantons. The special field of ethics and religious cultures was assigned to the human and social sciences area. As the choice of whether to offer the subject is left to the individual cantons, it is not taught in the secular cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel.

With the introduction of the two curricula Plan d’études romand and Curriculum 21, religion became an ordinary general subject in public state schools. The subject is compulsory for all pupils and is presented by teachers who have completed tertiary education at a teacher training college. The education departments of the individual cantons and their local school communities are responsible for implementing educational objectives (Frank, 2018). The educational goals of the Plan d’études romand focus on the discovery of different cultures across space and time, as well as on the analysis of relationship systems connecting individuals and social groups with the world and with others (Conférence intercantonale de l’instruction publique de la Suisse romande et du Tessin, 2016).

Similar educational goals are also defined in the Curriculum 21 for the German-speaking cantons. On one hand “competences should be cultivated to enable living with different cultures, religions, world views and value settings” (Bildungsdepartement des Kantons St. Gallen, 2017a, 7). On the other hand, the subject is also about finding identity and practicing tolerance. This includes consideration of fundamental human experiences and ethical principles, encounters with religious traditions and ideas, and how coexistence is shaped (Bildungsdepartement des Kantons St. Gallen, 2017a). Like other religious traditions, Islam is viewed from a religious studies perspective. The pupils deal with religious patterns in everyday life and in cultural works, texts, religious practice, festival traditions, and the diversity of religious worldviews. The effects of religions and religious communities in social contexts are also examined (Bildungsdepartement des Kantons St. Gallen, 2017b, 65-67; 132-135).

In 17 cantons (including Aargau, Lucerne, St. Gallen, and Thurgau), RI at the primary level is offered in various ways by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformed Churches as part of the timetable. In four cantons (including Zurich) there is no church education within the school framework. At the secondary level, 15 cantons allow RI within the timetable. The Canton of St. Gallen offers the elective subject “ERG-school” or “ERG-churches” at secondary level (Schmid, 2018).

The content of cantonal Protestant and Catholic curricula is very similar. The educational objectives of the Curriculum for the Catholic Church in German-Speaking Switzerland are briefly presented here as examples. The aim of denominational education is to strengthen the pupils’ ability to orient themselves religiously. In order to promote tolerance and competence in the presence of diverse religious worldviews, this denominational education should be based on the Christian tradition and on reflection and interpretation of other denominations and religions. Consequently, basic knowledge about the Christian religion, its denominations, and its relationship to other religions, including Islam, is imparted from a theological perspective. This is intended to contribute to a broader cultural education and to the further development of a community based on Christian values. Therefore, the development of identity and religious expression should also be promoted (Netzwerk Katechese, 2017).

Islamic Education in Switzerland:

The Current Situation2

The permission for religious communities to offer confessional RE in public schools is in some cantons linked to one of the two privileged statuses of the respective religions (Pahud de Mortanges, 2002). In other cantons, RE, including IRE, is possible if the parties involved can agree on the details. Local school boards play an important role here. If IRE has so far only been undertaken in a handful of places, this is due to several factors, among them a lack of awareness of the existing possibilities and fear of public opposition.

The case of the canton of Lucerne illustrates the interplay of the different actors with legal and societal conditions. In August 2002, the introduction of IRE in two schools in Kriens and Ebikon (canton of Lucerne) made headlines with what was labelled as a nationwide premiere. The initiative was started by the Islamic cantonal umbrella organisation VIOKL (Vereinigung der Islamischen Organisationen des Kantons Luzern). As required by cantonal law, VIOKL had asked the two local school boards for permission to conduct IRE and to use rooms outside the regular class schedule. VIOKL had also voluntarily communicated its request to the cantonal school authority and had asked an academic specialist for an expert assessment of the textbooks. All these opinions being favourable, the two female teachers, both holders of a Swiss primary school teacher diploma, began their courses in August 2002 with 31 children in Kriens and 20 in Ebikon as extra-curricular classes. Since VIOKL did not have funds, the two women conducted their classes for years without being paid.

VIOKL and the other bodies involved did not inform the public themselves, but the Swiss news agency SDA spread the news, which was taken up by daily newspapers in Lucerne and Zurich on 17 August 2002. Eight days later, a national Sunday newspaper claimed that the curriculum came from an anti-constitutional institution in Cologne (Germany), the Institute for Interreligious Pedagogics and Didactics (IPD, cf. infra), where one of the two teachers had taken specialised courses in IRE didactics. While the German Mill! Gdriif organisation did in fact found the IPD and was observed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution for many years, the IPD developed its own didactic material. The IPD came up with a counterstatement two weeks after the initial press report, but the public debate, especially in the canton of Lucerne, had already developed its own dynamics, which even led to parliamentary moves.3 The authorities explained the legal basis for the courses and stated that everything had been handled correctly. However, it was only at the end of the second school year that one of the teachers opened a lesson for a news report which also covered the curriculum and textbook issue. Since then, neither the IRE program in Kriens nor the one in Ebikon have been the subject of press reporting.

The extent of public debate was all the more surprising because Macedonian-born imam Bekim Alimi had already been holding IRE classes in Wil (canton of St. Gallen) since October 2000, and the Bosniac imam Zijad Zuzo had copied this initiative in neighbouring Uzwil in 2002. Alimi had approached the cantonal school authority to obtain permission (Alimi, 2003, 351; cf. Alimi and Zuzo, 2011, 11). The local media reported the initiatives, but the fact that these projects were a real premiere seems to have gone by completely unnoticed.

In August 2002, concurrently with the initiative in Kriens and Ebikon, Swiss convert Esther Fouzi started extracurricular IRE on a private basis at the public school in Ruti, a small town in the canton of Zurich, and another class in nearby Wald at the town hall in March 2003? In

February 2003, Yasemin Duran, another teacher, started a class of six pupils in Turgi (canton of Aargau) after gaining permission from the local school board (Duran, 2003).

What links all these initiatives together is the IPD. All teachers involved had either attended the Swiss course given by IPD staff in 2001-2002 or at least used and adapted its curriculum and textbooks (for example Alimi, 2003, 51). Moreover, they founded an association together with other alumni, the Verein für Islamische Religionspädagogik Schweiz (VIRPS) in order to foster reflection and practice in the field of Islamic religious pedagogy.1’ Surprisingly, this first wave of pioneering projects undertaken in four different cantons saw no immediate follow-up projects, although more people had passed the IPD course, which was held a few more times. It is also remarkable that most of the initiatives went on well into the 2010s and were commented on favourably by non-Muslim school directors, pedagogical experts, and delegates for integration. It is only very recently that the umbrella organisation in the canton of Lucerne, the Islamic Community Lucerne (Islamische Gemeinde Luzern, successor organisation to VIOKL in 2005), managed to establish IRE in two more schools, this time in the capital (Bern) itself.1

The only other initiative with durable success not linked to the IPD network was one in Kreuzlingen (Thurgau), where imam Rehan Neziri from Macedonia has been teaching since 2010 on an extracurricular basis. His first courses were attended by 24 students, but the number had risen to 75 in 2019-2020.' The initiative’s main characteristic is that Neziri and his partners formed a broad coalition and an association to promote and advise on the project, gathering the necessary funds and representing a guarantee to the public of the reliable character of the organisation and the teachings. The project group comprised representatives of the canton’s teacher training college, the churches, the local Turkish and Albanian mosques, the school authorities, and the local delegate for integration issues.

Financially, the initiatives described above rely on tuition fees paid by the families and local Muslim organisations. It was only in some cases, such as Lucerne and Kreuzlingen, that the Catholic and Protestant churches contributed financially during the initial phase.

Islamic Religious Education in Switzerland: Curricula, Textbooks, Teacher Training, and Inspection

Teacher Training

To date, there has not been an IRE training institution in Switzerland. In developing both training and pedagogical material, the IPD played an important role (Jouili and Kamp, 2014). In 2001 and 2002, this organisation, located in Germany, first offered courses in Islamic religious pedagogy and, building upon this, a course in Islamic theology in Switzerland in 2009. The courses in Islamic religious pedagogy were intended to prepare students for teaching both in schools and in mosques and included the main theological disciplines. They comprised distance teaching, face-to-face studies with several modules, and teaching sample lessons. The latter were given by the students and were usually conducted during school holidays, with pupils participating voluntarily.8

The IPD was founded as a private initiative in 1993 and was not recognised by the German state. The organisation, which was a pioneer institute during a phase when IRE was not yet integrated into universities, closed in 2013 after most of its functions had been taken over by university institutes in Germany. The IPD was established by women, some of them converts to Islam, who had been educated in both pedagogy and Islamic studies in Germany and who developed their own institution independent of Muslim umbrella associations. The background of these women had a strong impact on their position as they consider “modern education and global norms” (Jonker, 2003, 41) as points of reference for interpreting religion. Hence the focus on the Qur’an as guidance on the one hand and on independent reasoning on the other (Mohr, 2006).

Curricula and Textbooks

As the cases described so far have shown, IRE in Swiss public schools is a matter of private initiatives. Neither the state nor Swiss Muslim organisations provide a curriculum. Teachers are free to develop their own systems locally. For the most part, they have adapted or modified the IPD curricula. Additionally, Swiss alumni of the IPD courses associated with the VIRPS exchanged personally developed teaching material.9 In Kreuzlingen, Imam Rehan Neziri takes the Bavarian curriculum (see the contribution on Germany in this volume) as his basis for IRE.10

The pedagogical material developed by the IPD is no longer for sale, but it is still used for IRE in Switzerland. An example of such a textbook which is currently used in Kreuzlingen for the fifth and sixth grades is Saphir 5/6 (Kaddor, Müller and Behr, 2008). One of its key purposes is “to think from the pupils’ perspective and not from theological principles or the seeming non-negotiability of tradition” (Müller, 2008, 77). Thus Saphir avoids clichés of Muslims and contains a variety of pictures and photos. Migration, for instance, is understood in a sense of mobility and is not limited to Muslims migrating to Germany (Kaddor, Müller and Behr, 2008, 80-81). The textbook follows an anthropological approach, focusing on the human search for God in a very personal way (Kaddor, Müller and Behr, 2008, 104), and prayer is understood in a holistic and multi-dimensional way. There is a strong emphasis on responsibility, in accordance with both Islam and secular law (Kaddor, Muller and Behr, 2008, 37), as well as social commitment in both religious and secular organisations and contexts. Saphir is also characterised by an interreligious orientation, taking the plurality of religions in society seriously. It quotes not only from Islamic but also from Jewish and Christian traditions and scripture. Finally, equality is considered to be very important. This also has an impact on gender issues. One of the topics is “strong women” (Kaddor, Muller and Behr, 2008, 99), exemplified by Balqis, Asya, and Mariam, who are presented to encourage pupils to reflect on their strengths and to look for women in the present day who can serve as role models. Although there was some criticism of Saphirin the beginning by more traditional Muslims, it has become a standard schoolbook and is also appreciated in Kreuzlingen.

As with the curricula and textbooks, the evaluation of IRE in general is not systematic. The Lucerne Muslim umbrella organisation commissioned an independent evaluation for the IRE in Kriens and Ebikon. The potential of IRE for promoting integration, the report said, has not yet been fully developed due to a lack of institutional cross-linkages and public communications. It went on to make specific recommendations for the players involved (Kappus, 2004, 21-25). The project in Kreuzlingen managed to avoid the main pitfalls. Here, the evaluation report written by a private office again highlighted the integrative function of IRE (Wodiunig Scherrer, 2012), which served to justify its continuation.

Improving Islamic Religious Education in Switzerland: Recent Trends, Initiatives, and Future Prospects

A recent comparative study on IRE in different states in Germany claims that two factors are decisive for introducing IRE: one is the “state-church relationship in education policy”, and the other the “governance capacity” of Muslim organisations based on their resources, number of members, and organisational structure (Euchner, 2018). However, the study neglects the impact of universities and their frequent mediating role in introducing IRE. University activities can thus be seen as an important third factor, especially when they provide a scientific and intellectual basis for IRE (Behr, 2010). On a more general level, the place of RI as well as the political system constitute additional factors. When transferring this approach to the Swiss situation, the impetus of these factors seems fairly weak, or even adverse, for IRE:

1 The place of RI and RE is far less prominent in any of the Swiss cantons than in Germany. The Swiss context lacks the important motivation and the strong anchor for IRE that are assured by the German constitutional mandate. IRE does not play the same key role in

Switzerland for the state-church relationship. Due to the two-track model, confessional RE is more independent from the state and has to be organised by the religious communities themselves. As the example of Zurich illustrates, there is a tendency towards a stronger separation between church and state in several cantons. The fact that IRE was quoted in a mapping of measures of prevention of rad-icalisation within a state report (Sicherheitsverbund Schweiz, 2016) gave some fresh visibility to the topic in the political field. However, this has not yet led to concrete political support.

  • 2 In Muslim associations, there are ongoing discussions about RE/ RI in mosques, and sometimes there are calls for IRE/IRI in public schools. However, this does not seem to be a priority for the Muslim community. There are only a few protagonists in Muslim associations who are familiar with education politics, and the governance capacity of the associations seems limited because they are mostly run by volunteers. In addition, there is often little nationwide awareness of the various local initiatives for IRE/IRI, and as a consequence, there is no transfer of experience.
  • 3 On a university level, some new institutions have been created recently, which may contribute to IRE: The Fribourg-based Swiss Center for Islam and Society (SZIG/CSIS) promotes an Islamic-theological self-reflection in the Swiss context, which could provide a basis for and have an impact on IRE. Currently, the first PhD project on issues of Islamic religious pedagogy in the Swiss context is in progress. The Competence Centre for Interreligious Learning (RIAL), which is a project of the University of Teacher Education St. Gallen (PHSG), emphasises the importance of including interreligious learning in ERG teaching and may therefore contribute to some inclusion of IRE (Suhner, Winter-Pfandler, and Schlag, 2017).
  • 4 The Swiss system of semi-direct democracy not only slows the pace of any religious community projects to become bodies governed under public law, it also makes policy and authority action more tributary to popular sentiment than in purely representative types of democracy. The controversial media reports about the twin IRE projects in the canton of Lucerne have discouraged Muslim bodies,11 and probably politicians, from proposing more initiatives of this kind.

The discussion in this chapter of how various local IRE projects developed revealed their structural characteristics, weaknesses, and challenges. The local supporting organizations are key to all projects. The supporting association in Kreuzlingen seems to be a promising model because it creates stability and a broad basis for support. The protagonists of IRE emphasise equality, integration, and transparency as its key characteristics and achievements, which seems to be persuasive in public debates. However, a move into the state system has not been successful. Moreover, due to the weaker status of RE and the declining status of confessional teaching, such institutionalisation will probably not be fully achieved. Finding financing is a constant challenge; at present it is either provided privately by the parents or, as in Kreuzlingen, by mixed sources, including Muslim associations.

Due to the tendency towards non-confessional RE in schools and to the self-organisation and self-financing of IRE, the organisation of IRE in public schools can be seen as a very fragile initiative in Switzerland. In fact, there is a risk of its further marginalisation, particularly given the Swiss model of strong federalism, which poses a significant challenge and contributes to the complexity of the issue. It is difficult to transfer a model from one canton, or even one town, to another. Because IRE has never been analysed extensively in Switzerland, a comparative evaluation and mapping of the topic could be helpful in providing more public visibility and contributing to political agendas. Furthermore, intensified networking among teachers could help to strengthen IRE in Switzerland. A new possibility in this regard would be to develop inter-religious cooperation and use visits to mosques by school classes as an opportunity to combine elements of IRE with other forms of RE. This could offer an alternative to full IRE. Networking between schools, churches, IRE teachers, and other Muslim specialists in the field of pedagogy could be useful, especially in cantons where church education still takes place at school. Instructors of ERG, for which the state is responsible, should be interested in ensuring good relationships with IRE representatives and knowing about their course content because they might become partners, for example, in projects about interreligious issues.

The fact that all IRE materials and training elements were imported from abroad has led to a certain weakness in training and skills. The fact that there are no training opportunities in Switzerland and that the IPD courses, which provided an initial central impulse, no longer exist, is a further structural weakness. Teaching staff usually has to obtain new material and suggestions on an individual basis. For example, one IRE teacher visited and observed IRE lessons at a neighbouring school in Germany. However, it is an open question what future impact development and experience in neighbouring countries (especially Germany and Austria) will have on IRE in Switzerland. In contrast to the early days of IRE in Switzerland, many textbooks and teaching materials from Germany and Austria are now available and can be used in the Germanspeaking cantons. Neighbouring Liechtenstein has provided an example of how being oriented towards Austria can help to establish and expand IRE (Marxer et al., 2017, 91-99). However, the French-speaking cantons seem to be far away from such developments, and the discussion about IRE has hardly found any echo there.


  • 1. The Swiss democratic system can be characterised as semi-direct because it combines elements of representative democracy with mechanisms of direct democracy like popular initiatives and referendums.
  • 2. For general facts and recent developments on Islam in Switzerland, see the annual country report in the Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, for example, Tunger-Zanetti and Schneuwly Purdie (2020).
  • 3. Cantonal MP Gerhard Klein together with nine other MPs submitted a catalogue of 11 questions to the government concerning the background of the IRE on 10 September 2002 (Kanton Luzern 2002, 1526-1527). On 23 January 2003, the parliament debated the written answer of the government (Kanton Luzern 2003, 232-237).
  • 4. Website available from: [Accessed 19 May 2020].
  • 5. Website available from: [Accessed 11 May 2020], currently as a stub.
  • 6. See: [Accessed 11 May 2020], not yet updated.
  • 7. See: and [Both accessed 19 May 2020].
  • 8. Personal communication by Rabeya Müller to Hansjörg Schmid on 23 October 2019.
  • 9. Personal communication by Esther Fouzi to Andreas Tunger-Zanetti on 11 October 2019.
  • 10. [Accessed 11 May 2020].
  • 11. Personal communication by Esther Fouzi to Andreas Tunger-Zanetti on
  • 11 October 2019.


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