Wacky Saudi preacher sparks Swiss dispute
A controversial Saudi preacher has been authorized to appear at the second annual conference of the Central Islamic Swiss Council (CCIS) in Fribourg next month over the objections of critics.
The planned appearance of Sheikh Mohammed Al Arifi at the December 15th meeting has raised concerns because of inflammatory statements he has broadcast on YouTube and elsewhere.
The sheikh is alleged by critics to have made anti-Semitic remarks, insulted homosexuals and the Danish people and offered advice on wife-beating.
He is also known for declaring in a television interview that in the Muslim religion there is no minimum age for the marriage of a young girl, according to a spokesman for the Bern-based Swiss association of former Muslims.
Kacem El Ghazzali, the association’s president, told Le Matin he believed in freedom of expression but Al Arifi was a Salafist who preached violence and hatred.
The association and the Zurich-based Forum for democracy and human rights both issued a statement condemning the sheikh’s planned appearance at the Fribourg meeting.
The groups cited a case in which Al Arifi said on a programme on the Al Rissala channel in Saudi Arabia, financed by religious authorities, that western women married dogs and donkeys and that 54 percent of Danish women did not know who the fathers of their children were.
“We condemn racist and sexist declarations that violate the Swiss legal system,” the groups said.
The context of the sheikh’s remarks is not clear but in some of his YouTube videos he relates what purport to be funny stories.
The prefect of the Sarine district, the official in charge of approving meetings in Fribourg, gave approval for the CCIS to organize its annual conference in Fribourg.
But in a statement Car-Alex Ridoré issued directives calling for the meeting to abide by Swiss laws.
In particular, he drew attention to legislation banning racial discrimination, provoking the public to commit crimes or violence and attacks on the freedom of belief and religion.
Ridoré also transferred information about the planned Saudi preacher’s visit to the federal immigration department.
More than 1,500 people attended the CCIS's first conference in Bienne last year, which was held without major incident, attracting Muslims from Switzerland and outside the country.