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Switzerland Catching Up with Demand for Muslim Pastoral Care

ZURICH – As Switzerland’s population becomes ever more diverse, the demand for relevant pastoral care, especially for Muslim citizens, is growing.

But the central European country still has some catching up to do to match the availability in other countries, Expatica Switzerland reported on October 18.

“Because of the many life situations in which psychological support for spiritual rehabilitation can be important, we need to develop facilities for practicing Muslims that integrates Islamic tradition to structure this rehabilitation,” believes Reinhard Schulze, a professor at the Forum for Islam and the Middle East (FINO) at the University of Bern.

According to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), some 362,973 Muslims live in Switzerland, representing about 5.1% of the total population.

Schulze’s colleague, professor Isabelle Noth of pastoral care, religious psychology, and religious education, also in Bern, believes that the demand for Muslim-specific pastoral care originated in prisons.

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“Imams believed they could take on this task, but that annoyed Christian counselors,” Noth says.

“They didn’t want imams to start offering pastoral care because they didn’t have the necessary training. A discussion about the need for Muslim pastoral care has since been underway in Switzerland.”

Muslim Pastoral Care

A similar opinion was raised by Hansjürg Schmid, director of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society (SZIG) at the University of Fribourg who said: “The need has also become apparent at hospitals and asylum centers.”

“People are often dealing with existential questions: women before or after the birth of their children; people with incurable diseases; prisoners confronted with questions of guilt and responsibility; or refugees who are often traumatized and looking for orientation in a strange environment. A variety of pastoral-driven projects have been launched as a result,” he continued.

In light of this Swiss point of view, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) launched the first pilot project involving Muslim pastoral care in 2016.

The eight-day training project which was held by SZIG was followed by work experience, designed to prepare Muslim pastors to work as counselors in public institutions (hospitals, emergency pastoral care, etc.).

From 2017 to 2018, the SZIG conducted a similar six-day training program at the cantonal hospital in St. Gallen, while at the University of Bern, a course with the same aims lasts two semesters and qualifies participants to work as religious counselors to asylum-seekers.

Schmid believes “Switzerland should also look for building inter-faith counseling teams with Christian counselors in order to benefit from their experience.”

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