Islamic scarf issue comes to a head in Basel

A young Muslim woman who is standing for election to the Basel City parliament on Sunday has sparked debate over the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in public life.

Kadriye Koca considers the scarf a mark of her faith and says she would like to continuing wearing it, if elected.

But questions have been raised in Basel about whether a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman can really be considered truly integrated in Switzerland.

Controversially, 32-year-old Koca is standing on behalf of the centre-right Christian Democrats, a party which is proud of its traditional Catholic roots.

But as one of 130 candidates on the party list, Koca is far from being guaranteed a place in parliament.


Rita Schill of the party’s Basel City secretariat admits that the Christian Democrats could alienate voters through the choice of Koca.

But she says the Turkish-born candidate, who came to Switzerland when she was 15, is active in the community and would make a good member of parliament.

“Mrs Koca is a good example of a Turkish woman who is very well integrated in Switzerland. But she is a practising Muslim, and that’s the reason the headscarf is important to her,” Schill told swissinfo.

“I know some people aren’t very accepting of the headscarf, but we don’t want to lay down rules about what people in the new communities in Basel can wear.

“She is an intelligent young woman who has a good grasp of our party manifesto, and I think she’s well placed to enter parliament and earn the respect of others,” added Schill.

Koca has been quoted as saying she would continue to wear the headscarf, if elected. But when contacted by swissinfo, she refused to be drawn on the issue.

A rightwing member of the cantonal parliament has introduced a motion calling for the banning of all religious symbols within the chamber.

Dress code

The election comes at a time when attention is already focused on the place of the Islamic headscarf in Swiss society.

The country’s biggest retailer, Migros, has asked its Muslim checkout staff not to wear the scarf. Anyone who insists on wearing it at the workplace risks being moved to a position where they have no contact with customers.

Rival Coop says it will allow the headscarf, while the country’s big banks Credit Suisse and UBS point out that the scarf is not part of the normal dress code.

Cabinet minister Moritz Leuenberger has also entered the debate. In an article published in the “NZZ am Sonntag” newspaper, Leuenberger warned that a ban on Islamic headscarves – such as the one introduced in schools in France – could hamper integration in Switzerland.

“By infringing religious freedom, a ban could have the effect of making Muslim women cling to their religion even more, which in turn could prevent their integration in Swiss society,” said Leuenberger.

For Kadriye Koca, religion need not be an obstacle to feeling at home in Switzerland.

“I want to contribute something to Swiss society, because I feel so accepted here,” she told the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper.

“And if I’m not elected this time, I can always try again in four years.”