One of the largest Islamic cultural centers in Europe could be constructed just north of the Swiss capital, Bern.
The 23,000 square metre center, the concept of which has been proposed by Umma, the coordination center of Islamic organisations in Switzerland, will comprise a museum on Islam, a mosque, a convention center, offices and a four star hotel.
Farhad Afshar, Umma spokesman, confirmed reports in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper and said that central to the project was â€œthe prospect for a differentiated dialogue with Islamâ€.
Afshar said a global competition would be launched to find an architect to build the SFr60:80 million ($72:96 million) complex, which would be named the Avicenna Center after a Persian philosopher and scientist who lived 1,000 years ago.
He said he hoped the center would attract a similar level of interest and acclaim as the Paul Klee Center, a museum dedicated to Swiss painter Paul Klee, which is also located in Bern.
The location under consideration is the former abattoir area in Wankdorf, northern Bern, near the Bern:Zurich railway line.
The land belongs to the city of Bern and is part of the development project called â€œWankdorf Cityâ€. Various developers have shown interest in the property and the authorities are set to decide in summer on how to proceed.
The business model of the Islamic center is based on the House of Religions in Bern, work on which is set to begin in early 2008.
Afshar said the financing would be split between a public company, which would deal with the commercial element of the convention center, and a foundation, which would be responsible for the cultural side.
A project study and a business plan are currently being worked out in order to meet the necessary requirements of the municipal authorities and the projectâ€™s investors.
Marco Ryter, from Bernese architects Bauart, which is carrying out the project study, said: â€œEvery Swiss should be able to take their children by the hand and show them Islam in this museum.â€
Afshar, who is also the Muslim representative on the Swiss Council of Religions, said showing the richness of Islamic culture around the world would play a central role, hopefully ensuring that the current fuss involving Islam would not degenerate into â€œunworthy debatesâ€ about headscarves and minarets.
Islamic buildings have not always received a warm Swiss welcome. Moves to block the construction of minarets, the distinctive architectural features of mosques, are underway in various regions.
The cantonal parliaments of Zurich, Bern, St Gallen and Ticino are considering proposals to make the construction of buildings of worship, such as minarets, temples and churches, dependent on approval at the ballot box.
On a local level, rightwing extremists in the town of Langenthal in canton Bern have collected signatures and organised public protests against mosques.
Furthermore, a committee that includes parliamentarians from the rightwing Swiss Peopleâ€™s Party has announced an initiative aimed at blocking the construction of minarets.
Currently only two mosques in Zurich and Geneva have a minaret. There are about 310,000 Muslims in Switzerland, mainly from the Balkans and Turkey, representing up to five per cent of the Swiss population.