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Christian Christmas Eve Celebration at Multireligious Schools - CS EN


Analysis of the case of a Swiss school where Muslim parents asked for an equal state between Christmas and the Islamic holy celebrations.


Nowadays the world is experiencing a historical period, in which powerful fundamentalists of all political and religious colours try to get final decisions – victory! - in a proper war of cultures, instead of recognising that we do not anymore live within pure cultural borders, but in multicultural societies. The Islamic religion belongs since long to Central and Western Europe. The Christian religion is since long part of the middle east cultures. Buddhism has established since long in North America. This, the fact that we all live in multireligious environments is one side of the medal. The other side shows, however, that everywhere one can identify also other characteristics existing, which are shaping a society and creating a cultural identity among their members: Values and standards. Local ones, traditional ones, developed ones – cultural ones.


The case

In the middle of the actual Christmas eve celebration time (as of 2006) a public discussion burst in here, which has a lot to do with monocultural shaped values in a multicultural reality. Muslim parents in a number of Swiss cities demanded ultimately from the relevant Cantonal ministry of education, either to renounce the traditional Christmas celebration in the school classes or to introduce also celebrations dedicated to holy Islamic days. In any case, they demanded, to stop the singing of Christmas songs and – throughout the year - other Christian psalms within the classes. This case created a public controversy not only on the concrete request given by the mentioned Muslim parents but also on tolerance in general, on religious freedom and on the – by some christian parties supposed - increasing influence of the Islamic religion.


The value’s positions

In order to not to complicate this discussion, I will In the following reduce the many different attitudes and opinions to this case to two positions, the “C” (Christian position, refusing the C requests) one and the “M” (Muslim parents position) one. It is not at all meant to me, that all C share the opinion with the hereby represented C, and that all the M share with the hereby represented M. Again, it is to simplify the discussion in this brief paper.

In our case, both parties, C and M, seem to fear that their proper values are in danger.

M fear the influence of Christian religion, badly affecting their children. M fear, that their children could act against Muslim rules, values and standards. M fear to lose control on their own children. M fears, however, not only, but demands also tolerance and respect from C toward their own culture and its values. Tolerance and respect are two of the most important values of all religions, also the Islamic one, even if this is not always shown by the loudest of their self-appointed representatives.

By demanding the celebration of holy Muslim days even in Christian schools, M try furthermore to defend and to experience their values in a strange environment.

C, on the other hand, fear the increasing amount of “foreign” influence. C, influenced by the current western public tendency on everything called “Islam”, fears to get invaded by Muslims and mistrust to everything coming from representatives of the Muslim religion. C fears to lose its proper identity, even if they mostly are not really very conscious about their proper identity, or better, mixed identities (identité métissage).

But there is a third important party, joining the conflict. Another C group, which also refuses most of the demands of M, but with other arguments. They fear the failure of religious freedom, losing of common ground and shared identities within the society and solidarity. They claim to respect as the central value to be defended, instead of misunderstood tolerance. Respect is an active attitude, tolerance means ignorance, they say.

To be considered is furthermore, that one argument/value, all parties are referring to The separation of church and state in a big number of Swiss cantons, and which is a product of the age of enlightenment.



To solve the conflict with mediation, a five steps strategy and planning is recommended:

1 - Preparation of the mediation

2 - The initial phase of mediation

3 - The main negotiations

4 -  The solution finding phase

5 - The realisation and guarantee of the agreed solutions

1 - Preparation of the mediation

All in the conflict involved persons and groups (stakeholders) have to be identified. A comprehensive understanding of the conflict has to be achieved at all involved, by bilateral discussions. The participants to the mediation have then to be identified and appointed/selected/elected, and the methodology of mediation has to be determined. The mediator has to be appointed. The possible/adequate scope of negotiation has to be determined and agreed by the parties as a precondition of the mediation. Regular intense communication with the involved parties is the key!


2 - The initial phase of mediation

In the initial phase of the mediation, the frame of problems to be solved should be determined according to the identified scope of negotiations. It is then necessary to plan the mediation process as well as to agree on or at least to determine the goals of the mediation, together with all participants. Regarding the big public interest in the issue, the planning should consider not only the agenda, the mediation steps and the timeframe, but also rules on the do’s and don’ts about the handling of the public affair and media. This initial phase of mediation can provide a kind of common ground (regarding the mediation) between all involved parties, which in fact is very important for a positive progress and success of the mediation.


3 - The main negotiations

In this third phase of the negotiations four main tasks should be fulfilled:

- Finding out of the participant's interests (if possible also hidden agendas). At this moment it is -, especially in intercultural context! - very important to distinguish between interests and officially communicated or shown positions.
- Additional needed information should be identified, procured and made available (eventually appraisals/studies to be given in order)
- The different options for solutions should be determined. Appropriate criteria to each option have to be specified.
- Collecting ideas and compiling action lines, which all parties can – fully or partly – agree with or at least do not fully reject.


4 - The solution finding phase

In this phase, the participants – under the lead of the mediation’s moderator(s) – should try to distinguish fields of problems which possibly can be solved by consensus from problems which contain still conflict potential. For the latter kind of problems, the parties should try to find reasonable compromises. Common decisions have to be taken and the way of their realisation has to be discussed and determined.


5 - The realisation and guarantee of the agreed solutions

Step five is the after-mediation phase. If the participants agreed on a coaching or supervision through the realisation process after the mediation, then this has to be done and guaranteed by appropriate steering - tools like regular bilateral discussions, controls and reports.


Possible Resolution

Since the age of enlightenment in a big part of Switzerland church and state are separated by law. This means, that we are living in a secularised, but nowadays at the same time more and more multireligious society. On the other hand, our society is shaped by Christian religion since long as well as by specific cultural elements. Just to accept the demands of the M in the case above without any limits, this would harm thus a lot of C.

A constructive agreement to solve the conflict could contain the following two main decisions:

1 – M children (but also other children if requested) can get dispensation of religious celebrations (and other religious instructions in school) if requested by their parents formally 2 – Other religions besides of Christianism will be integrated into the school teaching, to promote understanding, and to reduce fears and prejudices.



To close this short paper, I would like to give into consideration, that any found solution to this and other cases have a political component. On one hand, a mediation never can obligate or even reach people who intentionally promote the discord between religions (and ideologies, ethnics etc.). Groups of specific interests, troublemakers or fundamentalists of all colours (C, M, others) cannot be stopped only by a mediation (but mediation can help to create a better general „climate“). Even, also the best result, the most legitimated compromise found in a mediation can be misused by such groups to sow new discord and to instigate the different groups against each other, to get final decisions – victory! - in their proper war of cultures; as mentioned in the first sentence of this short paper.