Nora Illi – Late rights, freedom activist in Europe


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Nora Illi, a Muslim convert rights and freedom activist who dedicated her life to advocating Islam in Europe, lost her battle with cancer earlier this week.

One of the most widely known Swiss converts to Islam, Illi was born in Uster, a canton in Zurich, on April 3, 1984. She was baptized a Catholic.

Her father was a psychotherapist and her mother was a social worker. As her family had a left-wing political tendency, she was raised with anti-establishment views.

When her parents divorced, she spent most of her teenage years with her friends. She became a fervent member of punk culture and was interested in Buddhism.

Her trips to the UAE and Oman in 2002 marked a turning point in her life.

Illi, who first stepped into the Islamic world when she was 18, began to admire the sincerity and hospitality of Muslim people. She was especially fascinated by the sounds of adhan (call to prayer). She described her intense feelings as “inner enlightenment” and decided to become a Muslim.

Her then-boyfriend Patric Jerome also played an important role in her path to choosing Islam. Jerome became a Muslim two weeks before Illi. Jerome and Illi had met in a demonstration supporting Palestine. The couple got married and had six children.

After converting to Islam, Illi continued her education and got a theology degree from the University of Zurich. She also obtained her doctorate. In that period, she had already started to wear hijab and veil. Although changes in her appearance first shocked her close friends, they later got used to it.

Illi became an Islamic preacher and one of the strongest advocates of Islam in Europe. She inspired hundreds of women in Switzerland, Germany and Austria to convert to Islam.


In 2006, on the day when the southern Swiss canton of Ticino enacted a law banning the wearing of the full-face veil, Illi traveled to Locarno wearing a niqab.

In 2009, her husband Jerome and one of his close friend Nicolas Blancho founded the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) in response to a constitutional amendment banning the construction of new minarets on mosques. Illi became the chief of the Department of Women Affairs at the ICCS.

Illi drew attention as she participated in various TV programs. She shared a variety of intellectual and political views for both the German and Swiss media. She became known in Europe after she took part in a talk show of Anne Will in November 2016.

“I used to have prejudices against Muslims; I also used to think that Muslim women are all oppressed. However, I discovered that Islam treats women as pearls,” she said in a TV interview.

Underlining that there are some wrong beliefs attributed to Islam, she stressed that she was never treated as a commodity.

Illi and her husband have been accused of “terrorism,” as the European media continued to debate whether such “radicals” be given air time.

Several lawsuits were filed against them. However, the Hamburg Public Prosecutor office suspended all preliminary investigations involving her in 2017.

In 2012, Illi was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Although there have been some signs of recovery, her disease continuously recurred. She had been treated in a hospital for some months due to her deteriorating health condition.

On March 23, Illi died at the age of 36 in Bern. She was buried in Bern with a simple funeral ceremony amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

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