Swiss Ban on Minarets: Reflection of Political Extremism

By: United Ulama Council of South Africa
Posted: 17 Dhul Hijjah 1430, 4 December 2009

Fifty-seven percent of the 2.67 million Swiss who participated in a referendum voted against the right of Muslims to construct minarets with their mosques. The move was spearheaded by the racist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) whose slogan read: “minarets are symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation.” The SVP campaign posters showed minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag next to a fully veiled woman.

The Swiss government to its credit was against the proposal but could not prevail against the provocative and intolerant rhetoric of the extremist Swiss People's Party (SVP) The vote revealed the extent to which far-right racist groups were winning the battle of ideas on the future of Europe. The results of this referendum have been welcomed by leaders of other radical right-wing groups in Europe, such as Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the radical-right Austrian Freedom Party, and Marine Le Pen, vice-president of France's National Front, which points to the possibility of religious and political extremism spreading further in Europe Muslims comprise 6 percent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million population.

Many of them are the refugees of the 1990s Serb-Croat ethnic-cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia and former Yugoslavia. There are about 150 mosques in Switzerland, only four have minarets which won't be affected by the ban. Unlike mosques in Muslim countries, these minarets are not used to call Muslims to prayer.

Compare this action of the so-called ‘civilized and democratic world’ with the religious tolerance which exists in most parts of the Muslim world. There is no restriction on building new churches in the Muslim world with Christian or Jewish minorities – Indonesia, the most populated Muslim country (13 million Christians out total population of 212 million), Pakistan, Egypt, Islamic Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, UAE, Kuwait, etc. The church bells ring every Sunday and Christmas is an official holiday. Most Muslim countries have Sunday as weekly holiday. Christians have held several top positions in both military and government in Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq (Saddam Hussein had six Christian cabinet ministers including Vice President Tariq Aziz), Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

The minaret unlike the Cross has no ‘divine value.’ People are certainly not attracted to Islam because of tall minarets. They reverted to Islam for its simple teachings and human-brotherhood. Minarets are architectural structures associated with mosques which do not have any political significance.

Farhad Afshar, leader of the Swiss Coordination of Islamic Organisations said: "The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets, but the symbol sent by this vote. The idea of putting issues related to religious freedom and human rights to vote is quite unacceptable and unjustifiable. Furthermore, the situation where the majority votes on issues related to the rights of the minority is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of democracy, which cannot be allowed to be used as an open door to incitement, and an excuse to pit citizens against their fellow partners in society.”

Mosques and minarets in European cities are manifestations of the proudly indigenous nature of Islam in Europe. It is tragic that the far right is stripping away at the illustrious heritage of coexistence between different faiths and cultures in Europe and replacing it with their warped and xenophobic political agendas.

(This statement has been issued by the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA). The Jamiatul Ulama in a co-founding and active member of UUCSA.