London/Brussels, Asharq Al-Awsat – Last Sunday, Swiss voters ratified a ban on building minarets in a referendum, defying the government and parliament which had rejected the right-wing initiative as violating the Swiss constitution, freedom of religion and a cherished tradition of tolerance.
There are around 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland out of a total population of 7.5 million. The majority of Swiss Muslims are from Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo. Islam is the second most popular religion in the country after Christianity.
Swiss Muslim intellect Tariq Ramadan described the result of the referendum as “disastrous”. Ramadan, who lives in Geneva and teaches at Oxford University in Britain said, “The Swiss have expressed a real fear of the deep problem surrounding the Islamic presence in Switzerland.”
The Green Party intends to contest the outcome of the referendum at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as it considers the result a violation of religious freedoms guaranteed by the European Human Rights Convention.
On his part, Sheikh Yusuf Ibram, the director of the Islamic Cultural Foundation and the affiliated mosque located in Petit-Saconnex in Geneva told Asharq Al-Awsat during a telephone interview: “Everybody knows that the Muslims in this country have ties [to this country] and citizenship and both [of these] are untouchable, and everybody thought that the initiative would be rejected because the Swiss nation is not racist or anti-Islamic.” He added, “Today we must use our heads and keep away from emotions because the Swiss have not prohibited Islam or adherence to Islam but [the building of] minarets based on the claim that this is a symbol of Islamic dominance in Europe, which is of Judeo-Christian origin. This is a lie that is used by the far right to spread fear and terror among the Swiss [by] drawing on some negative phenomena that exist in the Islamic world.”
Dr Hisham Maizar, a member of the Swiss Council of Religions, expressed a similar viewpoint and he told Asharq Al-Awsat, “As Muslims we must analyze the results of the referendum and the significance that it has.” He stated that the vote against building minarets “represents an opportunity to complete dialogue (with the Swiss) and to introduce them to real Islam.” He added, “No results (of the referendum) will stop us from continuing to build mosques and improving the situation of Muslims. We must have more confidence and practice our religious freedom.” Asked about the possibility of taking a referendum like this to other European countries, Maizar said that the goal of the far right in Switzerland is to spread enmity [towards Islam] to other countries.
Dr. Kamal Helbawi, a former spokesman for the International Organization for the Muslim Brotherhood in the West and the former head of the Islamic League of Britain told Asharq Al-Awsat that this is a shameful matter for a country that believes in freedom and this is a result of the rise of the far right in Europe, which was evident in the last elections as the far right gained victory over new grounds. Helbawi stated that Muslims must not be provoked by these small issues as minarets do not represent a pillar of Islam and are not an obligation in Islam and Muslims have the right to pray in any place whether it be a plane or even a car. He added that Muslims and non-Muslims must pay attention to the matter of freedoms and must preserve freedom of expression and respect for others and that this movement in Switzerland, and before that the Hijab [issue] in France and the negative film [about Islam] in the Netherlands, is what provokes hatred among members of society and gives extremists the opportunity to commit acts of folly. “But I call upon Muslims to adhere to the rules of society and to respect them even if they don’t agree with them,” he said.
Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, also warned against the negative impact of adopting the initiative to ban minarets for Swiss Muslims. He said, “The Muslim in Switzerland can pray in a mosque without a minaret but if he knows that he is being forced to do so and that the law forbids him from doing so…he will feel like he is an alien in this country and that he is rejected by his people and that will have a decisive negative impact on the loyalty he feels towards his country.”
During an interview with a Swiss radio website, Qaradawi said, “It is not in the interest of any society for some of its citizens to feel that they are undesirables, and it is better if we support everything that calls for a culture of love not hatred, dialogue not confrontation, and acquaintance not disregard.” He sent a message to the Muslim minority in Switzerland saying “[they should] deal with society as if they are a part of it and not divided from it, and give the country that they live in their sincere allegiance, and work diligently and sincerely to raise it.”
Although there are a number of places to pray there are only four mosques with minarets throughout the whole country. In recent years, all requests to construct minarets have been rejected. Sheikh Yusuf Ibram said that the first minaret was built in Zurich in 1963, the second was built in Geneva in 1987, the third in the city of Winterthur in 2008, and the last Minaret in Switzerland was built this year in Wangen bei Olten and was the source of the recent controversy.