New tensions between Muslims and the Swiss society are evident in the wake of a recent proposal by a number of politicians to have minarets banned at Muslim places of prayer in Switzerland. Provided that 100,000 Swiss citizens declare their support by November 2008, there will be a national vote on the issue.
The politicians should easily manage to get the required number of signatures, since the proposal is supported by several MPs of Democratic Center Union, one of the four leading parties in the country, as well as by MPs of the Democratic Federal Union, a minor, but quite active evangelical political party, launched in the 1980s. If a majority of Swiss citizens would approve, the following sentence would be added to article 72 of the Swiss Federal Constitution: “The building of minarets is forbidden.”
At this point, only two mosques have minarets in Switzerland. None are used for calls to prayers, as they are only decorative elements. Recent plans to build minarets at some other places has given rise to strong local reactions. The supporters of the move to ban minarets claim their initiative has nothing to do with an infringement on religious freedom, but should be seen as an attempt to preserve (constitutionally-guaranteed) peaceful relations among followers of different religions in the country.
They allege that minarets actually are statements of “religious-political” power. Mainstream (i.e. Roman Catholic and Reformed) churches do not support the project to ban minarets. Behind the initiative, observers discern both reactions against immigrants and latent fears about the development of Islam in the country as well as across Europe.
A country without a colonial legacy, Switzerland had a few thousands Muslim residents in the early 1960s, but through immigration the number had reached 310,000 (more than 4 percent out of a total population of 7.3 million residents) at the time of the 2000 federal census.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)