Swiss Council of Religions united against proposed minaret ban

September 8, 2009


(Photo: Minaret of Zurich’s Mahmud Mosque, 23 May 2007/Christian Hartmann)

The Swiss Council of Religions, which is composed of leaders from the country’s Christian, Jewish and Islamic organisations, has issued a statement rejecting a proposed ban on minarets. A group of right-wing anti-immigrant politicians has gathered more than 100,000 signatures to support the so-called Minaret Initiative, saying the minarets threaten law and order. The vote is due on November 29.

The Swiss federal government has warned that the referendum vote was organised legally but a ban would violate international human rights and the country’s constitution. “Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs,” its Department of Justice and Police said in late August.

The Council statement, the first it has made on a political issue since it was formed in 2006 to foster interfaith dialogue, denounces the bid as an affront to the tradition of diversity in the multilingual Alpine country. Here are some excerpts from the statement:

“The Swiss Council of Religions decisively rejects the Minaret Initiative. The Council, which consists of leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities, is dedicated to protecting religious peace in Switzerland and to strengthening trust among the churches and religious communities. The Minaret Initiative would bring about just the opposite. It instrumentalizes religion for political aims and engenders mistrust among the populace…

steeple-minaretSwitzerland has known cultural diversity for a long time. It is part of its history and characteristic of the Swiss identity. The people of this country have developed rules and systems of coexistence in the course of a long common history. The resulting rules are such an integral part of the cultural tradition of the country that its people are hardly aware of them in explicit terms; and at the center of this democratic self-image lies in the recognition of the freedom of each individual within the framework of a legal order that is equally binding for all…”

(Photo: Steeple and minaret in Wangen bei Olten, 7 August 2009/Michael Buholzer)

“The dialogue among the churches and religious communities of Switzerland shows that differences of religion, culture, tradition, and social-political views do not preclude a deep common belief that all people share the same inalienable dignity. The fundamental rights to the freedom of belief and conscience apply equally to all. The right to construct mosques and minarets can therefore not be made to depend on whether religious minorities enjoy the same religious freedoms in other countries. Answering injustice with further injustice would be a betrayal of Swiss values…

“The minaret initiative does not solve any problems. On the contrary, it only contributes to suspicion, mistrust, and aggression against people of Muslim faith…

“The signatures gathered for the referendum initiative lend expression to the people’s fears and concerns. What messages will be preached in the mosques? Is Islam more than just a religion? What significance do human rights, democracy and rule of law, and the equality of men and women have from a Muslim point of view? Does Islam seek the status of an exception in Switzerland due to its religious precepts? These questions and others like them will be asked and require discussion…” has an interesting interview with Council Secretary Markus Sahli that starts right off with the question — what does this interpretation of religious freedom mean for the debate over women wearing Muslim headscarves?  “The headscarf issue is a difficult one. The Council has come to the conviction that one cannot give an overall answer to this question. One must respond to it case by case…”

According to the Basler Zeitung, the Swiss government is concerned that the November 29 referendum could spark protests in the Muslim world and is preparing an information campaign to explain it abroad. The issue has not aroused much interest in Muslim countries so far, it says, so there are no plans now to start an information campaign that might only draw attention to the issue.

(Photo: Istanbul protest against Swiss publication of Prophet Mohammad cartoons, 10 Feb 2006/Ahmet Ada)

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