Bishop of Arabia dismayed by minaret ban in Swiss homeland
Many supporters of the Swiss ban on minarets justified it with the argument that limitations on mosques in Europe were permissible because Christians can’t build churches in some Muslim countries. This was also a recurring theme in comments to FaithWorld (see here and here). But doesn’t this tit-for-tat approach simply provide further arguments for Muslim authorities who don’ t want to concede more religious freedom to their Christian minorities?
(Photo: Posters for “yes” vote to minaret ban in Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)
One man uniquely placed to judge this is the Swiss-born Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder. Based in Abu Dhabi, he is at the frontline of the “reciprocity” debate on treatment of Christian minorities in the Middle East. In an interview in today’s French Catholic daily La Croix, Hinder says he was “dismayed” that the minaret ban passed in a referendum last Sunday. “For us Christians in Arabia, it will certainly not make our work easier, although some might think they have done us a favour by saying yes to this initiative,” he said.
“Nobody can deny that the ban on minarets punishes a specific religious community, whose members in Switzerland have done nothing wrong,” he added. “I certainly understand the irrational fears of many Swiss faced with the heightened visibility of religion that they previously knew only by hearsay but now find right at their doorsteps or in the apartment next door.”
Swiss who supported the ban seem to think that Muslims can live in Switzerland as long as they keep out of sight, Hinder said. “If that’s so,” he remarked, “then a mosque should look like a Swiss chalet and the call to prayer, if any, must be done from the balcony with an Alpine horn!” In his opinion, a minaret was no less foreign to the Swiss landscape than the golden arches of McDonald’s “which seems to have almost a force of religious attraction for many people.”
“Hopefully this result, which is surprising for me, will at least lead to a more thorough debate on the question of how far religion has the right or even duty to be visible in society, “ he said, adding that the referendum result will certainly not go down in the history books as “a glorious page for direct democracy.”