FaithWorld

Swiss vote to ban new minarets too close for comfort

minarets-cow (Photo: Poster to vote ”yes” to minaret ban in a Swiss meadow, 13 Nov 2009/Dario Bianchi)

A threatening image dominates Switzerland’s streets in the form of a dark woman dressed in a Muslim niqab veil, looming over a Swiss flag covered with missile-like minarets with a call to vote “yes” in a referendum on Sunday to ban minarets on mosques here. The posters clearly seek to tap into the concerns of the country’s traditionally Christian majority about increased immigration from Muslim countries.

“I find the nature of these posters very provocative against the Islamic world. The presentation and the way the minarets are presented like rockets is unbelievable. Also the colours — with all the black — look very threatening,” says 34-year-old air traffic controller Judith Baumer.  “I assume that it’s supposed to trigger strong emotions or fear in the population.”

minarets-trainThe poster, described by the Swiss race commission as demonising Muslims and provoking religious tensions, has been banned in some cities but seems omnipresent in others. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

Polls suggest the referendum could be close-run. With only a slim majority of Swiss questioned expressing opposition or a tendency to oppose a ban, turnout and currently undecided voters could yet sway the vote towards behind the “‘yes” campaign.

“It’s fine to build minarets in a Muslim country, not in Switzerland. I’m strictly against that,” says unemployed electrical fitter Rolf Waechtler.  “People from abroad are ok with me, but I’m in favour of them putting minarets directly there: abroad.”

Indian report raps politicians over Ayodhya mosque destruction

babri1A government-backed inquiry has accused several of India’s top opposition politicians of having a role in the destruction of an ancient mosque in 1992 that triggered some of the country’s worst religious riots. (Photo: Muslim at New Delhi protest, 6 Dec 2005/B Mathur)

The report has sparked political protests from opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which finds itself in even more trouble as it struggles to emerge from internal feuding after an election defeat in May.

Hindu mobs demolished the 16-century Babri Mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya, claiming it stood on the birthplace of their god-king Rama. Riots between Hindus and Muslims left hundreds dead across India.

Swiss Council of Religions united against proposed minaret ban

minaret (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:

Russia’s Medvedev calls on muftis to combat extremism

medvedevRussian President Dmitry Medvedev, battling a low-level Muslim insurgency in Russia’s south, has met Muslim leaders and asked them to spread a message of tolerance to combat Islamist extremism.

Medvedev met 12 muftis, Muslim spiritual leaders, from across the country on Wednesday in the pre-revolutionary Congregational Mosque in central Moscow, said by Muslims to be one of the oldest in European Russia. (Photo: President Medvedev (L) and Chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow, 15 July 2009/RIA Novosti)

Although the Kremlin has calmed the province of Chechnya by installing a strong local leader, violence has flared in other areas of the volatile, poverty-ridden North Caucasus. Killings of police and local officials are on the rise.

Islamophobia in Germany? Berlin wakes up after outcry over killing

German politicians have woken up to the potential fallout from the bloody killing in a Dresden courtroom of a 31-year-old Egyptian mother which has unleashed anger in the Islamic world.

It took Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has talked much about boosting the integration of Germany’s roughly 3.5 million Muslims, several days to condemn the killing, perpetrated by a German of Russian origin suspected of being a neo-Nazi.

dresdenSuddenly, the government is trying to soothe tensions to avert a potential storm similar to the violence which erupted over Denmark’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. And less than three-months before an election, politicians are also worried about security — intelligence services say Germany is already a target due to its deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

Rabat bets on better imams to counter extremist Islam

marrakech-mosqueMorocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions. (Photo: Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech at sunset, 7 Jan 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country’s towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco’s Muslims.

How to win hearts and minds in Thailand’s Muslim south?

THAILAND-SOUTH/More than five years after a Muslim insurgency erupted in southern Thailand, the conflict remains shrouded in mystery, with no credible claims of responsibility for the bloodshed in a once independent Malay Muslim land with a history of rebellion to Buddhist Thai rule.

On June 8, gunmen burst into a mosque and killed 10 people as they prayed. Thailand blamed separatist insurgents for the bloodiest attack this year in the mainly Muslim region bordering Malaysia where nearly 3,500 people have died in violence since 2004. But the head of the world’s biggest Islamic body urged Thailand to protest its Muslim minority after local residents put the blame on military-backed elements. (Photo: Thai Muslims pray at a funeral after the mosque attack, 9 June 9 2009/Surapan Boonthanom)

Reuters correspondent Martin Petty toured the area last week in the wake of the attacks. He talked to a woman who narrowly escaped an assassin’s bullet in Yala.  She said she doesn’t know who wanted her dead or why. Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra blamed mafia-style smuggling gangs for the violence, but security analysts believe homegrown separatist groups — with little or no ties to al Qaeda or other regional militant networks — are behind the violence.

Sikh temple project sparks dispute over copying holy sites

golden-temple (Photo: Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 17 Sept 2001/Rajesh Bhambi)

Are some holy sites so holy or so unique that they shouldn’t be copied? Should monuments like the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican or the Western Wall in Jerusalem have a kind of copyright so nobody can replicate them elsewhere?

It seems unlikely that believers of any faith would undertake such a project, if for no other reason that most holy sites are quite complex, with artwork that would be very expensive to reproduce. But some Sikhs in India are building what looks like a copy of the Golden Temple, their religion’s holiest shrine, in Sangrur, 265 miles (427 km) southeast of the temple in Amritsar. The project has sparked off a debate in the Sikh community and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which maintains gurdwaras in India’s Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh states, has protested against it and called on the religion’s five high priests to intervene. The Sikhs building the new gurdwara deny they’re copying the famous temple, simply giving a facelift to their dilapidated gurdwara.

As Mumbai’s DNA daily put it: “Imitation is sometimes not the most acceptable form of flattery.”

Recession-hit Asians pray for jobs, luck, recovery

ASIA-RELIGION/ As companies shed jobs and governments inject funds to stimulate economies, recession-hit believers in once-booming Southeast Asia are flocking to temples, churches and mosques to seek solace in religion — and pray for a quick economic recovery.

Meditation centres have also seen an upswing in attendance and people seek peace and calm amid the economic downturn. (Photo: Hindus pray in a Singapore temple, 24 May 2009/Vivek Prakash)

Reuters correspondent Nopporn Wong-Anan has a feature here looking at how people seek spiritual solace at a time of material loss in Asia, home to all the major religions and any number of minor ones.

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2 (Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.