Swiss Debate Religious Liberty After Minaret Vote

Switzerland is torn over a new referendum voters passed Nov. 29 banning the construction of new Islamic minarets in the country.

Minarets are towers alongside mosques from which Muslims are called to prayer by Koranic chants. According to backers of the referendum, which passed with 57.5 percent of the vote, the measure is intended to counter the impression of growing political clout by Switzerland’s Muslim minority.

“The minaret is the power symbol of political Islam and sharia law,” Walter Wobman, a People’s Party member of parliament, told Reuters.

There are more than 300,000 Muslims living in Switzerland, mainly from Bosnia and Turkey, but the country only contains four minarets. These existing minarets will not be affected by the ban.

Since passage of the referendum, Swiss liberals are considering a drive to overturn it. And two complaints challenging the legality of the ban have been filed in Switzerland’s Federal Court, according to The Washington Post.

Critics of the referendum say that the ban is divisive, and is doing a great favor to al-Qaeda militants.

“The activists are now saying: ‘we told you that they are our enemies…join al Qaeda and declare jihad on Europe,’” said Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi.

Others argue that the ban is simply a violation of the country’s guarantee of freedom of religion.