Swiss voters have overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote
Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic.
Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland’s international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.
‘The Swiss have failed to give a clear signal for diversity, freedom of religion and human rights,’ said Omar Al-Rawi, integration representative of the Islamic Denomination in Austria, which said its reaction was ‘grief and deep disappointment’.
Some 2.67 million people voted 57.5 per cent to 42.5 per cent in favour of the referendum by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which labelled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. Voters in only four of the 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, granting the double approval that makes it part of the Swiss constitution.
Muslims comprise about 6 per cent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people. Many are refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and fewer than 13 per cent practice their religion, the government says. Swiss mosques have not traditionally broadcast the call to prayer outside their own buildings – there are currently only four minarets in the whole of Switzerland.
The sponsors of the initiative said the growing Muslim population was straining the country ‘because Muslims don’t just practice religion. They increasingly make political and legal demands’.
Mangera Yvars Architects’ Ali Mangera, who masterminded the original London super-mosque proposals, said: ‘Decisions like this should be placed on architectural factors, not a pretext against Islam. This is more to do with the emasculation of a group of people – the right wing is behind this.
He added: ‘[Minarets] are not ideal for every part of London and they are not just about the call to prayer. But they are interesting features and also function as natural air conditioning mechanisms. ’
Adrian Stewart, director of Do Architecture, which designed the minaret-less Al-Furqan Mosque in Glasgow for the UK Islamic Mission, said: ‘This is being used to isolate a community. A minaret is not a critical component of a mosque and does not always have to be involved. The debate has been blown out of proportion. We know from experience there is a desire to generate a regionalism, which makes a mosque very much more about its location.’