A referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets has been supported by Swiss voters, official results show. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons (or provinces) voted in favour of the ban.
Saying that minarets are a sign of Islamisation, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest party in parliament, has put forward the proposal.
The government opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland’s image, particularly in the Muslim world.
But Martin Baltisser, the SVP’s general secretary, told the BBC: “This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power.”
The surprise result is very bad news for the Swiss government which fears unrest among the Muslim community, said the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, in Bern. He added that because voters worried about rising immigration, and along with it the rise of Islam, they have ignored the government’s advice.
The government said in a statement that it accepted the decision.
It said: “The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted.”
According to Justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, “Concerns [about Islamic fundamentalism] have to be taken seriously.
“However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”
She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”.
Although Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims, the country has just four minarets. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
Islam is the most widespread religion after Christianity in Switzerland, however it remains relatively hidden.
There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.
According to supporters of a ban, allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system, Sharia law, which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.
But to others, the referendum campaign incited hatred. The Geneva mosque was vandalised on Thursday, for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.
The vote violates freedom of religion, said Amnesty International, adding that it would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.
Tamir Hadjipolu, the president of Zurich’s Association of Muslim Organisations, told the BBC : “This will cause major problems because during this campaign mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland.
“Islamaphobia has increased intensively.”
There was dismay among Switzerland’s Muslims upon hearing the result.
“The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.
“Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.”
Elham Manea, co-founder of the Forum for a Progressive Islam, added: “My fear is that the younger generation will feel unwelcome.
“It’s a message that you are not welcome here as true citizens of this society.”
Before Sunday’s referendum, the SVP collected 100,000 signatures from voters within 18 months calling for a vote.
In recent years countries across Europe have been debating how best to integrate Muslim populations.
While France focused on the headscarf, Germany dealed with a controversy over plans to build one of Europe’s largest mosques.