In Switzerland populist right-wingers and Christian Fundamentalists say minarets are not Swiss and in the run-up to a referendum on whether or not to ban the construction of them, have wall-papered Switzerland with anti-minaret posters.
There are around 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland and out of an estimated 200 – mostly modest – prayer-halls there are just four with a minaret. The “Turkish Cultural Circle” at Wangen-bei-Olten is one of them. The struggle for planning permission for the minaret here took many years and involved a series of violent attacks on the mosque.
Says Mustafa Kaahan, president of the Turkish Cultural Circle: “During the law-case about the construction of our minaret, various attacks were made against our association. The windows were smashed by stones twice, and once by a bottle of red wine. Pork was hung on the mosque’s door. Graffitti appeared in the car park, “We don’t want minarets!” We called the police. We followed the law. We trust in Swiss law and order.”
The fuss about minarets is of course purely symbolic – the objection isn’t to minarets per se.
The Swiss right-wing fear the “Islamisation” of Switzerland and accuse Swiss Muslims of wanting to replace Swiss law with Sharia law . Which is nonsense say Islamic organisations.
Says Dr Hasan Taner Hatipoglu, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zürich: “Some Muslims are afraid of their community becoming marginalised. Today, we are quite well integrated into Swiss society. But through actions like this anti-minaret-campaign, Muslims could be marginalised, pushed out of society. This could lead to the development of parallel societies.”
At the “Open Mosque Day” Muslims invite local people to the mosque: Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Sikhs, non-believers… everyone can come and ask questions. Among them is the clergywoman of a nearby Protestant church. She is against a ban on minarets. Says Renata Huonker, the Protestant clergywoman: “We have religious freedom and we are glad to have achieved this.”
The anti-minaret campaign was launched by two political parties: the SVP (who are a Populist Right Wing party) and the EDU (who are Christian Fundamentalists). The SVP was the party responsible for the infamous “black sheep” anti-immigration campaign and this, along with their anti-Muslim stance has made them one of the biggest political parties in Switzerland today.
The EDU spokesman doesn’t object to the existence of a Sikh Temple but is opposed to the construction of a minaret across the road from the Temple, saying that there are only a few Sikhs in Switzerland but too many Muslims. He says that Islam wants to take over the whole world, including Switzerland.
Says Daniel Zingg, of the EDU: “Minarets don’t mean integration. Minarets represent a refusal to integrate. The minaret is connected to Islam which does not include tolerance, religious freedom or any other freedom.”
Basically of course these parties are using this issue as an electoral platform. The idea is to create fear and then exploit it to get elected. In the opposite corner is the former President of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, a liberal Catholic who has launched a campaign standing up for Muslim rights.
Says Giusep Nay, the former president of the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland: “The Muslim minority is being attacked. The initiators of this anti-minaret-campaign say they want to set an example. Well, this is setting a very bad example of how to exclude a minority. This is an exlusion campaign hindering all kinds of on-going integration efforts.”
Ahmet works in one of the few halal butchers in Zürich. Ahmet’s grandfather founded this butcher’s shop three decades ago. Ahmet’s parents acquired Swiss nationality, but Ahmet – a third-generation immigrant – chose to take Turkish nationality. He was brought up in Switzerland and has a strong Swiss accent, but he studied the hotel business in Turkey and says that he is a “proud Turkish Muslim living in Switzerland”. He also says: “Well, a stone cube measuring ten meters high is not destroying Swiss culture, is it? In my opinion, it’s a pity those anti-minaret campaigners make such a fuss. Why shouldn’t we have some minarets, just four or five or ten minarets in the whole of Switzerland, that would not be too much.”
The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities are also against any ban on building minarets. Says Dr Herbert Winter, the president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities: “As Jews we have our own experience. For centuries we were excluded: we were not allowed to construct synagoges or cupola roofs. We do not want that kind of exclusion repeated.”
Thomas Wipf agrees. He is heads up the Swiss Federation of Protestant Churches, as well as the Union of Protestant Churches in Europe – and he is also president of the inter-faith Swiss Council of Religions: “This campaign against minarets is dangerous because it assumes that different religions cannot live together, that they have to fight each other. – But we have to approach each other. We have to learn how to talk to each other. This is the real challenge!”
Says Isuf Salihi of the Islamic-Albanian Union: “We all pray to one God. We all have only one God: Christians, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims… for all of us it is the same God.”
Except a few right-wing Christian Fundementalists, Swiss religious representatives are all backing the Muslim community: Jews, Catholics, and Protestants are all against banning the construction of minarets.
Says Imran Ameti, the Imam at the Islamic-Albanian Union in Winterthur: “I appeal to everyone in this society to live peacefully together in Switzerland. Before God, all human beings are equal. No one should pray for hate or sow the seeds of discord between religious communities.”
In Aarau at the “Club Kettenbrücke” Christians and Muslims organised a joint hip hop night.
Says Ammar114: “In my opinion Islam means peace! That’s the reason why I am a Muslim. Christians and Muslims can live together. Best exemple: my mother is Christian and I love my mother and my mother loves me. It’s a super relationship. Another super example: this event today, we are all together, that shows it can work.”
Says Black Tiger: “That goes for me as well. We are mixed: Muslims and Christians having fun together. I am not a member of one or the other religious community. In the band, it is not a topic, whether someone is Muslim or Christian. Hip-hop brought us together, music is the melting-pot of cultures.”