Caught up in this issue is the minaret, a simple element of mosque architecture. Why has minaret construction become symbolic of the perceived "threat" of Islam in Europe?
Basics - What Is A Minaret:
Traditionally, the adhan (Islamic call to prayer) was called from the top of the minaret. In modern times, microphones and sound systems are often used to project the adhan in places where it is called publicly. Even in places where the adhan is not called out loud, the minaret remains an identifying feature of a mosque.
Background - What Prompted The Vote:
Over the past decade, local unrest about immigration issues has been growing in Switzerland. The Muslim community serves as an easy target. Among the more than hundred mosques which currently exist in the country, there are merely four minarets. A construction application for a small village mosque with a five-meter minaret prompted the current debate.
Major Players - Who Is Behind the Vote:
According to Swiss law, a federal popular initiative can place such decisions before voters in a referendum. In 2007, the group began collecting the required petition signatures to put the minaret ban to a public vote. They succeeded, and the referendum was voted upon on November 29, 2009.
Arguments For - Why a Minaret Ban:
A controversial advertising campaign to promote the law featured images of minarets shaped like black missiles. The clear message was that the growing Muslim population may be violent, power-hungry terrorists who want to implement Islamic law in Europe.
Arguments Against - Why Not a Minaret Ban:
- Freedom of religion is fundamental to Swiss law and European human rights treaties.
- A minaret is a simple and common architectural feature of a mosque, and is neither a safety risk nor a public nuisance.
- A minaret carries no political symbolism or significance.
- Advertising campaigns to promote the law were racist.
- The law may alienate Swiss Muslims, who are largely of European origin and are known to be moderate.
- The international outcry against the law may have a negative influence on the Swiss economy and foreign relations.
Update - What's Happening Now:
In response, government and religious leaders worldwide have denounced the ban. The UN Human Rights Committee has said that it may be a violation of international law. Swiss opposition groups have vowed to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights.