Hello World! Swiss Ban on Islamic Minarets

Ban on Islamic Minarets in Switzerland

The popular vote in favour of banning the minarets in the mosques of Switzerland has raised an uproar from the democratic world as well as the Islamic groups. The former sees it as an encroachment upon the religious freedom, which is against the principles of democracy, while the latter see it as a repression of their religion, an unwelcome host country for the Muslim immigrants and are using the plea of democracy to oppose this ban. On the other hand, there are also people who feel this shows essentially a growing Islamophobia brought about by the extremists in recent times. The ban is especially significant because the Swiss society has always been perceived as a highly tolerant and democratic society. If they show this kind of fear, what about the others?

Amongst the first to carry out a report on this, as always, was the BBC, which also brought about issues such as the tension growing in Switzerland as a result of increasing immigrants and also on the ban as mainly a political symbol. The latter is the case because minarets are really decorative architectural features in today’s world. Originally they were used to spread the azan to a great distance, but now they are almost never used for this purpose – azan is called over loudspeakers while minarets are retained in a mosque as traditional decorative features. There are many architectural styles of building the minarets and it is a highly sophisticated art as well as the science of building construction. Since the minarets are no longer used for calling the azan, the ban on the minarets is really a political symbol, declaring that the practice of Islam is not banned, but the visible assertion of this religion is not welcome. The Swiss Government has reiterated that the Muslims are still allowed to practise Islam, only the minarets are not allowed in the mosque. However, others have argued that Switzerland is violating the Human Rights Convention of the UN, of which it’s a signatory.

Fears have also been raised that this ban on minarets is likely to affect the Swiss business in West Asia (and perhaps also their oil imports – though it has not been said so far?). There is a demand that this voting should be overturned. But on an interview with Al-Jazeera, a Swiss minister justified it as a democratic opinion of the people and said that they are not banning the mosques, so it’s not undemocratic.

In all this web of arguments, there is also a voice of the people in the West, who feel that the ban is justified because after all the Islamic countries do not follow the democratic norms. There is a ban on building all religious structures in these countries except the mosque and there is a ban on practise of all religions in these countries except Islam. Moreover, countries like the Saudi Arabia brutally impose the Islamic laws even on non-Muslim visitors to the country. The argument runs, if that is so, then what legitimate right do the Muslim populations have to talk about religious encroachments on Islam in other countries, if they don’t condemn the human rights violations in Islamic countries?

In contrast to the many representations of this ban detailed above, there is this report which emphasises that the voice of the Swiss people is being misunderstood by those who oppose the ban. According to this writer, they are not against Islam, but rather, they are against religious extremism – this ban is symbolic of that. It is indeed remarkable to note that the writer of this report carries an Islamic-sounding name and works for an Arab Network! Coming from that background, it’s commendable that he can place things in perspective without playing up Islamic emotions.

So I ask the visitors of this page here – reading all this, what do YOU think? I would welcome everyone’s expressive opinion to this query and really look forward to it.

13 Responses to “Hello World! Swiss Ban on Islamic Minarets”
  1. Jonathan Hirschberg says:

    Switzerland has never been a very open county even if that is the view some have had. While they have been a democratic republic for rather long, demographically Switzerland has been rather homogeneous for quite some time. Their immigration police is quite draconian too. I feel this ban is just an expression of Switzerland’s less well-known xenophobia.

  2. Archana says:

    Hi Jon!
    Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. As always, you have shown your ability to think outside the box and have added a further dimension to the debate.

    Yes, you are right, it perhaps reflects their xenophobia and if they can do it against the Islamic minarets, they can do it against the synagogues as well.
    On the other hand, how do you counterpose it to many commonplace Westerners who feel this is natural in light of the human rights violations in the Islamic countries? And what do you think of the Arabworld report discussed in the last paragraph (click on the maroon text for link)?

  3. Sundaram says:

    A really nice piece !

    After furore over Turbans and Burqa’s in Sarkozy’s France, this is yet another example of the myopic modernity.

    Is it happening because the promised universalism of enlightenment is yet to spread all over? Even in France it is an unfinished task? Why the ethnic scuffles on the streets of UK?

    Or is it because the very seemingly secular and rational culture of modern west creates a template which alienates any ‘others’?

    Modern globalization has brought together populations and cultures but has led them to live in a perpetual insecurity. Parochial confrontations – communalism, ethnic clashes etc are thus not antithetical to it but its won essential corollary.

    Hence any counter-narrative to it, including Marxism, that buys this universal modernist template, even in order to oppose it, remains off the mark i am afraid…

  4. Sandstorm says:

    That’s a good overview of the way insecutiries play up in an increasing globalised world. However, I do appreciate the Arab writer’s counter-narrative about the different meaning of the Swiis vote. It is also important to see things in the perspective of the way human rights are grossly violated in the Sharia ruled countries. Besides their brutal laws, no religion except Islam is allowed to be practised there and no religious shrine except the mosque is allowed to be built there. The Islamic groups are being hypocritical if they are not condemning these violations of individual rights and expect the world to treat them well.

    If I go to your house and you treatme with disrespect, you can’t demand that I treat you with respect when you come to my house. Just because the world has to do business witht he Shariah-ruled countries and we want their oil, we must not turn a blind eye to their violation of human and religious rights and go for Swiss or Europe bashing.

    As honest advocates of democracy, we must condemn the Swiss ban and we must condemn the violation of human rights in the Shariah-ruled countries and make them mend their laws.

  5. Arewe says:

    What I can not understand is that why the minarets are being banned in the first place … for being symbols of an alien religion … for disrupting the congruity of a perfect swiss landscape … to curb rising islamism in what is primarily a christian country or as a tit for tat for Saudis?

  6. Archana says:

    Welcome all new visitors to this blog and thanks for your comments. This is a space for free expressions of all shades of opinions, hence feel free to express your opinions here.

    Meanwhile, I have found some more thoughtful discussions on this topic. For example, see this page – http://xrdarabia.org/2009/12/12/the-meaning-of-minarets/

    And see especially the comments of Zaydoun, an Arab Muslim, though a “lapsed” one here – http://thegulfblog.com/2009/12/01/musings-on-the-swiss-minaret-ban/

    Most people in India as well as in the West tend to see this as Islam vs Christianity or Islam vs anti-Islam debate, but there are more dimensions to it than that.

  7. Archana says:

    It has been argued above and in the post that the Swiss may be xenophobic, fearing of rising Islamic extremism, rise in the general Muslim (not necessarily extremist) population in the small society of Switzerland, fear of the migrants, of the Other etc could be the reasons. So far the argument of “tit for tat for Saudis” hasn’t been used anywhere in the debate. Though, there are some conscious Arab Muslims and some other people who are small in number, are arguing that this should be used as a diplomatic strategy to check the human rights violations in the Islamic countries including the Saudi Arabia, rather than simply bashing Switzerland. There are others who feel this debated shouldn’t be linked to the injustices carried out in West Asia. So, there are many dimensions to this.

  8. comradenash says:

    I’m no expert in architectural matters, but would I be correct in assuming the three pictures you have chosen for this post are the three minarets that currently exist in Switzerland? The middle example is rather beautiful I find. I wonder if it was a deliberate move by the photographer to have both it and the church steeple in shot? Or if perhaps it is a cropped image.

    I suppose it depends on one’s preconceptions, but interestingly at first glance neither looked more out of place than the other. The other two less so, but I guess that’s a matter of personal taste.

    I’ve seen the tit-for-tat “churches in Mecca” argument used many times in other threads on this topic; often in quite an ignorant or arrogant manner. We cannot be critics of the supposedly intolerant East whilst at the same time voting for copycat measures. Demonstrating the same intolerance is perhaps the worst way to persuade Saudi, etc. that their way is ‘wrong’.

  9. Archana says:

    Hi Comeradenash,
    Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. Yes, these are three of the four minarets that exist in Switzerland at present – I couldn’t find the fourth image with certainty. The second one is from north-west Switzerland.

    Your interpretation of the second photograph is quite insightful from the architectural point of view. Yes, it does seem the composition of this photograph is intentional. It is a cropped image and you can see the full image below –

    In fact, I came across an argument on some posts that the minarets are growing taller than the church steeples in Switzerland, thus symbolically proclaiming the superiority of Islam over Christianity and this doesn’t go down very well with the host Swiss population. This photograph was intended to show the relative heights of the two structures.

    Since I come from a multi-cultural and multi-religious country like India, where it’s common to see the shrines of different religions, this matter of minarets was really a non-issue for me till this controversy came about. We are used to seeing the mosques and minarets on a daily basis. This is also reflected in Arewe’s comment above, for whom too this is a non-issue.

    You are right that neither of these two looks out of place and the minarets is beautiful – in fact the minarets in Asian countries are even more beautiful than this one. No one will think of them as images of war weapons.

    You are right that the comments regarding churches in Mecca are grossly ignorant and there is some kind of cultural arrogance in thinking that Europe is “more enlightened” and East is “backward,” hence the burden is greater on Europe to be democratic than on West Asia.

    Ideally, if we are for democracy and if we are against the violation of human rights, then we should oppose the Swiss ban and we should also oppose the undemocratic practices in West Asia. Our democratic stand shouldn’t have different indices for different parts of the world. You are also right that this is a wrong way tp persuade the West Asians that their way is wrong.

    But unfortunately, the world is not equally vocal about opposing the human rights violations in West Asia, because of our dependency on them for oil and gas and other businesses. I feel economy should not be tied to our differential stand on democracy in different parts of the world. If only the democratic world was vocal about the violation of human rights in that part of the world, they would have changed their ways. That’s why I appreciate the voice of the few Arab Muslims who have been honest enough to say that West Asia should become democratic first, before demanding it from Europe. But of course, ideologically, both the Swiss ban and the West Asian laws have to be criticised and opposed.

  10. Archana says:

    Here is another very candid post on this theme. Please note that the author is a Muslim.


    And here is a history of minarets, that shows that they are actually pre-Islamic. The author is a Muslim and a professor of Islamic art history at Rutgers University – http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7&section=0&article=129448&d=12&m=12&y=2009

  11. सुयश says:

    अगर मुस्लिम देशों में जनतांत्रिक मूल्यों की अवहेलना होती है तो इससे स्विट्ज़रलैंड की सरकार को मीनारों के निर्माण पर प्रतिबंध लगाने का नैतिक अधिकार नहीं मिल जाता है। हम कीचड़ को कीचड़ से नहीं धो सकते हैं।

    मैंने एक अखबार में यह पढ़ा था कि इन मीनारों पर प्रतिबंध इसलिए लगाया गया है क्योंकि इनकी आकृति मिसाइल से मिलती-जुलती है!!! मीडिया में मुस्लिमों को अक्सर दूसरे ग्रह के निवासी के रूप में प्रस्तुत किया जाता है।

    वैसे तो यह बात आपकी पोस्ट से संबंधित नहीं है, लेकिन हमें तेल और मीडिया में मुस्लिम जगत की खबरों के बीच के संबंध पर भी एक नज़र डालनी चाहिए। बहुत-सी खबरें प्रायोजित होती हैं और उनका एकमात्र मकसद विकसित देशों, खासकर अमेरिका, इंग्लैंड आदि की नीतियों व कार्रवाइयों को उचित साबित करना होता है।

  12. Archana says:

    Hi Suyash,
    Thanks for your comment. Please read the links I hav posted in the discussion – the Swiss votes and the Islamic countries’ actions are linked in a way. It’s like saying that when you come to my house, I’ll insult you and will keep you in chains but I demand that when I go to your house you must treat me with respect. And the criticism for Islamic countries doesn’t come about because the world has to buy oil from them.

    Please read the links above, where extensive discussions have taken place on this issue, with people from different countries and religions offering their view.

    You are very right that Muslims ar portrayed as aliens in the media, but the Islamic counties treat their own people as the people from other countries as less than human. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting that Indian Muslims are not even treated as Fellow-Muslims by the Arab Muslims. This is a great insult to Indian Muslims and many of them don’t like the Arab Muslims.

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