A Swiss proposal to ban the construction of minarets, the thin towers on mosques used to make calls to prayer, has collected 115,000 signatures in support. Under Swiss law, a group can request a binding national referendum if it collects 100,000 signatures.
The proposal campaign is led by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest party in the Swiss parliament. According to BBC News, the SVP argues that the minaret is not needed for worship and is in fact a symbol of Islamic law, being therefore incompatible with the Swiss constitution.
Buildings with minarets, the SVP claims, symbolize a “political-religious claim to power, which challenges fundamental rights.” Islam, they argue, “places religion above the state and... completely contradicts the federal constitution.”
There are about 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, many of whom reportedly have been shocked by the campaign.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has said the government will oppose the proposal.
In a statement the Federation of Churches called the proposal “inappropriate.”
“Polarization is a bad thing. We should be working on integration,” the federation said.
By law Switzerland is a secular state with constitutional guarantees of freedom of religious expression to all.
However, Swiss mosques reportedly tend to be confined to disused warehouses and factories. In the Swiss capital of Bern the largest mosque uses a former underground parking garage.
There are two small minarets in the country, one in Zurich and one in Geneva. Neither one can be used to make the Muslim call to prayer.