Switzerland: Federal people’s initiative “against the construction of minarets”

Source: FSSPX News

 

It is a question of collecting 100,000 signatures before November 1st, 2008 in order to be able to add a clause to article 72 of the Federal Constitution on the Church and the State. This article stipulates that “within the limits of their respective competence, the Confederation and the cantons can take specific measures to maintain peace between the members of various religious communities.” The clause would specify that “it is forbidden to build minarets” in Switzerland. The Federal Assembly will pronounce on the validity of the initiative when it comes to its close, read the Feuille fédérale of May 1st, 2007.

Ulrich Schüler, joint-president of the initiative Committee and UDC national councilor, published a communiqué entitled Minarets and Muezzins: in fact a declaration of war! “The building permits for minarets requested by Muslim associations are, as a rule, accompanied by the assurance that a muezzin will never call the faithful to prayer from the top of the minaret. It was precisely thanks to this same assurance that many Muslim organizations in Germany obtained permission to build minarets. But the minarets were scarcely built, than their owners demanded – and obtained – the authorization to call upon a muezzin (…) in the name of “religious liberty” – when neither the minaret, nor the muezzin have a direct connection to their faith.

“We are now witnessing another development in Germany: more and more Muslim societies say they are ready to renounce the muezzin, but on condition that “in exchange” the Christian churches stop ringing their bells. This proves once again, if proof were needed, that there is no connection between their faith and their will to impose minarets and muezzins. In reality, it is a battle: the minaret is the expression of a fight for politico-religious power. All this has nothing to do with their faith.

“(…) If, in referring to religious liberty, the fundamental rights of others are contested, for example, people of another religion, the legislator can intervene through the democratic channels and create legal bases which protect fundamental rights. This is at the root of the idea to launch a people’s initiative aimed at banning minarets in Switzerland. This initiative is directed against the minaret as a symbol of politico-religious power, which is contrary to the principle of religious tolerance. (…) About to be launched, the initiative to forbid minarets aims at nothing but the safeguard of religious liberty and tolerance, the pillars of religious peace in Switzerland.”

The campaign was officially launched on May 3. Ulrich Schlüer, co-president of the committee with Walter Wobmann (national councilor of the UDC) and Christian Waber (national councilor of the UDF) specified: “The problem is not belief in Islam. Everyone has the right to have his religion. The problem is the claim that religious orders must be above the state laws. And this demand is found only with the Muslims. Minarets are the symbol of this.”

Jörg Paul Müller, professor of public law at the university of Bern, told the Bernese daily Bund of May 2, that the ban on minarets would be contrary to article 15 of the Federal Constitution of December 18, 1998, which stipulates that “Each person has the right to chose his religion freely as well as to form his own philosophical convictions and to profess them individually or in community.” Likewise the principle could not be applied without a denial of the European Convention on human rights.

On May 3, Bishop Pierre Bürcher, auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Freiburg, and President of the Working Party “Islam” (GTI) of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference made a pronouncement on the initiative to forbid the construction of minarets in Switzerland in a communiqué entitled: Minarets, yes or no?. “Should the construction of minarets in Switzerland be banned or authorized? The question and the answer are more complex than it would at first sight appear. Fear is a bad adviser and coexistence has its limits. However, to put it in a nutshell: yes, if the construction of minarets is in agreement on all points with the law; no, if objectives which can threaten religious peace in Switzerland are obvious or latent. (…)

It is useless to fight against the construction of a minaret while ignoring the activities within the mosque. Besides being a place of worship, it may house a library, the imam’s office, a cafeteria, classrooms, shops, even a butcher’s shop. In Switzerland, the legality and control of the activities in a mosque are more important than the pertinence or otherwise of the construction of a minaret. Especially if the latter must remain silent and not serve as a call to prayer. Let us remember that in many countries with a Muslim majority, churches have no bell-towers.

“No campaign against minarets, neither negligence concerning the internal organization of mosques in Switzerland! The GTI does not oppose the construction of minarets, but invites all concerned to respect the laws and exercise a serious discernment.”

Reminder: The Working Party “Islam” (GTI) created in 2001 by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference aims at promoting interreligious dialogue in the spirit of Vatican II.

On May 10, Ueli Maurer, national president of the Union démocratique du Centre (UDC), said he was skeptical about “the ban on minarets in Switzerland” and expressed the wish that his party decide after the national elections in the autumn whether it should carry on with the initiative against minarets which he described as a “trial run”.

Like him, Samuel Schmid, Defense minister and Federal Councilor of the UDC, spoke on May 13: “We will not solve any problems this way.” And he explained: “If the ban on minarets belongs to the prescriptions for construction, it is a matter for the Cantonal law and not the Constitution. If it is a ban of a religious nature, it is in conflict with religious liberty which is rooted in the Constitution.” However, specified the Defense minister, we have to consider the problem of Islam in Switzerland, and this “initiative as the expression of a certain fear” which must be taken seriously.

Hisham Maizar, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland and a member of the Swiss Council of Religions, declared, on May 20: “Switzerland is multicultural and multiethnic” and “we know where we are living.” And he added that it was not a question of installing a muezzin to call Muslims to prayer, but a minaret which is the “emblem” of the mosque. Furthermore, “any Muslim who goes abroad enters into a contract as it were, with his host country, according to which he respects its laws and rules. However, he must not renounce his identity.”

Reminder: The Swiss Council of Religions, founded on May 15, 2006, is made up of leading members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, from the Council of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Switzerland, from the Christian-Catholic Church of Switzerland, from the Swiss Federation of Israeli Communities and from the Islamic Communities of Switzerland. The Council wishes to contribute to the establishment of confidence between religious communities and to the promotion of religious peace. The Council of Religions is currently presided over by Pastor Thomas Wipf, president of the Council of the Federation of the Protestant Churches of Switzerland.

 

On May 20, Bishop Pierre Bürcher answered questions put by Swissinfo: “Interreligious and intercultural dialogue is a major challenge at the beginning of the 21st century, and during the past few decades, the Catholic Church has made her priority, the establishment of contacts with the other religions. Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II have affirmed that this dialogue is vital for the future of our society. On the political level, whether in Switzerland or abroad, as in Iran and Syria, we have always been well received by the various authorities. The difficulty comes from a very small fringe of extremists, which causes enormous problems but is not representative of true Islam. (…)

“It is essential that the state laws be respected in Switzerland, and we cannot tolerate that laws be questioned by another way of thinking, like Sharia. It is true that minarets are a symbol for Muslims, but since it is not the most important part of a mosque, we should not become obsessed with them. On the other hand, what is much more important is what takes place inside a mosque, because that is where Koran is taught, and there may be people who overstep the mark. It is in this place of worship that the ‘khutba’ (sermon) is given, which is often politically orientated, and anti-Western or even terrorist teachings can be passed on. Do the authorities really know what is going on, and whether it is legal? This seems to me more important than to know whether they can build a minaret. (…)

“One of the reasons for this fear is that our two religions are different and that we are still lacking in mutual understanding. Secondly, newcomers always arouse uneasiness or even fear because they may cause a certain imbalance. But we must learn to live together, otherwise we are heading for serious problems.”

According the Central Institute of Islamic Archives established in Soest (Germany) there are a little over 300,000 Muslims living in Switzerland.

(Sources: CES/RSR/ Swissinfo/Apic/NZZ am Sonntag/SCR)