Swiss Banning of Minarets on Mosques, 2009

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Zurich Mosque with minaret
A vote about whether to Ban Minarets on Mosques was held in Switzerland on Sunday, November 29. The measure, which prohibits the addition of minarets on mosques in Switzerland, was approved with approximately 57.5% of the vote. About 53% of eligible Swiss voters turned out to cast a ballot in the Sunday election.[1]

The "People's Party" led the effort to ban minarets on mosques. To get the question certified for the ballot, they circulated petitions and collected about 130,000 signatures.[2]

The ban on minarets is viewed by some as an expression of hostility toward the Muslim population in Switzerland. Muslims make up about 5% of the country's population, with most Muslim immigrants having arrived from Turkey, Albania and Bosnia. The Muslim minority in the country views the vote on the Minaret Ban as a signal that they are not welcome in the country.[3]

The People's Party, having succeeded with this ban, announced that their next move will be to ban forced marriages and ban the wearing of burqas in public areas.[1]

Impact of vote

In the wake of the vote, the Swiss government has said it will not oppose what the Swiss people have decided, which means that no new minarets can be built but those already built can stay up. The government issued a statement that they are not against the Muslim people, their religion or their culture, and affirmed that Muslims in Switzerland are free to practice their religion at their mosques or in their homes.

Spokespeople for the Muslim community said they believe this vote means they are not accepted in the country. The leader of the Cultural Association of Muslim Women in Switzerland said that based on this vote, they now see the Swiss as racist and not open to other cultures. Catholic bishops in Switzerland said that the vote will make it more difficult to build coalitions between the Islamic and Christian religions. The Swiss foreign minister said that the group advocating for the ban played on fears, and that he is shocked by the outcome.[4]

Amnesty International has said that legal action is imminent against this vote because it violates the freedom of religion guarantees in the Swiss constitution and also international treaties signed by the country.[5]

Those against this vote fear a continued surge of anti-Islamic sentiments across the European continent. Swiss leaders fear other rightist European political parties will rally behind this decision and try to get similar laws passed in their countries.[6]

The Council of Europe has also now stated that is urges the Swiss government to repeal this vote, again noting that it was a violation of basic human rights and discriminatory of the Muslim community. The Council also stated in the same resolution that any move by governments to ban the burqa is also a violation of their rights, Muslim women should be free to choose what they want to wear.[7]


The Swiss Peoples Party, which is not new to anti-immigrant campaigns, was the official proponent of the Minaret Ban measure. In their campaign for a "yes" vote on the ban, they said that the Muslim people view minarets as a political symbol. They also said that they wanted to ban minarets as a way of resisting what they see as a push by Muslims to "Islamicize" Switzerland and other countries.[2] The party compared Switzerland to France, Germany and England and the problems they have had with Muslim populations. The party did not want those issues faced by those countries to also come to Switzerland.[5]

Posters produced by the People's Party showed minarets sticking up like missiles from the Swiss flag and a woman clad in a burqa, a strict traditional covering for woman in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Supporters of the ban said that one reason to resist what they view as an increasingly Islamicization of Switzerland is that they fear that the end of that process will be for Shariah law to attain a foothold in the country, so that some legal disputes would be settled under Shariah law rather than under Swiss law.

The Federal Democratic Union also supported the ban, as did feminist groups in the country. Some feminists said that minarets are a political symbol of male domination over women. In the lead-up to the vote, feminist advocates argued that a vote in favor of the ban was a way of saying that as far as official Switzerland is concerned, women are not worthless and should be just as powerful in the country as men. They viewed a "yes" vote as a vote against what they see as Islamic suppression of women around the world.[8][9]


The Imam who leads the mosque in Zurich said that the issue is political in the regard that it opposes the Muslim people. In his view before the vote, if it passed it would create the radicalists that so many fear; the younger generation would feel isolated and ill treated by the rest of the Swiss population. In many places the issue had divided communities, local christian churches were not uniformly against the Muslims, some had spoken out for the Muslim's right to build onto their religious building as they saw fit, as any christian church is allowed to do currently in Switzerland. Switzerland's tradition of freedom hangs in the balance with the result of this vote.[2]

The U.N. Human Rights Committee came out against the posters posted by the Peoples Party, stating that they were discriminatory and that if the Swiss did ban the minarets it would be in violation of international law. The government of Switzerland has spoken out against this referendum as well, they urged people to vote for political and religious freedom in the country. The foreign minister also came out to say that if this passed it would create a security risk for the country.[9]

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also came out after the vote saying she thought the issue was deeply discriminatory and an unfortunate move for Switzerland. She also stated that she had no issue in condemning the anti-immigration scare tactics that were used in this vote and also in other countries to get similar anti-immigration laws passed.[6]

A coalition of Muslim groups, Catholic bishops, Jewish people, and the business lobby Economiesuisse had spoken out against the proposed ban before it went to vote on Sunday.[10] Muslims who have spoken out against this have been the head of Indonesia's biggest Muslim group Maskuri Abdillah, the Egyptian governments official interpreter of Islamic law Mufti Ali Gomaa and also Mohammed Shafiq, the head of a British Muslim youth organization. They all said that a constitutional change against freedom of religion in abhorrent and discriminatory. A spokesman for the Vatican called it a blow to religious freedom.[11]

December 1, the Turkish Prime Minister came voiced his opinion against this vote, saying that the vote has not only upset those in the Islamic world, but also those who fear a clash of civilizations between the two. Turkish leaders joined the growing host of leaders who have spoken out against this ban saying it is a mistake and will only fuel the fire of extremism growing in Europe.[6] The Turkish Prime Minister also came out saying that Muslim countries who bank in Switzerland should take their money out of the country and offered Turkish banks as a possible alternative for them. He proposed protesting the ban financially.[12]

Opponents of the ban predicted that if it passed, it would hurt the Swiss economy. Many Islamic nations do some of their international banking in Swiss banks, and Swiss purveyors of luxury goods have hitherto done a thriving business with wealthy Muslims. Opponents say that with the ban in effect, Switzerland should expect economic retaliation. A $14 million loss was predicted.

Pre-vote vandalism

Leading up to the vote, episodes of vandalism broke out. A bucket of pink paint was thrown at the Geneva mosque. Rocks were also thrown at the mosque, damaging the mosaic on its front door.[9] In total the mosque was vandalized three times leading up to the vote, something that had never occurred in the 40 years since the mosque had been built.[5]

See also