Switzerland is holding a referendum Sunday on a proposal to legally ban the construction of minarets – the towers that are built atop Muslim mosques, from which the calls to prayer are sounded.
The proposed law has caused a charged debate in Switzerland and outside of it as well. It was submitted 15 months ago by representatives of two right-wing parties, the Swiss People's Party (SPP) - Switzerland's largest - and the Federal Democratic Union (UDF). Proponents say they do not oppose Muslims, but merely their perceived bid to introduce Islamic law in the country. "The minaret has got nothing to do with religion,” the Guardian quotes an SPP member. “It's a symbol of political power, a prelude to the introduction of sharia law.” It is also claimed that Muslim freedom of worship can be sufficiently served by mosques without minarets.
Opponents argue that banning minarets is not only a blow to religious freedom, but would also bring domestic and international Islamic wrath – including terrorism - upon the generally quiet country.
The anti-minaret campaign has been accompanied by posters showing black minarets, portrayed as missiles, and a woman wearing a black burka, on the backdrop of the red and white Swiss flag. The posters are a sequel to previous SPP election posters, expressing an anti-immigration message via three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the same flag.
As all over Europe, the Muslim population in Switzerland is growing significantly. In the early 70’s it numbered fewer than 20,000, grew to over 150,000 in 1990, and current estimates now hover around 350,000 (150 mosques), over 4% of the national population.