Religious Leaders Slam Swiss Minaret Ban

Prominent religious and political leaders expressed strong disapproval of the recent ban on the construction of Muslim minaret towers in Switzerland.

The Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, told Ecumenical News International that his organization "regrets that some sectors of Swiss society and politics found it necessary to take the issue of the construction of minarets in Switzerland to a referendum, and to force a decision for or against a ban."

"This action has framed this interest in explicitly sectarian terms vis-a-vis Muslims," Noko stated. "It thereby undermines efforts at inter-religious understanding and harmony in Switzerland, and the Swiss reputation and heritage of tolerance and hospitality."

The ban was approved on Sunday by a 57.5 percent vote from Swiss citizens, much to the shock of government officials.

Heavily backed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party and other conservative groups, propaganda for the campaign included posters depicting minaret towers as missiles on top of a Swiss flag.

The Swiss Council of Religions (SCR), a national body made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims, released a statement saying that their group "decisively rejects the Minaret Initiative."

Defining themselves as being "dedicated to protecting religious peace in Switzerland and to strengthening trust among the churches and religious communities, " the SCR said that the minaret initiative "instrumentalizes religion for political aims and engenders mistrust among the populace."

The United Nations has also criticized the move, with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir calling the ban a "clear discrimination towards the members of the Swiss Muslim community."

"I have serious concerns about the negative consequences of the outcome of this vote on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Swiss Muslim community," Jahangir said in a statement released on Monday.

Only four minarets actually exist in Switzerland, in the cities of Geneva and Frankfurt, while there are an estimated 200 mosques and prayer rooms throughout the country. Muslims account for about 4.5 percent of Switzerland's 7.6 million-large population.

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