Switzerland has banned the building of minarets, the tall striking spires attached to mosques, after Swiss voters supported a referendum proposal.
The bid to ban minarets was proposed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which is the largest party in the Swiss Parliament. It claims minarets are a sign of Islamification.
But the Swiss Government opposed the ban, warning that it could damage Switzerland’s image in the Muslim world.
More than 57 per cent of voters and 22 out of 26 provinces voted in favour of the ban.
Martin Baltisser, the SVP’s general secretary, told the BBC: “This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power.”
Supporters of the ban claimed that allowing minarets would signify acceptance of Sharia law which is incompatible with Swiss democracy.
But a BBC correspondent, Imogen Foulkes, said the ban was very bad news for the Swiss Government which is anxious the decision could cause unrest amongst the Muslim community.
The Vatican condemned the Swiss ban on minarets as a “blow to freedom of religion”.
The Conference of Swiss Roman Catholic Bishops criticised the referendum result, saying that it “heightens the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures.”
Amnesty International condemned the decision saying the vote violated religious freedom in the European Convention on Human Rights.
In a statement, the Swiss Government said it “respects” the decision.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said: “Concerns [about Islamic fundamentalism] have to be taken seriously.
“However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”
She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”.
Switzerland is home to 400,000 Muslims and it is the nation’s second most widespread religion after Christianity.
The country has just four minarets and new planning applications are almost always refused.
Swiss Muslim organisations expressed deep concern and deplored the decision to ban the building of minarets.
Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said: “The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets but the symbol sent by this vote.
“Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.”
The president of Zurich’s Association of Muslim Organisations, Tamir Hadjipolu, said he fears for the Muslim community after mosques were attacked for the first time in 40 years during the run up to the referendum vote.