The global Muslim Brotherhood has been weighing with reactions to the Swiss ban on new minaret construction. In an interview with Swiss radio Youssef Qaradawi, perhaps the most influential global Muslim Brotherhood leader, emphasized what he said was the religious tolerance of Muslim countries:
In an interview to Swiss radio, Qaradawi, who is head of the International Association of Ulema, said: “It is misinformation to say that Christian minorities in Muslim countries are not treated in the same manner as the Muslims expected to be treated in European countries.” He was answering questions on the recent uproar in Switzerland over permission to Muslims to build minarets on their mosques, according to reports published in the local Arabic press. He said: “The existence of well fortified age-old churches in many Muslim countries such as in Egypt, Syria and Sudan stand as a testimony to the religious harmony and tolerance. Eminent Christians in these countries have lived and died as revered leaders of their nation. The late Faris al-Khouri of Syria was one such leader who ably served as prime minister many decades ago. “To say that allowing the construction of minarets in the places of worship for Muslims in Switzerland will be the first step towards implementing the Shariah and converting everyone to Islam is a travesty of truth.” He added: “The minaret is only a landmark to help the Muslim visitor to know that there is a mosque wherein he can offer prayers. Most of the Muslim countries do not abide by the Shariah. And the Sharia cannot be applied in a non-Muslim country. “We have always known Switzerland as the most neutral and tolerant country. It is considered a safe haven for anyone seeking asylum from persecution in one’s own country, or for anyone who wants to stack away his money in secure banks. The city of Geneva has many mosques built several years ago. It also has many Islamic centres.” He said that Islam had always stood for tolerance and harmony among faiths, especially among the People of the Book. “It is lawful for a Muslim to marry a Christian or a Jewish woman,” he said.“My message to the Swiss people is please maintain the tolerance for which they are known and do not give room to divisive forces,” he said.
The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group dominated by Muslim Brotherhood groups, said in a press release that the ban was evidence that evidence that “far right racist groups” were winning the battle of ideas:
The Muslim Council of Britain views the results of the referendum on the banning of minarets in Switzerland as a tragic and deplorable development. The Swiss system of putting such decisions to the people in a referendum is laudable in itself but reveals the extent to which far right racist groups are winning the battle of ideas on the future of Europe. Stigmatising Muslim communities and scaremongering with their ‘Eurabia’ thesis, racist groups and political parties are gaining ground across Europe. The Far Right demonstrations in front of mosques in our country, and Lord Pearson’s election as Leader of the UK Independence Party, who has committed to campaign against ‘Islamism’ and immigration, is further evidence of this. “The Swiss referendum results today show how far and how quickly Europe is moving in the wrong direction in its attitudes and policies towards Muslims and other minority groups in Europe. Mosques and minarets in our European cities are manifestations of the proudly indigenous nature of Islam in Europe. It is tragic that the Far Right is stripping away at our illustrious heritage of coexistence between different faiths and cultures in Europe and replacing it with their warped and xenophobic outlook”, said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. “The rise in anti-Muslim prejudice that has accompanied the Swiss opposition’s campaign will further exacerbate Muslim fears. The results today sets a dangerous precedence and demands that Muslims and others must work hard and diligently against the Far Rright to reject their venomous ‘Islamisation’ platform. This is no less than a battle of ideas for the future of a plural and progressive Europe”, he added.
Swiss Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hani Ramadan, the brother of Tariq Ramadan and grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, and Yousef Abram, part of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, called for calm:
Hani Ramadan, the head of the Islamic Center in Geneva, also called for calm. “The ban was a big surprise for Switzerland’s Muslims,” he told IOL. “This requires Muslims to build bridges and seek frank and calm dialogue with fellow Swiss.” The Swiss leader also called on Muslims worldwide to respond calmly to the ban. “We urge the Muslim world for calm response in order to help understand the reasons behind the Swiss support for the ban.” Yousef Abram, a mosque imam in Geneva, echoes a similar call. “The coming phase will be difficult and Muslim organizations have a lot to do to build bridges with Swiss society.”
On the other hand Abdel Majri, head of the Swiss Federation of Islamic Organization (FIOE) in Europe member, and Ayman Aly, a FIOE officer, called the decision a sign of Islamaphobia and extremism:
Muslim communities in Switzerland reacted cautiously. “We were a bit shocked; we hadn’t expected this result,” Abdel Majri, the president of the League of Swiss Muslims, said in an interview. “This is another step toward Islamophobia in Switzerland and Europe in general.” The government and most Swiss political parties had opposed the motion, he noted, attributing the size of the majority in favor of the ban to the right-wing parties’ campaign, which played on popular fears and misconceptions. “We are looking at how we can repair the situation,” he added. Some Muslims in Europe expressed concern that there would be less understanding of the ban among Muslims living in Islamic countries who are less familiar with European politics and culture. “We are a bit afraid of the rise of extremism on both sides,” said Ayman Ali, secretary general of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe.FIOE is the umbrella group for the European Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamic Society of North America ISNA), a part of the U.S.Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement saying that European commitment to religious freedom and human rights was “unraveling”:
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) receives the news of the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets with grave concern and sadness. ISNA is troubled that Swiss voters have succumbed to the intolerance and fear mongering of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) by voting to ban mosque minarets. The decision to ban mosque minarets is an act of religious discrimination and intolerance, as it targets Islamic places of worship and denies Swiss Muslims the freedom to build their house of worship using their preferred architectural style. The ban is a source of great concern for Western Muslims as they see European commitment to religious freedom and human rights unravel in the face of extremist threats on one side and extremist fear mongering on the other. The Swiss vote will undoubtedly invigorate the forces of intolerance worldwide and will give the wrong signals to countries struggling to build traditions of civil rights. The move will be also celebrated by extremist voices in Muslim societies, who will use the incident to drive a wedge between Muslim and Western countries. It will further complicate the task of European Muslims who are working to build bridges and promote tolerance and understanding, and will set back the efforts to develop tolerance and respect for religious freedom throughout the world.It is vital that Western democracies do not cave in to violent threats by religious extremism, and continue to serve as models for protecting religious freedom and civil rights. Their ability to integrate Muslim minorities and treat them with dignity will set a good example to people all over the world, including Muslim societies, to persevere in their pursuit of more open and inclusive societies.It is now the time for leading voices of freedom and tolerance in Switzerland and European democracies and the United States to challenge this discriminatory law. We also call on human rights organizations and religious groups, including European Muslims, to challenge the law in Swiss and European courts and make sure that this palpable discrimination against the free exercise of religion does not stand.
Nihad Awad, a leader of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote an open letter to President Obama asking him to repudiate the Swiss decision:
As you prepare to address the nation on the conflict in Afghanistan, I urge you to seek peace and reconciliation, not escalation. “When you took office, you clearly stated that torture and abuse of detainees would no longer be permitted. These new reports of prisoner abuse at a secret interrogation facility in Afghanistan sound eerily similar to those that so tarnished our nation’s image and interests in recent years. I ask you to address this important issue when you speak to the nation on Tuesday. “I also urge you to use the opportunity presented by your prime-time address to repudiate the decision of Swiss voters to deny Muslims in that nation the same religious rights granted to citizens of other faiths. Our nation’s silence on this flagrant denial of religious freedom would send a very negative message throughout the Muslim world, which must improve its own record on religious rights.
The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) issued a press release saying that the Swiss decision was part of a trend in Europe to restrict the religious freedom of religious and ethnic minorities:
The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy notes with great concern the recent referendum in Switzerland, which, according to a majority of the votes, will ban the construction of mosque minarets in that country. This development is part of a recent disturbing trend in significant parts of Europe to restrict the religious freedom and self-expression of religious and ethnic minorities, notably of Muslims, who are full citizens of these European countries which otherwise pride themselves on being democratic and tolerant. We note that the Swiss government to its credit was against this proposal but could not prevail against the incendiary and intolerant rhetoric of the extremist Swiss People’s Party (SVP). It is equally noteworthy that the results of this referendum have been welcomed by leaders of other radical right-wing groups in Europe, such as Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the radical-right Austrian Freedom Party, and Marine Le Pen, vice-president of France’s National Front, which points to the possibility of religious and political extremism spreading further in Europe. As an organization that has consistently taken a stand against the violation of fundamental human, political, and religious rights wherever they may occur, the Board of Directors of CSID takes this opportunity to express its apprehension and disappointment over this development which points to a dangerous attrition in the Swiss people’s commitment to democratic values and augurs more generally a worsening of relations between Europe and Muslim-majority countries. In conjunction with all people of faith, and all those who believe in freedom, equality, and democracy, we call upon the Swiss government and all Swiss political and religious leaders to continue to uphold and defend freedom of religion for all its citizens and residents. A democracy is measured not only by its application of majority rule, but also and more importantly by the respect it accords to the rights of minorities.
CSID was created by leading U.S. Muslim Brotherhood members and has a close relationship with the U.S. government.