The Swiss ban on mosque-top minarets on the ground of its being a symbol of political domination of Islam, an instrument incompatible with the secular Swiss society with strict separation between religion and state, has attracted widespread condemnations worldwide.
Most of all, Switzerland is poised to be brought before the European or the U.N. Commission of Human Rights because the ban, if enforced, would constitute a violation of religious freedom of Muslims.
Does the minaret ban constitute a violation of Muslims’ religious freedom?
It may constitute such a violation, but only to a small measure, as their freedom of worship, including the freedom to build mosques, is not tampered with. The Minaret, religiously, is not a major component of Islam.
On the flipside, the Swiss ban may represent a backlash against the widespread Muslim violation of religious freedom -- even the right to life -- of non-Muslims.
While the world has engaged in the intense condemnation of the Swiss minaret ban as a violation of Muslims’ religious freedom, hundreds, probably thousands, of non-Muslims across the Muslim world have been suffering intimidation and violence, even death, for simply being non-Muslim or trying to observe their religious rituals and rights in the most peaceful and submissive manner.
Over the past weeks, while the Swiss minaret ban hysteria was going on, a 3,000-strong hysterical Muslim mob engaged in rioting in Egypt, attacking Christians and their businesses -- a frequent occurrence. Additionally, Muslim extremists in Uganda attacked a Sunday church congregation, wounding many and damaging the church; Islamic radicals executed a Christian convert in Somalia; a Pakistani Christian had to go into hiding after Islamist demanded his conversion to Islam (or death); a man in Iran faces hanging for apostatizing to Christianity. Most alarmingly, a survey found 59% of Muslims in Turkey, the most secular and tolerant Islamic nation and an aspirant to E.U. membership, opposed open worship by non-Muslims.
Naïve and uneducated observers may find the Swiss ban on minarets a violation of religious rights of Muslims, but in reality, as demonstrated, the Swiss vote is a ban on a symbol of political power, disguised as an innocuous religious icon. It, therefore, does not, technically, violate any religious right of anyone, whatsoever.
Most of all, nations with their skylines riddled with giant and elegant minarets are also the lands of the most extreme violation of religious rights of non-Muslims, a trend which has been worsening fast.
As discussed elsewhere, Islamic minarets did not emerge at the birth of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad, who founded a puritanical and Spartan religious creed, fitting for the underdeveloped and poverty-stricken Bedouin Arab society, would undoubtedly have opposed the erection of sky-piercing elegant minarets; he disapproved of the construction of gorgeous buildings saying: “Truly the most unprofitable thing that eats the wealth of a believer is building,” and “Every expense of the believer will be rewarded except the expense of the building.”
Minarets are, in fact, a Christian icon, first introduced to mosques by the Godless Umayyad rulers a century after the beginning of Islam -- also in spite of strong condemnations by the pious for incorporating a Christian icon into Islamic houses of worship, and for building a structure higher than mosque-walls.
Since then, sky-piercing spear-like minarets gradually became what the renowned Turkish sociologist and nationalist poet, Ziya Gökalp, described in a poem as: “The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army...” Affirmation of this message by Tayyip Recep Erdogan, the current Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey, in a 1998 public gathering, earned him a short prison-term for inciting religious hatred.
Since then, ‘bayonet-shaped’ minarets started gracing skyline of the centers of Islamic power, conquered by the sword: Cairo, Spain, Damascus, Constantinople, Delhi and more. Since then, wherever Muslim holy warriors went with the aid of swords in pursuance of Jihad for global conquest, the first thing they did was to raise imposing mosques, fitted with elegant minarets, often on the site of destroyed temples or churches, and frequently using remains of the destroyed religious structures.
The Quwat-al-Islam (Might of Islam) Mosque and the Qutb Minaret in Delhi are ideal examples: their construction started in 1192, well ahead of the firm establishment of Islamic power, the Delhi Sultanate, in 1206, and that they were constructed from the remains of many Hindu temples destroyed in the area.
Once mosques with elegant minarets were erected, symbolizing the establishment of Islamic power, these structures became, as Gokalp perfectly described, the “bayonets” and “barracks” of Islam. They became Islamic powerhouses from where ruthless and unflinching Jihad was unleashed against the non-Muslim peoples of surrounding territories, causing untold human suffering, death and destruction. Notably, Islamic Jihad claimed the lives of estimated 270 million people, 60–80 million in India. This would substantiate the thesis of Gokalp/Erdogan and the Swiss voters that Islamic minarets are, fundamentally, a symbol of Islam’s political power. Moreover, it carries a hisotry of extreme violence and oppression.
But, that is history; just ask the pagans (not extant anymore) and Jews of Europe: Churches, with their minarets, were symbols and centers of no less brutality and oppression throughout the Middle Ages. Today, however, churches mostly represent apolitical and spiritual ‘houses of worship;’ secular societies can live with them, fitted with minarets or not, in near-perfect harmony.
Furthermore, non-Christian communities in the lands of churches, as in the West, can exercise their religious freedom with unrestrained liberty, although Muslims have come under increasing suspicion, and even some restrictions, but only in recent years, thanks mostly, if not exclusively, to theMuslims’ own making.
Can the same be said of the lands of Islamic minarets?
Look at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and such other Islamic countries, the skylines of whose major cities are adorned with the world’s finest minarets in great numbers.
In Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Islam, one risks a heavy jail-term for carrying a Bible or another non-Islamic religious book, while public display of non-Muslim worship may even cost someone his or her life by beheading.
Even in Islamic countries like Indonesia, Malaysia or Bangladesh -- highly praised in the West for their moderation -- erecting a church, despite its being a completely spiritual place of worship, is next to impossible. In countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan, non-Muslim worshippers are subjected to regular harassment, overt violence, and destruction of non-Muslim ways of life, religious places and business establishments.
Muslims are the fastest-growing populations in the West, ten times faster than non-Muslims in the UK, thus, putting European countries on the course to become Muslim-dominated in a few decades to by the turn of this century. Muslims in the West are, on an average, more pious, radical and even violent than their average brethren in Islamic countries.
We have seen over the years how mosques in Western countries have been used for preaching intolerance, violence and even terrorism against the host nations, while Muslims create Islamic ghettos, turning them into no-go zones for non-Muslims in countries such as France, Sweden and Norway, to name a few. Muslim protesters on the streets of Europe even dare to attack and chase away police and security officials.
All indications suggest that in countries of the West, when Muslims would dominate the population in number, the rights of non-Muslims, including religious freedom, would get worse than what non-Muslims enjoy in Islamic countries today. Muslim immigrants are already the major attackers of gays and Jews in Europe. The citizenry of the West, therefore, has valid and rational reasons to be duly alarmed by these developments and prospects, although willfully ignored or shied away by the political elite.
While it is good that liberal papers, like Australia’s The Age, have termed the Swiss decision an ‘Irrational response to rational anxiety about Islam,’ and have started calling the Swiss anxiety about Muslims a ‘rational’ one, the Swiss referendum on minarets should also be deemed a well-measured and rational one. From the religious perspective, it is a negligible compromise for Muslims. From the political point of view, in which minarets stand for a political symbol sitting on a history of monumental violence, terror and opporession, the ban is a most legitimate one, given the strictly secular nature of Swiss society; political icons should not be a part of houses of worship.
What is more important to realize is that the violent legacy of minarets continues in Islamic lands as we have seen. There is another way of measuring the ongoing violation of the rights of hundreds of millions of non-Muslims caused by minarets. Minarets are used for calling the faithful to prayers, to submit to the Islamic Deity, five times a day in blaring loudness. In a civilized society, while Muslims should have religious freedom, non-Muslims must also have the right not to hear the call to Islamic prayer and submission to Islam repeatedly on a daily basis. Moreover, raising opposition to this wiolation of non-Muslim rights could result in violence by Muslims, thus, forcing non-Muslims to either put up with it or shut up. Coercion to silence by violence or threats of it, should not be unacceptable in a civilized society, if it wants to maintian the status quo.
Islam’s problem with secular societies runs much, much, deeper than minarets. So far, Muslims have refused, or showed numbness or intellectual incapacity, to realize what is needed be a successful part of civilized secular-democratic societies. The Swiss minaret ban acts as a rude but small message to Muslims, helping them to become aware of what is expected of them to be an inclusive part of the secular West.
The question is: will Muslims get the message?
If they do, it could be the first smooth step in resolving Islam’s monumental problem with secular societies. If they do not, which is the indication so far, the clash of civilizations could be inevitable. And whichever side wins that battle, it will come at a heavy cost. Our collective humanity would be the loser.