Fr. Samir: In Switzerland, yes minarets, no to the muezzin
by Samir Khalil Samir
The referendum on whether to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland is an opportunity to rethink the use of these architectural elements. Their use to call people to prayer; or the race to make them ever higher, competing with churches, is excluded. Europe must learn to live with Islam, but Islam also has to rethink its life in Europe as a minority.

Rome (AsiaNews) - On 29 November, Swiss voters will be asked to vote in a referendum calling for a ban on the construction of minarets in the country. The proposal is supported by the Swiss People's Party that fears the minarets are a sign of a progressive Islamization of the Federation. There are about 400 thousand Muslims in Switzerland, the majority originating from Turkey or the Balkans. According to a government inquiry, only 15% of them practice their faith actively. To date, out of about 150 mosques in the country, only five have a minaret.

The discussion on the yes-or-no minarets has polarized the population. Those in favour of the ban rather than the minarets fear a spread of Islam and violence in the neighbourhoods of peaceful communities in Switzerland. The People’s Party quotes the Turkish premier Erdogan according to whom "minarets are the bayonets of Islam". Those opposed to the ban are worried that it manifests xenophobia and betrays the tradition of openness and freedom in the country. Even the business community is concerned because it has many economic ties with Muslim countries and fear that a ban on minarets will produce a boycott of Swiss products in the markets of the Middle East, which recently recorded a growth of 14%.

The theme of the minarets in Europe, next to cathedrals and skyscrapers, is still an issue that needs to be addressed, given the growth of Islamic presence in the European Union. For Father Samir Khalil Samir the debate is an opportunity to help Europe welcome Islam and for Islam to integrate itself into the life of European society. Here is his expert opinion:

On 29 November in Switzerland will vote on a referendum to ban construction of minarets. How do we tackle this issue? By firstly looking at the facts.  In the beginning of Islam there were no minarets.  Only three generations later do we see the first ones appear, when watch towers were used to launch the call to prayer. These towers were not too high, to avoid the dispersion of the calling voice.  Following this the minaret became increasingly common, until it became a symbolic and aesthetic ornament.

As long as it remains an aesthetic symbol, it can be accepted even in Europe. But if its purpose is to call people to prayer, this will create difficulties: microphones and loudspeakers will need to be powerful enough to be heard high above the horns of cars and traffic. Moreover, if the hours of prayer are being announced this means even those at 4 in the morning. And these times cannot be changed because they are established by God and not man. But this is the impasse: if one accepts that the minarets have microphones and the call to prayer, one must accept that it is also done at 4 am and 10 pm. It must be said that Saudi Arabia has minarets, but without microphones. The reason is that at the time of the Prophet these tools did not exist and therefore should not be used even now.  

Yes then to the aesthetic symbol, but no to the muezzin and the call to prayer. Also because during the year, there are times such as Ramadan, in which the prayers are lengthy, such as reading the Koran.

Then the race to be the highest must be eliminated.  In Islamic countries (and partly in Europe) the race is on to make the minarets taller than all surrounding buildings, especially churches. But then it would have to be admitted that the underlying reason for the construction of the minaret is to compete. On the other hand, saying it is merely a question of competition is not a good thing either because it ruins coexistence, which is why there is the demand for construction of minarets. If so there must be a minaret, it would be worthwhile for it to be a discreet symbol that meets with the consensus of the local population and surrounding environment.

This discussion on the minaret, the pros and cons, is an example of how to deal with your current situation in Europe, where increasingly there are Muslim communities. But it is also an opportunity for Muslims to rethink what it means to live among you, in a situation of welcome, but also as a minority. And being a minority they can not behave as in all Islamic countries, where they are the majority.