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EGYPT: Clerics enraged by Swiss minarets ban

December 2, 2009 |  8:57 am

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New legislation prohibiting the building of minarets on top of mosques in Switzerland has been met by strong condemnation from Egypt's grand religious mufti as well as top Islamic clerics.

A nationwide referendum in Switzerland on Sunday, which was called for by the rightist Swiss People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union, saw 57% of the population vote in favor of banning the construction of minarets. Only four Swiss mosques had minarets as of the referendum's date.

"This proposal ... is not considered just an attack on freedom of beliefs, but also an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland," Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said. "I call on all Muslims not to be affected by this provocation but I encourage Swiss Muslims to use dialogue and legal means to ban the contest," he added.

A minaret is the tall spire that crowns the top of nearly all mosques built in Muslim countries. Historically, it was used to call people to prayer. The referendum was instantly denounced by the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who called the move an unfortunate step for Switzerland that discriminates against the country's Muslim minority.

Gomaa criticized the vote as an insult not just to Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims, but to followers of the religion across the world. Strong reaction also came from other clerics including Abdul Aziz Al Twegry, head of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, who called on Arab Muslims to commercially boycott to Switzerland and for businessmen to withdraw accounts from top Swiss banks.

The minarets ban adds to the feeling among many Egyptian Muslims that Europe discriminates against Islam, especially after incidents, including the 2005 Danish cartoons that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing death in July of a veiled Egyptian woman by a right-wing German extremist in Dresden.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa. Credit: Agence France-Presse

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