Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Swiss Ban on Minarets, An Ugly But Understandable Response?

posted by Brad Hirschfield

I figure I may as well anger both sides right from the title, since my response to the just approved measure banning the construction of Minarets in Switzerland, will no doubt disturb both those sympathetic to the move and those most deeply opposed to it. Neither side gets it right though. The measure’s supporters are generally fear-driven haters of Islam in general and all Muslims as a group, while the latter are too-often mindless apologists for a community whose internal crisis threatens us all.
The idea that minaret construction is inherently problematic is neither reasonable nor intelligent. It’s unreasonable because it assumes that all religious expression by Muslims threatens the public welfare and its security. That would only be true if all Muslims and every teaching of Islam were as hateful and violent as the majority of Swiss voters seem to believe. Of course, such blanket condemnations of any religious tradition are absurd at best and deeply ugly at worst.
There is no such thing as a religion which is inherently bad or inherently good, no matter how often the lovers and loathers of particular faiths insist that it is so. The fact is that every tradition has both spilled the blood of others and seen its own members die for that which they believe. No, the numbers may not be same for each faith, but that is more a matter of historical opportunity than essential teachings.
The ban is also foolish in that it addresses the public’s fear of Islam as a repressive and freedom-rejecting tradition by repressing religious expression and stripping citizens of the right to worship freely! The irony is compounded in a nation so proud of it’s many churches, themselves often products of the ongoing reform of Christian tradition and themselves occasionally guilty of their own hostility to those of other faiths.
Yet the fear into which the measure’s sponsors tapped is real and not entirely unreasonable.


In fact, unless the opposition to the measure assume that those in favor are as mindlessly hateful as the sponsors think all Muslims are, then it is absolutely necessary for Muslims to carefully consider how the actions of Muslims around the world fertilize the soil in which the seeds of hatred grow so well.
I am not suggesting that the victims be blamed for the hateful legislation directed at them, nor am I suggesting that there is any place for collective guilt in any decent legal system. But collective responsibility is not the same as collective guilt.
In a world where girls are beaten for wearing the wrong skirt, as one was this week in Sudan, where Copts are routinely assaulted as they were again this week in Egypt, and where hatred of Christians, Jews, Atheists and pretty much anything else deemed to be non-Muslim is preached by more than a few clerics, as is the case across Europe, some real soul-searching is in order. It’s not that all are guilty, but when people claim membership in a global community, they do share a measure of responsibility.
Why, if Muslims can take to the streets in the millions when an offensive cartoon is published or teddy bear is named Muhammad, is there no public protest against these actions? Why if Muslims could protest offensive laws banning minarets, head scarves, or other such repressive measures, is their no protest when Muslims attack churches, or burn synagogues in the name of Islam?
In a world of 24/7 imaging and sound bites, big public acts get noticed, whether for good or for bad, and they shape public consciousness. That is why it is important for all people to speak out against the Swiss ban, and equally important for all Muslims to act as big and speak as loudly in defense of the rights of others as they do in defense of their own. In a globalized world, we are all connected and failure to do so will simply empower the haters and the xenophobes everywhere.
So whether as an act of enlightened self-interest or as an expression of traditional Islamic teaching about the spiritual dignity of all human beings, the same voice which rails against the Swiss, calls for action on the part of Muslims. The world is still waiting for a response.



  • Sammy

    Perhaps the Swiss plebiscite to ban the construction of new minarets will spark a much-needed ecumenical dialogue between Western Christianity and Islam. Here’s a suggestion: In response to the Swiss model, Saudi Arabia or Gaza or Iran would in turn allow new Christian churches to be built to accommodate converts or immigrants, but would insist on no ostentatious spires. Who could object to such moral equivalence?

  • SAndy

    We need a definition of minaret before we can comment, here is Andrew Bostom
    The venerable Brill Encyclopedia of Islam (EOI) entry on minarets makes plain that minarets are a political statement of Islamic supremacism. Interestingly, given current Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s provocative statement while mayor of Istanbul (the full statement was quoted in a NY Times story by Stephen Kinzer from 2/16/1998: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army”), cited by opponents of minaret construction in Switzerland—the observations from the Brill EOI about the Ottoman perspective on minarets are of particular note.
    From the official Brill Encyclopedia of Islam entry on the minaret:
    “It seems on the whole unrelated to its function of the adh?n [q.v.] calling the faithful to prayer, which can be made quite adequately from the roof of the mosque or even from the house-top. During the lifetime of the Prophet, his Abyssinian slave Bil?l [q.v.], was responsible for making the call to prayer in this way. The practice continued for another generation, a fact which demonstrates that the minaret is not an essential part of Islamic ritual. To this day, certain Islamic communities, especially the most orthodox ones like the Wahh?b?s in Arabia, avoid building minarets on the grounds that they are ostentatious and unnecessary. … It must be remembered, however, that throughout the mediaeval period, the role of the minaret oscillated between two polarities: as a sign of power and as an instrument for the adh?n.”
    [Re: Ottoman minarets]: “These gigantic, needle-sharp lances clustered protectively, like a guard of honour, around the royal dome, have a distinctly aggressive and ceremonial impact, largely dependent on their almost unprecedented proportions; the pair of minarets flanking the Süleymaniye dome are each some 70m. high.”

  • Toews

    Darwish had this final comment on the Swiss ban on Minarets:
    “Many Muslim groups are denouncing the ban as oppression to freedom of religion. However, such Muslim groups will be more credible if they first denounced the oppression of religious minorities in Muslim countries who make it illegal to practice any religion other than Islam. Muslim groups who claim that they are oppressed in Europe should be the first to stand up and yell “not in the name of my religion” when Churches are burned in Muslim countries. But instead all we hear from Muslim groups is “I am a victim” and “I am offended” while the blood of non-Muslims is being shed in the name of Sharia.

  • EllieDee

    “There is no such thing as a religion which is inherently bad or inherently good, no matter how often the lovers and loathers of particular faiths insist that it is so. The fact is that every tradition has both spilled the blood of others and seen its own members die for that which they believe”
    As a person who would die for my beliefs…I would not kill other for them…this seems always to get lost..when religions are seen from a rear view..and not in its present tense.

  • Mere_Me

    Muslims deserve what they are getting.
    It’s far past time for non Islamic societies to push back against the conquest-totalitarianism of Islamists.
    Far, far past time.

  • bill holston

    Very well said Rabbi. This is religious bigotry, and it is wrong. Here in Dallas, I often drive past a Coptic Church and a major Mosque. If I drive a bit more, I drive past a Budhist temple and a Synagogue. This is the America, I’m proud to be a part of. The Coptic Church is full of people who have fled persecution in Egypt. The Iranian Baptist Church is full of people who were persecuted for their faith. There are not Jews left to persecute in most of Countries with Islamic
    I condemn this bigoted act by the Swiss. It is wrongheaded. But as you say, it would be good to read of the increase in the protection of minority religious rights in Countries that are primarily Muslim. If I was a moderate Muslim, I’d really find that hard to accept.

  • interpreter

    I agree Mere_Me. I wish we would ban minarets here in the US.

  • Cassie C

    Ban Minarets in this country? To paraphrase one Swiss opponent to the Minaret ban, “This is not my United States.”
    Furthermore, if we call on moderate & liberal Muslims to speak out against radical Muslims (many of whom are not even considered to be Muslim by said moderates & liberals) then we must extend this mandate to all religious groups.

  • Niccolo Casewit AIA

    Architecture is a form of expression, not just an object to be truncated. Building Form has meaning and is in a way just like “speech.” Today, in almost every country, we are a diverse world and must be less biased. Your logic Rabi Brad Hirschfield, is not sound. This SWISS outrage (a one sentence constitutional amendment)—should not be the motivation to voice other outrages. Rage is not helpful.Rage is the only link that can be made!
    It is actually—Construction that is needed– helping the people is what this world needs. Instead of preaching, we might all do well in God’s eyes to help give the people a voice in those villages of Afghanistan, or Egypt; one way to do this would be to build schools and libraries with computers (linked to your Blog!) and readily available to the poor. Respectfully,
    Niccolo Casewit AIA
    (P.s. I am a Denver Colorado architect who’s designed community centers in Bayad Egypt for the Ford Foundation and ICA –all probono—there was no budget for a minaret or a steeple!)

  • Beverly

    Why is it that Islam gets a pass everytime. Do people not realize the constraints in a Muslim country placed on Christians and Jews? Most of the time non Muslim houses of worship are destroyed by Muslims! When “other” places of worship are destroy there is no outcry from the people who live in Muslim countries. Non Muslims in Muslim countries have to pay taxes because they are not Muslim. Does the world not realize that Muslims intend to take over all countries and destroy all religion except Islam? What do you think all this terrorist activity is about? Why do you think that Muslims are spreading to every country and over populating every place they live. Its about taking the country and Sharia law when their population reaches a high enough percentage. Any encouragement we give Islam in a so called non Muslim country, is a shovel of dirt on the grave of Christianity and Judaism and all other religions.

  • Emily with the Kippah

    I disagree that “all Muslim countries destroy non-Muslim houses of worship.” Lest we forget that the Moors of Spain – Muslims – created and fostered an environment that allowed the Jews to thrive and give life to a “golden age” of Jewish culture. They were devout, just as the Muslims of today are devout. The Moors also were brilliant architects and created beautiful structures and designs that influenced many artists, including none other than M.C. Escher.
    Fellow Jews, don’t be fooled by this Islamophobia – this anti-Muslim bigotry. Right now Fascist movements in Europe are trying to hide their anti-Semitic pasts and current anti-Jewish sentiment by claiming they “love Israel” and telling Jews to protest outside Muslim mosques by waving Israeli flags. “Divide and conquer,” as they say. What a tragedy it would be for European Fascist movements to obtain Jewish support by using the very same religious and cultural bigotry that was used against Jews (to rally the public) not 100 years ago.

  • Kirsten

    Emily, the only bigotry comes from you. You have no respect for the Swiss people, nor do you believe they have the right to defend their country and its culture. Nope, all you care about is how the situation in Switzerland affects the Jews.
    Furthermore, your example of the Moors in Spain is truly horrible. The Moors conquered Spain against the wishes of its inhabitants, the Spanish people. And you use that as a positive example for tolerating Islamic hatred and violence in Europe? You have no right to wonder why “anti-Semitism” exists in Europe, when you have made it clear you don’t care about the rights of the European peoples to defend their own countries.
    And if you are truly concerned about “anti-Muslim bigotry” as you call it, then where is your criticism of the way Israel treats its Muslims? Or is it one rule for Europeans and another for the Jews in your world? Contrary to popular opinion, Jews can be racists and supremacists, and you are a prime example with your obvious agenda against the European peoples.

  • Cassie C

    Beverly, are you prepared to prove that ‘most of the time non Muslim houses of worship are destroyed by Muslims’? We need to understand that the primary victims of radical ‘Islamic’ terrorists are MUSLIMS. The violence is happening primarily in Muslim-dominated countries. Also, we need to get that only 1% of Muslims are militants, and it is common for moderate & liberal Muslims to say that these terrorists are Muslim because the faith they kill in is nothing like the peaceful faith most Muslims practice.
    Kirsten, are you aware that ‘European’ and ‘Jew’ are not mutually exclusive categories?
    This idea that all Muslims are trying to take over the world and make it Muslim is ludicrous. It is a hateful idea borne out of the fear of the privileged. This is not Christianity!

  • Emily with the Kippah

    Cassie, I don’t believe Kirsten cares that “European” and “Jew” are not mutually exclusive. As far as she’s concerned, Muslims and Jews are “the other” and Europeans are white Christians only. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she’s a member of a far-right fascist party, the kind that ripped Europe apart and caused the deaths of millions of people (not just Jews) in the 30′s and 40′s.
    The Switzerland situation affects all people, of all faiths. If it can happen to Muslims, it can happen to Christians. It can happen to Atheists. It can happen to Catholics or Protestants. a
    When Kirsten says “The Moors conquered the Spanish against their wishes,” what she really means is “The Muslims conquered the Christians.” (How dare they!) Of course, the Christians did the same thing to the Muslims (and the Jews).
    “Your agenda is clear?” Good Lord, is THAT a right-wing buzz-phrase.

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