GENEVA – A Swiss ban on building new minarets is prompting dismay and anger across the world, amid warnings the ban reflects the deep-seated anti-Muslim feelings in the West.
"My first reaction is one of surprise and disappointment," Babacar Ba, the Geneva ambassador of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), told Swissinfo on Monday, November 30.
"It is a bad answer to a bad question. I fear that this kind of thing is simply a gift to extremism and intolerance."
Swiss voters approved Sunday by 57.5 percent a far-right initiative to ban the construction of new minarets in the country.
"It's very regrettable,” Maskuri Abdillah, the head of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim group, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Obviously this is a narrow-minded way of thinking about Muslims."
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) -- Switzerland's biggest party -- had forced a referendum under Swiss regulations to ban the minarets after collecting 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.
The SVP claims minarets are a symbol of Shari`ah and are thus incompatible with the Swiss legal system.
Abdillah, whose group has 40 million members in the world's biggest Muslim country, said the ban reflects the anti-Muslim feelings in Switzerland.
“They don't want to see a Muslim presence in their country and this intense dislike has made them intolerant."
Islam is the second religion in Switzerland after Christianity, with Muslims estimated at nearly 400,000.
There are nearly 160 mosques and prayer rooms in Switzerland, mainly in disused factories and warehouses.
Only four of them have minarets, none of them used to raise the Azan, the call to prayer, which is banned.
World Muslims said that the ban signals the deep-seated Islamophobia in the West.
"This result should draw our attention to the reality of the hidden fears which have been underestimated by decision makers," said the Egyptian Mufti.
"We think that priority should be given to meeting the challenge of building societies capable of integrating diversity and difference... and we are ready to give every support to such an effort."
The OIC called for vigilance against the growing Islamophobia in the West.
"I think we must be very vigilant in the face of the upsurge of Islamophobia," said Ba.
"This vote is an open door to the dangerous process of calling fundamental freedoms into question."
Jaber al-Alawani, a Muslim thinker and director of the Cordoba Institute in the United States, agrees.
"Islamophobia is widespread in Europe, all the more so because rightwing extremists see it as a kind of defence of European identity, which they haven't so far quite been able to define."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for intervention to protect Muslim right to worship.
"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,” CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said in an open letter to US President Barack Obama.
“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."
Muslim leaders, however, called for calm and measured reaction to the Swiss minaret ban.
"The main thing is to keep calm and to realise how much work still needs to be done to defend basic freedoms,” Ba said.
“I think we must do this by ... taking a constructive part in the debate on all issues which cause fear and concern, and to try to bring people together in order to confront extremism wherever it comes from."
Egypt’s Mufti also called for calm.
"It is really important not to exploit this result wrongly for political ends, but to regard it as a call to build cooperation and harmony between our different religions and societies, in a new spirit."
Misfer al-Kahtani, a Muslim Saudi thinker, urged Muslim minorities in the West to work to view the bright image of their faith.
"The real challenge is for the Muslim community to accept the decision by Swiss society ... and work to change the clichés adopted by those who called for the ban on minarets, by showing a good example and applying the ideas and values of Muslim civilisation."