Sunday, December 06, 2009

On Minerates, Switzerland, Egypt, America and Saudi Arabia too!

The new Swiss Law is nothing new! The reason only four Minerates exist in a country of over four hundred thousand Muslims is that the Swiss Cantons have refused for many years to grant building permits for mosques; only four minerates have managed to get through. Of the four minerates that exist one or maybe two qualify for a "real" minerate, the others are like a small rises, accidental architectural feature that few people would recognize as Islamic. Before the referendum, this was one of the main reasons I personally decided not to move my primary residence to Zurich despite my commuting back and forth to Switzerland since 2003. Once, I had sought a mosque near me for the Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan and stumbled across a lot of information about the problems with the planning permits; I was shocked, saddened and hurt. It is good that the referendum finally brings out much publicity, so this shameful issue is finally out.

Switzerland, a country I do very much love, has never been a bastion of political correctness on issues of freedom and equality; its brand of referendum based democracy means that it is often out of step in its laws. Swiss women had the right to vote over fifty full years after their Egyptian counterparts. In some Cantons in Switzerland women got the right to vote in 1990's being in the heart of Europe does not necessarily mean being free and progressive. While Egyptians male and female have had the vote for decades, they continue to await for the these votes to count through free and fair elections, only then will we Egyptians be able to show what racism, bigotry and small mindedness really mean. My American side has an insurance policy against such stupidity, known as the United States Constitution. So, when Americans vote freely to mix church and state or vote their racist prejudices, sooner or later, the courts overturn such votes in favor of a more equal and tolerant society. In short, the Swiss are no more racist than others, arguably a lot less. The liberal party in Switzerland is indeed racist; it gathered the signatures to bring the minerates issue to a referendum and very few people actually bothered to vote. I hope that sooner or later, not only would the referendum be overturned but also the planning permit issue at the Cantonal level will get better.

Saudi Arabia is often brought into this discussion; Islamophobes point to Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent restrictions on religious freedom as a way to explain away newly imposed restrictions on Islamic expressions in different parts of Europe and Saudi apologists argue that laws such as the minerates ban are a vindication for Saudi’s stance. I have heard the argument that Muslims can’t be expected to give churches and synagogues the same level of freedoms that Muslim demand for mosques in the West. An argument of “unequal and we mean it!” or “no reciprocity and deliberately so!” The argument is based on Islam believing in Christianity and Judaism while Christianity and Judaism have no theological space for Islam. Such arguments trouble me as much as the original Swiss Cantonal planning restrictions did. Saying that Muslims believe in Christianity is misleading, Muslims believe in their own versions of Christianity and don't believe that the Christians beliefs practiced today are valid. In short, Muslims do not believe in Jesus being the Son of God or that Jesus was crucified for the salvation of mankind and those who believe in him. Muslims can define Christianity as we wish but that is not Christianity as seen by its adherents.

Some Egyptians have used the Swiss Minerates referendum to argue for more (or less) freedom for the Coptic Churches. In down town Boston Muslims hold their Friday prayers at the basement of a Church. In the aftermath of 9/11, the archbishop of Catholic Church in Boston along with leaders of many Protestant churches came to our Wayland mosque and prayed and kneeled with us in solidarity, this would never happen in Saudi for now certainly not Switzerland nor Egypt.