UPDATED ON: Sunday, November 29, 2009 19:21
Mecca time, 16:21 GMT
Courtesy Of Al Jazeera
Voters in Switzerland have approved a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques, official results show.
Of those who cast votes in Sunday's poll, 57.5 per cent approved the ban, while only four cantons out of 26 rejected the proposals.
The result paves the way for a constitutional amendment to be made.
"The Federal Council [government] respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted," the government, which had opposed the ban, said in a statement.
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) had forced a referendum on the issue after it collected 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.
Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Bern, the Swiss capital, said: "There is concern in Switzerland undoubtedly about what is being seen as the spread of radical Islam, but the Muslim community here has always been regarded as fairly moderate.
After the official results were known, far-right politicians celebrated, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture".
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland's justice minister, said the result "reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies".
"These concerns have to be taken seriously ... However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies," she said.
Farhad Afshar, who heads the Co-ordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said that "the most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote."
Supporters of the ban say minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.
But Switzerland's Muslims have said that the referendum is fuelling anti-Islamic feeling in the country.
"The initiators have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way," Taner Hatipoglu, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, said.
"We are frightened, and if the atmosphere continues to be like this and if the anti-Islamic hate increases, then the Muslims indeed will not feel safe anymore. This of course is very unpleasant."
About 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, whose population is just under eight million. Most Muslim citizens are immigrants from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey.
Although Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity, there are only four mosques with minarets in the whole country.
Posters have appeared in many Swiss cities showing a figure of a woman shrouded from head to foot in a burka. Behind her is the Swiss flag, shaped like a map of the country, with black minarets shooting up out of it like missiles.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee called the posters discriminatory and said Switzerland would violate international law if it bans minarets.
"The reality is, as was described to me by a Swiss resident who is not a Swiss citizen, this is the right-wing Swiss People's Party sending out a message to Muslims: 'Know your place in Switzerland'," he said.
"They believe, the right-wing People's Party, that if the Muslims get their mosques and their minarets it will follow on that they will want, perhaps, separate schooling and there could be a campaign to turn Switzerland, of all places, into a place that practices Sharia [Islamic law]."