December 9, 2009
Wait a Minaret!
How will your church respond to the growing influence of Islam?
The peaceful, neutrality-loving citizens of Switzerland voted last week to ban the construction of minarets in their country-a decision not welcomed by the country’s 400,000 Muslims. For those unfamiliar with Islamic architecture, minarets are the steeple-like towers attached to mosques from which the call to prayer is broadcast.
The referendum was not a matter of preserving the alpine skyline, and some are saying it shouldn’t be interpreted as a restriction upon religious freedom either. Rather it’s the latest battlefront in Western Europe between advocates of traditional European culture and the recent influx of non-European immigrants. This is from The Washington Post:
While many leaders in Switzerland’s government and churches opposed the ban, the measure won with a significant 57.5 percent of the vote.
But backers of the measure said from the outset they were not seeking to prevent Muslims from practicing their religion. The goal, they explained, was to prevent what they described as the growing political impact of Switzerland’s Muslim minority, which they said is symbolized by minarets pointing into the sky; women wearing full veils; and observance of sharia, a Koran-based legal system.
“The minaret is the power symbol of political Islam and sharia law,” Walter Wobman, a People’s Party member of parliament, told the Reuters news agency at a rally near Bern, the federal capital.
Is the backlash in relatively liberal Switzerland a glimpse of what may soon happen in the US?
I know there are segments within the church here that would support a ban on the construction of mosques or minarets as well as restraining the public display of any non-Christian religious symbols. At the same time they might argue passionately for the public display of crosses, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and the prominent positioning of Nativity scenes in the public square.
However, even prominent conservative Christian voices in the US have spoken out against the Swiss on this issue. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a thoughtful response in which he says, “The banning of minarets appears to be a cowardly move that contradicts Swiss commitments to religious freedom and tolerance.” He goes on to say:
Islam now enters the void created by the decline of Christianity and Christian culture in Switzerland, and throughout much of the continent as well. Banning the minaret may serve to hide Muslim influence from view, but it does not address the underlying issues at stake. Surely the Swiss can do better than this.
The case in Switzerland reveals that the issue may not be one of religion but culture. The referendum in predominantly secular Switzerland was not fueled by a desire to keep Christianity central, but to keep Muslims marginalized. The citizens recognized that Islam isn’t simply a set of theological beliefs, but a worldview that carries with it (like all worldviews) cultural implications.
The question for those of us in the American church, particularly in leadership, is how will we interpret the growing population of Muslims in our country? Are they a threat to traditional American values needing to be kept on the margins? Are they spiritual competition in the marketplace of faith needing to be out-marketed? Are they political and cultural enemies to be outlawed? Or are they our neighbors whom Jesus calls us to love?
If your city or town was voting on a referendum to ban minarets in your community, what would you do? If you are a church leader, what would you tell your congregation? If the imam from the local mosque came to you for support against the referendum, what would you say to him? If your city was voting to ban church steeples would your response be any different?