Outrage on Switzerland minaret vote, but how do Muslim states handle churches?

Switzerland minaret referendum leads to Muslim outrage, but the Swiss aren't alone in restricting religious freedom.

By , Staff writer

Muslim reaction across the world to Sunday's Swiss referendum banning the construction of further minarets for mosques in the tiny Alpine nation has been almost entirely negative.

Indonesia's Maskuri Abdillah, leader of the largest Muslim organization in the world's most populous Muslim nation said the vote reflected Swiss "hatred" of Islam and Muslims.

Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, close to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, said the ban was an attempt to "insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland."

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Yet the referendums outcome pales in comparison to restrictions on non-Muslims who aim to practice their faith in Muslim lands. In fact, the vote only brought Swiss legal practice closer to that of many majority Muslim states that also place limits on the construction of houses of worship.

Here's a review of practices in four large majority Muslim states:

1. Indonesia. In a state with large minority populations of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and animists, the US State department reported in 2009 that at least 9 churches – and 12 mosques associated with the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect (which mainstream Muslim groups consider heretical) – were forced shut by violence or intimidation from community groups, and that a number of churches and Hindu temples have struggled to receive official permits in recent years. The Indonesian government has on a number of occasions stepped in to prevent church construction, largely over fears that it would stoke sectarian violence. But religious practice, by and large, is freer in Indonesia than most other Muslim majority states.

2. Egypt. The country has a sizeable minority of Eastern Orthodox Christians, or Copts. By law, their churches must received the permission of local Muslim communities before new construction is allowed. The State Department's religious freedom report on Egypt in 2009 says in part: "Church and human rights leaders complain that many local officials intentionally delay the permit process. They charge that some local authorities refuse to process applications without 'supporting documents' that are virtually impossible to obtain."

3. Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca and Islam more generally, is one of the least religiously free nation's on earth. In the Kingdom, the public practice of any faith but Islam is illegal. Christian's and Jews receive 50 percent of the compensation that a Muslim would receive in personal injury court and the country has no churches at all, though it officially tolerates private worship in homes.

4. Pakistan. Freedom of religious worship is constitutionally guaranteed, but in practice the government sets limits and there has also been a rise in attacks by militant groups on both Christians and Shiites in the majority Sunni Muslim country in recent years. The State Department found that "societal discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and societal violence against such groups occurred." District level government "consistently refused to grant permission to construct non-Muslim places of worship, especially for Ahmadiyya and Baha'i communities" the State Department found, while also noting that missionaries are allowed to work inside the country. In 2009 "public pressure routinely prevented courts from protecting minority rights and forced judges to take strong action against any perceived offense to Sunni orthodoxy,'' the report said.

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