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Minaret ban three years on Building religious spaces is complicated

When Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of minarets on November 29, 2009, the result made headlines around the world. Today, however, finding enough space to worship is a more pressing concern for some Muslim communities.

The Muslim community in Switzerland is growing, multiplying from just a few thousand in the 1970s to around 400,000 people today. This is mainly due to immigration from former Yugoslavian states and Turkey. The Muslim community includes up to 100 nationalities, and only about eight per cent are from Arab countries. Official statistics say around 11 per cent are Swiss citizens, either converts, or naturalised.

The problem for this rapidly growing religious community is that it is happening in a small country where the property market is tight and land expensive. It’s also not easy to find a compromise, especially in town centres.

The authorities in Bern say that since church and state are separated, building a mosque or a church isn’t the duty of the city but rather requires a private enterprise. They add that they have done their best to improve religious tolerance: building a House of Religions and giving Muslims a special graveyard. But some of Bern’s Muslims say this is not enough. Other towns, like Lausanne and Payerne in canton Vaud, and Altdorf, in canton Uri, have had similar problems.

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