Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is there a Legal Basis in Greece and Switzerland for Banning or Restricting Muslim Mosques?, by Christos Tsiachris

R.I.M.S.E. Note: The following working paper is a globally unique research work by an expert in Judicial affairs regarding the issue of the legality of a Mosque in Greece. The author does an extensive comparative research with the country of Switzerland and explains in detail the overall issues associated with that thematic for both countries. 

The working paper was published by the University of Lucerne (Switzerland) Center for Comparative Constitutional Law and Religion 

Christos Tsiachris: LLB, LLM, PhD Candidate at the Democritus University of Thrace/School of Law and Research Fellow at the University of Lucerne/Center for Comparative Constitutional Law and Religion in fall 2013. Christos Tsiachris is a Military Judge in the Judicial Corps of the Hellenic Armed Forces 


Europe is nowadays a multicultural continent where different cultures and religions coexist. Since religion is connected with law, politics, morals and culture, the existence of more than one religions in a certain state or area is per se an indication of multiculturalism. The traditional European pagan and Judaeo-Christianic religions, that used to be followed by the vast majority of Europeans, coexist lately with different religions and dogmas imported into Europe from other continents (mainly from Asia and Africa) through immigration and conversion. The evolution of new religions in a certain area usually causes friction with other religions and dogmas. This is the case in Europe, especially when Islam is concerned.

Islam is the fastest evolving religion in Europe. Although it is a known religion in Europe since the Middle Ages, it spread so quickly during the second half of the 20th century that nowadays, Muslim populations range between 4 and 10 per cent in most European countries and are constantly growing. A characteristic of the Muslim communities in European states is that they vary in terms of origin and history. One can find various paths, movements and sects of Islam in Europe, such as the Shia, the Sunni, the Alevi, and the Salafi.

The evolution of Islam has caused debate on the place of religion in the secular public sphere and controversies on issues such as the wearing of the Muslim 
niqab in France and burqa in Belgium, the banning of minaret construction in Switzerland and the Netherlands , female genital mutilation and the application of Islamic law (Shariah). One of these issues, the erection of Muslim mosques, is still a controversial political and legal issue in many European countries, including Greece and Switzerland. 

Although the erection and function of places of worship is regulated by international law and the domestic legislation of states, various political parties and religious groups make efforts to exploit the issue of mosques, specifically, for political and religious reasons, by issuing announcements and declarations, or by demonstrating and lobbying in favor or against the erection and function of mosques. 

This controversy has recently become very vivid in Greece and Switzerland. The two countries have witnessed fierce resistance against the erection of minarets and mosques by civil society (religious and cultural associations, political parties etc.). Despite the fact that the issue seems to have been regulated by legal means, the controversy has not come to an end. The legal discourse focuses on the authority of governments to take restrictive measures against the erection of mosques, which are considered by citizens as a means of spreading Islam in Europe. Governments are in agony to keep the balance between their obligation to safeguard the exercise of human rights by all people and to maintain societal peace by avoiding the radicalization of groups that do not agree with the erection of mosques. For this reason it is worth looking into the legal measures and political decisions taken by the Greek and the Swiss government in order to handle the issue, under a critical eye. 

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