ISLAMABAD: Pakistani religious groups on Monday condemned a referendum in Switzerland that saw voters approve a ban on the construction of mosque minarets, calling it 'extreme Islamophobia.'
Switzerland on Sunday voted in favour of a ban on new mosque minarets - the towers or turrets attached to mosques from which Muslims are traditionally called to prayer - prompting dismay and anger in the Muslim world.
'This development reflects extreme Islamophobia among people in the West,' said Khurshid Ahmad, vice president of Jamaat-e-Islami, a Islamic political party that is represented in Pakistan's parliament.
'This also represents very serious discrimination against Muslims.' Pakistan is the world's second most populous Muslim nation.
The far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) had forced a referendum after collecting a mandatory 100,000 signatures from eligible voters.
Conservative Swiss politicians argued that the minarets were not architectural features with religious characteristics, but symbolised a 'political-religious claim to power, which challenges fundamental rights.'
Ahmad described the Swiss decision as a serious violation of human rights and international law, telling AFP: 'This is an effort to provoke Muslims and prompt a clash between Islam and the West.'
Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa - accused of being a front for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba radical insurgent group - also decried the referendum as a blow for inter-faith harmony.
'This new decision violates the principles of mutual understanding and religious tolerance,' Mujahid said.
'The West never takes respite in claiming to be champions of religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony, but this latest decision shows their bias against Muslims,' he added.