Islamic groups said they were disappointed Saturday that plans to build one of the biggest Muslim cultural centers in Europe were rejected by Swiss planners in Bern. The center, to include a mosque, a museum, offices and a four-star hotel, had been proposed by a Bern-based Islamic coordination group, Umma, for the site of a former abattoir at a cost of up to 80 million Swiss francs (65 million dollars). The authorities said they had earmarked the site for a uses other than religious and saw no other suitable location for the project in Bern, according to the Swiss wire service ATS. Umma said in a statement they noted the decision with “regret.” The move comes in the midst of a row over minarets in Switzerland where 350,000 Muslims have settled. A campaign, spearheaded by right-wing politicians, has been launched to try to ban further construction of the towers at mosques claiming they are a political rather than religious symbol and breach Swiss laws. Only two mosques in Zurich and Geneva have a minaret.
Authorities in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Friday said they had turned down a project for Europe’s largest Islamic cultural and economic centre in a zone that is being redeveloped. The city council said a 34-hectare (84-acre) area on the northern outskirts was earmarked exclusively for a new regional hospital and office or commercial use, the Swiss news agency ATS reported. The Islamic centre was one of several building projects under consideration for the zone. City authorities said a religious building was not suitable at that location. The 60 million Swiss francs (36 million euros, 50 million dollars) project for a 23,000 square metre (27,700 square yard) “platform for Islam” would include a congress centre, a four-star hotel, a museum, and a mosque, said Farhad Afshar, a Bern university professor and spokesman for Islamic organisations involved in the project. Bern city councillor Barbara Hayoz said that there was no land in the city that could house the project for the moment. She underlined that city authorities supported dialogue between different cultures and faiths. There are about 311,000 Muslims among the 7.5 million strong Swiss population, according to official statistics. Most of them are originally from the Balkans.