By Imogen Foulkes, BBC News
Berne, Switzerland - Members of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, currently the largest party in the Swiss parliament, have launched a campaign to have the building of minarets banned.
Signatures are now being collected to force a nationwide referendum on the issue which, under
Picture - Swiss Muslims pray in disused factories and warehouses
The move has shocked
Across the country, there are only two small minarets, one in
In the small town of
Langenthal's mosque is housed in a former paint factory on the outskirts of town.
Mutalip Karaademi, an ethnic Albanian who has lived in
But following a vociferous campaign against the plans, including a petition with thousands of signatures, the cantonal government in
"We are very disappointed," said Mr Karaademi. "We just wanted to do our mosque up a bit, with this small minaret and a tea room. We actually thought it might promote dialogue."
Mr Karaademi is also bitter at what he sees as unfair discrimination against his faith. "I even gave them a written undertaking that we would never make the call to prayer," he said. "They seem to think we are all criminals or terrorists - that's like saying all Italians are in the mafia."
But supporters of a ban on minarets say they have no intention of preventing anyone from practising their faith.
"We don't have anything against Muslims," said Oskar Freysinger, member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party.
"But we don't want minarets. The minaret is a symbol of a political and aggressive Islam, it's a symbol of Islamic law. The minute you have minarets in
Mr Freysinger's words may sound extreme, even paranoid, but this is a general election year in
A recent opinion poll for one Swiss newspaper found that 43% of those surveyed were in favour of a ban on minarets.
"We have our civil laws here," insisted Mr Freysinger. "Banning minarets would send a clear signal that our European laws, our Swiss laws, have to be accepted. And if you want to live here, you must accept them. If you don't, then go back."
It's a harsh message for Swiss Muslims, many of whom were born in
"I think Swiss Muslims will be angry and bitter over this," said Reinhard Schulze, professor of Islamic Studies at
The Swiss government is extremely nervous about the prospect of militancy among Swiss Muslims; three cabinet ministers have already spoken out against the campaign to ban minarets.
There is also a growing fear that the debate will damage