The Swiss on Sunday narrowly voted in a referendum in favour of a ban on face coverings in public, including the burka or niqab worn by Muslim women.
Official results showed that 51.2 percent voters favoured a ban to 48.8 percent opposing it.
The proposal was put forward to the masses by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which campaigned with slogans such as “Stop extremism”.
A leading Swiss Islamic group called it “a dark day” for Muslims.
“Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the Central Council of Muslims said in a statement, adding that it would challenge the decision in court.
The Swiss government, however, had argued against the ban saying it was not up to the state to dictate what women wear.
According to research by a German university, almost no-one in Switzerland wears a burka and only around 30 women wear the niqab. About 5 percent of Swiss population of 8.6 million people are Muslim, mostly from Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Swiss people are given a direct say in their own affairs under the country’s system of direct democracy. They are regularly invited to vote on various issues in national or regional referendums.
The Swiss have already voted on Islam in a referendum. They voted against the government in 2009 and favoured a ban of the building of mosque minarets.
The “burka ban” proposal did not mention Islam directly and was also aimed at stopping violent street protesters from wearing masks. However, the vote was widely referred to as “the burka ban”.