Ray ColganRay Colgan reports from Switzerland ahead of a referendum on a proposal to ban the building of minarets.

Some people in Switzerland are deeply worried about the impact the minaret referendum will have on the country's image.

Others, perhaps a little embarrassed at the racial element of Sunday's vote, insist that it is proof that Switzerland's form of direct democracy is responsive to the population's views.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why minarets are such a contentious issue.

There are only four mosques with minarets in Switzerland. A fifth minaret is to be found at the Suchard chocolate factory in Neuchatel. None the less, more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for a vote for the construction of minarets to be outlawed.

The Swiss People's Party is one of the groups advocating the ban. According to Ulrich Schluer, who represents Zurich in the Swiss Parliament, minarets are a symbol of Islamic power, and many Swiss are worried about what they see as the Islamification of their country.

Mr Schluer says that Swiss people have seen how some parts of the Muslim community in Britain, France and Germany are keen to have their own system of law.

He says it's not a xenophobic debate, but that Swiss people will never tolerate a parallel society. It turns out that this referendum has little to do with minarets.

There are around 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland. Mahmood El Guinidi, originally from Egypt, has lived in Switzerland for 40 years.

Like many Swiss Muslims, he realises that much work has to be done to try to convince Swiss society that it has nothing to fear from Islam.

Above a mosque entrance a sign reads 'Herzlich willkommen' (heartfelt welcome). Like other Swiss mosques, it opened its doors to its neighbours recently to listen to their concerns.

It doesn't have a minaret. There's no call to prayer audible from outside - Swiss noise pollution regulations prohibit it.

Mahmood suggests that some Swiss have always been hostile to foreigners who came to the country to work. The first wave of workers in the 1960s and 1970s tended to be from southern Europe.

They found it easier to integrate, but in many cases wanted to move back to their own countries eventually. However, he points out that much of the Muslim population sees Switzerland as its permanent home.

Interviewing people on the street to get their opinions on issues as controversial as the minaret vote is by no means scientific.

In Niederdorf, a cobbled shopping area in the centre of Zurich, one well dressed and well spoken women with impeccable English explained to me that she would be voting to ban minarets. Why? Because Muslims have a different way of life, they dress differently and won't integrate.

Another passer-by explained that Switzerland already has some minarets, and certainly plenty of church spires, so surely more will not make any difference. It was also suggested to me that the row proved that Switzerland wasn't necessarily as tranquil a place as outsiders might think.

As things stand, polls suggest that the proposal will not pass. A coalition of Muslim groups, Catholic bishops, Jewish people, and the business lobby Economiesuisse have spoken out against the proposed ban.

But even if it is rejected, a high vote in favour will send a message to both the Swiss government and Swiss Muslims that many people are deeply unhappy with the perceived Islamification of Swiss society.