Liberal Muslims Present a New Approach to Integration

27 October 2010

The Liberal Muslim Initiative of Austria (ILMÖ) has proposed to demand imams and Islamic preachers in the future to sign a declaration in which they agree to respect the principles of European values, democracy, human rights, freedom of opinion, equality of the sexes, respect of other beliefs and the freedom to change religion.
The proposal came during a meeting with the minister of the interior, Maria Fekter. Fekter had invited a number of different Muslim groups to a “dialogue round” as part of a larger national action plan for integration. An international academic conference is to follow in November.
The ILMÖ also heavily criticized the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) and its leader, Anas Schakfeh, saying the IGGiÖ is “not able to promote the integration of all Muslims” and “is not capable of integrating its own Muslims.”
In response, Omar Al-Rawi, both Social-Democrat (SPÖ) politician and the integration commissioner for the IGGiÖ, stated that the ILMÖ was the “minority of a minority in a minority.” According to Al-Rawi, the IGGiÖ as a federation represents all the different groups that can be found among the 500 000 Muslims in Austria.

Vienna Election: Muslims voters could “tip the scales”

3 October 2010
In an interview with Die Presse, Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democratic (SPÖ) politician and Integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), stated that more mosques are not needed in Vienna, though many need to be renovated or relocated. According to Al-Rawi, Muslims could also “tip the scales” in the upcoming elections, and many may be more motivated now following the aggressive anti-Islamic campaign that the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has pursued.
There are believed to be 200 000 eligible voters in Vienna who have a migratory background. According to studies from June 2010 by the public opinion research institutes IFES and TrendCom, immigrants with a Turkish background are heavily pro-SPÖ (78%), while immigrants from the former Yugoslavia also on the whole support the SPÖ (56%). Nonetheless, FPÖ-leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s aggressive campaigning amongst immigrants of Serbian background has borne its fruits: 27% of eligible voters from the former Yugoslavia are now supporters of the FPÖ.

Religion Takes a Front Seat in Viennese Elections

17 September

From the “Minaret-game” in Styria to the question of a minaret ban in Vienna, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has been focusing heavily on religion for its current election campaigns. For Regina Polak, religious studies scholar at Vienna University, this is characteristic of a growing trend to “religiousize” social and political conflict. Migrants become Muslims, while the Austria reaches the top position of the xenophobia-index in Europe.

In the case of the Orthodox Serbs, other political parties might try their best; none have managed yet to outmatch the FPÖ. Calling for the unity of Christians against Islam, Heinz-Christian Strache appears in campaign posters with Serbian prayer beads around his wrist, and over the years they have effectively practiced a strategy of “micro-targeting,” according to political scientist Thomas Hofer.

The Green member Alev Korun criticizes this move, and says that though she visits mosques, she does not go to pray, but to talk about the policies of the Greens. This is in direct opposition to the socialist politician, Omar Al-Rawi, who is simultaneously the integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ).

Al-Rawi has been criticized for overly mixing together religion and politics, while the head of the Jewish community, Ariel Muzicant, has stated his disappointment at Al-Rawi’s criticism of Israel in the recent debacle involving the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. In response, Al-Rawi has said that conflict in the Middle East in an issue of politics, and not religion, and thus his attempts to condemn Israel’s actions at the level of the Viennese government has been accordingly political.

Kurz: “Local Imams for Local Muslims”

14 September 2010
Following his earlier statements calling for exclusively German-speaking imams in Austria, the leader of the youth division of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), Sebastian Kurz, is now saying that only individuals with an Austrian background be allowed to preach in Austrian mosques.

Kurz criticized that too many imams are trained in Turkey, and are under the authority of the Turkish prime minister. The socialist politician and integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), Omar Al-Rawi, responded by calling Kurz “ill-informed,” and by pointing out there as long as there was no Islamic theological institution in Austria, those wishing to become imams would have to go abroad to pursue their studies.

Elections for the IGGiÖ: Female Candidates Wanted

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) will hold elections in the various federal states of the country from November to April 2011, and has expressed a desire to have a higher number of female candidates as well as a high turn-out by female Muslim voters in general. Current president Anas Schakfeh has stated that the new electoral system is designed to bring in a greater degree of plurality– this is reflected by the participation of the Austrian Socialist politician Omar Al-Rawi in the IGGiÖ, while the possibility of a female president has also been evoked.

In order to be participate in the elections one needs to be a member of the IGGiÖ, to be older than fourteen, to have paid the yearly fee of 40 Euros, as well to have lived more than one year in the corresponding electoral region. Direct elections are held only for the assemblies of each federal state, who in turn elect the Shura Council, which then elects the High Council, one of whose members becomes the president.

The Austrian Liberal Muslim Initiative (ILMÖ) have criticized this process, which they claim is not representative for the approximately 600 000 Muslims in Austria. Moreover, the ILMÖ distanced themselves from the misuse of Islam and Muslims for political purposes, and characterized the participation of politicians such as Al-Rawi as illegal, unconstitutional, and contrary to Islam.

New discussions on headscarf ban in Austria

The secretary of Austria’s social democrat party SPÖ, Laura Rudas, has stirred a new headscarf debate. While she heavily criticised the alleged “headscarf constraint” among Austrian Muslims, she later clarified that she does not support a headscarf ban, but wants to achieve a voluntary refusal to wear it in the first place by investing in education.

In an interview with Iraqi-born Omar Al-Rawi of the SPÖ, the politician claims that a new headscarf debate is misleading and unnecessary and emphases the importance equal opportunities for Muslim migrants. Sirvan Ekici, of Turkish background an member of the ÖVP, supports this view by saying that Islam-related debates only disguise the underlying social problems. Both of them admit that Austria has not showed the best performance in integration so far, but that it is on the right track and needs continuous emphasis on and investment into these issues.

Austria´s first Islamic cemetery opens for business

Austria’s first ever Islamic cemetery will see its first burial tomorrow (Fri). Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democrat (SPÖ) municipal councillor and the person responsible for integration at the Islamic Believers Denomination (IG), said today the first body to be buried there would be that of a Moroccan who at worked for the UN in Vienna and died of illness. The service will take place after the daily prayers at the site in southern Vienna. Al-Rawi said the cemetery was available to every Muslim who died and parcels of land in it would be not sold or reserved for anyone. The cemetery would be open to all who wanted to visit it, just like any other, he added. Al-Rawi said the first bodies to be buried in the cemetery would be placed deep into the ground to allow the stacking of corpses in order to accommodate a maximum number of bodies, which he estimated to be 4,000.

The cemetery has a long history. The first discussions between IG and the city government about an Islamic cemetery started some 20 years ago and finally led to acceptance of a plan by both sides in 2001, when it was hoped the cemetery would be able to open in 2003. In the interim, archaeologists would conduct excavations on the 3.4 hectares of land in question.