New Turkish Movie Sparks Interreligious Controversy

3 February 2010
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has called on the chancellors of both Austria and Germany to prohibit the new Turkish film, “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine,” characterizing it an “immediate danger to Muslim-Jewish relations.” Originally a popular Turkish TV series which has since been made into a number of movies, this latest one has been denounced as a “hate film” by Shimon Samuels, the director of international affairs of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. One of the last of the series, “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” equally created controversy for its portrayal of a Jewish-American army doctor involved in organ trafficking.

The President of the Vienna Israelite Community (IKG) Ariel Muzicant has equally criticized the “telling silence” of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) on the subject, calling it “unacceptable,” while stating that is it further proof that the IGGiÖ “is not interested in any kind of open interconfessional dialogue.” The President of the IGGiÖ Anas Schakfeh has responded by saying that Muzicant’s criticism is “absurd:” not only does the IGGiÖ not have the authority to prohibit the screening of a move, but it cannot either take responsibility “for everything, that occurs in the Islamic world.” Moreover, Schakfeh contented that the IGGiÖ was always open for interreligious dialogue, and that it had been the IKG which had unilaterally ended dialogue some time ago.

The movie was equally defended by the far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which denounced attempts to “censure art and culture,” and which defended the film on the grounds of promoting “a critical discourse” on even in the Middle East.

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.

Austria’s Media Tend towards Islamophobia

26 October 2010

Islam often shows up in the headlines in Austrian newspapers, though rarely in a positive light. According to Professor Farid Hafez at the University of Vienna, the debate surrounding a statement made by the president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Anas Schakfeh is symptomatic of the problem. Schakfeh had expressed his hope that in 50 years there would be a mosque in every provincial capital in Austria, a view which led to an enormous debate on minarets and mosques in Austria.
For Elizabeth Klaus, researcher at the University of Salzburg, the islamophobic tendencies in the media are evident. Klaus has been personally working on a study of the portrayal of Islam in a number of Austrian newspapers, and says that it is “frightening” how often the veil is used as a symbol for that which is “foreign, negative, and other.”
According to Cahit Kaya, president of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, all those who call themselves Muslims must also accept that there will be criticism of Islam. Nonetheless, Hafez, Klaus, and Birol Kiliç, editor of the Turkish-language newspaper Yeni Vatan Gazetesi, all agree that the problem is that the criticism in question does not manage to differentiate between fundamentalists and the Islam practiced by the majority of Muslims.

We Need More Moderate Muslims in Politics

13 October 2010

Following the success of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in the recent Viennese elections, Erich Kocina calls on Austrian Muslims to become more involved in Austrian politics. Nonetheless, he warns that this participation must not be seen as encouraging Turkish or Muslim individuals to represent exclusively Turkish or Muslim interests, as suggested by the president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Anas Schakfeh. Headscarf-wearing conservative candidates do have a right to be part of the political process; however, that which is currently lacking is more secular candidates, who should and be perceived as Austrians first, and as Muslims second, and represent interests across the political spectrum.

Fischer Tells Muslims: “Don’t Let Yourself Be Provoked”

13 September 2010

The Federal President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, has told representatives of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), including the president Anas Schakfeh, to try and keep a “cool head” when confronted with Islamophobia. Fischer also stated his support for the democratic procedures of the IGGiÖ, and the he would not interfere. Fischer’s advice came during an evening dedicated to celebrating the end of Ramadan, a yearly event since Fischer entered office.

Schakfeh responded that “we consider this message true – we will not let ourselves be provoked.” He also reasserted the IGGiÖ’s commitment to the basic principles of the republic, though he said that some may not want to believe it.

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.

Gold medal for the president of Austria’s islamic religious community

The president of the Austrian Islamic Religious Community (IGGiÖ), Anas Schakfeh, has been awarded the gold medal for public service to the federal state of Vienna. Thomas Oliva, chairman of the Vienna Immigration Commission, called Schakfeh a “role model,” while Michael Häupl, mayor of Vienna, thanked him for his help in the smooth cooperation between religious communities in Vienna. Schakfeh, originally from Syria and Austrian citizen since 1980, responded that living in Vienna was a privilege for him, and he was thankful to have achieved certain goals, such as establishment of a Muslim cemetery and confessional schools.

How many Muslims live in Austria?

A census of local Muslims in Austria has been initiated by the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) as a result of the upcoming elections for the organization. The president of the IGGiÖ, Anas Schakfeh, expects approximately 100,000 Austrian Muslims to register, while estimates of Muslims in Austria range from 400,000 to 500,000.

The goal of this census is to establish clarity with regard to the number of Muslims in Austria. It was made possible by the new constitution of the IGGiÖ, recently approved by the Department of Religious Affairs (Kultusamt). Before, only the number of active members in the religious community was known, while now the registration will include children in their first years of life. Voting for the representatives of IGGiÖ is possible from the age of 14, the year when one comes of age with respect to religious considerations in Austria.

Forms for the registration are available on the IGGiÖ website, and will also be distributed to mosque associations. Aside from general personal information, the forms also ask in which association or mosque the applicant is a member. According to spokesperson Carla Amina Baghajati a number of filled out forms have already been returned, though the creation of a database is not yet possible as the necessary computer program has not yet been fully developed.

Muslim prison chaplains to be standardized

Following an agreement reached between the justice minister, Claudia Bandion-Ortner and the president of the Islamic Religious Community, Anas Schakfeh, Muslim chaplains in prisons are to be standardized across the country. At around 1300 Muslim inmates, Islam has come to represent the second largest religion in Austrian penal institutions. Earlier religious services had been the result of local and regional cooperation, which meant regular visits by Muslim chaplains had been limited to ten prisons. The goal of the agreement is that such regular visits be possible in all prisons where a demand exists.

The agreement also lays out a number of minimum standards for the chaplains and conditions for the prisons visits. This includes a high school diploma; good knowledge of German, in order to hold religious services in German; and basic knowledge of the prison system, so as to ensure an optimal balance between safety and religious practice.

In the press release, Bandion-Ortner stressed the importance of the chaplain’s assistance in the resocialization of inmates, while Schakfeh expressed his happiness that an important step had been taken towards the broader institutionalization of Muslim prison chaplains.

Muslims in Austria have better media Coverage than in Germany says President of the Austrian Muslim Community Organisation

Anas Schakfeh, head of the Islamic Faith Community in Austria (Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft in _sterreich, IGGi_) speaks about Muslim-Austrian perceptions of their country and their fellow citizens. An Interview was conducted by the Islamische Zeitung.