Austria Passes ‘Law on Islam’ Requiring Austrian Muslim Groups To Use German-Language Qurans

Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.

Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.

Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”

Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

RELATIONS UNPROBLEMATIC

While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.

Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.

Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.

These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.

The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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.

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.

Islamic banking enters the Austrian market

After several years of success in the UK and first attempts in continental Europe, Islamic banking is now about to enter the Austrian market. Islamic financing is said to be highly profitable: growth rates of 30 percent are predicted. So far, the roughly 400, 000 Austrian Muslims have no opportunity to invest their money in a “halal” way, but now the Austrian Standards Organisation has started to develop common standards for Islamic banking on behalf of the Islamic Information and Documentation Centre (IIDZ).

The process should be completed by summer 2010, when the first Islamic financial products are supposed to be available at Austrian banks.

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.