Islamic Religious Education: Everything Still the Same

19/21 September 2010

One year following the debate raised by Mouhanad Korchide’s study of Islamic religious education in Austria, not much has changed. In Korchide’s report, it was discovered that 40% of teachers did not have a pedagogical background, while 33% felt overwhelmed by the workload – partly due to a lack of fluency in German. Meanwhile, 27% stated that they were opposed to the declaration of human rights, as it was incompatible with Islam.
The uproar led the Minister of Education Claudia Schmied to propose a “Five-point-program” in February 2009, so as to assure better conditions for students and teachers of Islam; however, one year later even the new syllabus has not been approved. The proposal which had been drawn up by the commission in charge of the question was sent back by the Department of Religious Affairs due to technical concerns, while the subsequent proposal has not been fully inspected. Without a new syllabus, there have obviously been no new textbooks.
One of the main problems is the lack of personnel. This has led to a practice whereby students of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria’s (IGGiÖ) Islamic studies program have been employed even before finishing their degrees.
Finally, in response to the earlier uproar, Minister Schmied has stated all Islamic religious instructors will be required to sign a new employment contract. In this contract they will state their commitment to democracy, human right, and the constitution – something not required of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, nor of Orthodox religious instructors.
According to Aly El Ghoubashy, a large part of the problem lies with the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), and its leader Anas Schakfeh. El Ghoubashy, a religious instructor who was suspended in February 2009 due to his criticism of the IGGiÖ, says that Schakfeh “represents only himself,” and that the IGGiÖ is “not a church.” He argues that the state needs to take on a larger role with regard to Islamic religious education in Austria so as to balance the influence of the associations, and to avoid the “importation” of imams and instructors from abroad.

Parallel Societies Start at School

A recent study entitled “Learning to Live Together at School” commissioned by the Ministry of Education has led to “alarming” discoveries, according to the head researcher Edit Schlaffer. Claudia Schmied, the Minister of Education, has herself stated that the study is for internal use only, and that details will not be given, though a summary has been published in the magazine Erziehung & Unterricht (Education & Instruction).

The study shows how children with an immigrant background and those without not only have very little points of contact with another, but often reproduce the same stereotypes as their parents. Children without any immigrant background accuse immigrants and their children of having come to take advantage of the Austrian welfare state, and associate them with large families, headscarves, and aggressive, macho behavior. Conversely, children with immigrant backgrounds (the majority of whom are Muslim) believe the “Austrians” drink too much alcohol; do not believe in god; are generally hostile towards Islam; and “take home a different girl every night.”

Despite these prejudices, the study also shows that both sides “respect” one another, and the “bad immigrants” are usually to be found in other classes, whereas the “good immigrants” are those with whom there is more contact. Nonetheless, such contact is often difficult to bring about, due to the fact that many Muslim girls do not participate in communal activities like excursions or sports weeks. According to the study, the Muslim girls in general do not live like other Austrian girls, as going out, relationships with men, and sleep-overs at friends’ homes are in general not allowed.

Schlaffer believes that it is precisely with regard to the different conceptions of gender roles that both groups could be better brought together within a framework of discussion and debate. Alev Korun, integration spokesperson for the Green Party echoes this sentiment, saying that the time of “living together and past one another” is over and that it is now time to come together and debate our different views, and that schools should do more to encourage such productive encounters.