No Mosque yet: A Divided Community is the Problem

March 25, 2014


It is an uphill struggle for the Muslim community to build a place of worship in Milan, many hoped it would ready for Expo 2015, instead the building has been delayed. According to Paolo Branca, advocate and Associate Professor at the Catholic University of Milan, the real problem, rather than the opposition of some in the Conservative Party, is the divisions within the Muslim community, split into two major areas of thought: Caim (Coordination of Islamic associations in Milan) which has never made ​​a secret of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Coreis (Islamic Religious Community), which is more secular and supported by the Diocese. “Many have advanced their concerns, not the mosque, but on its future management in the case that it incorporates close ties to the Brotherhood” explains Branca “ This could complicate the creation of a place open to all Muslims as well as Milanese.”


Il Fatto Quotidiano:


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.

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.

Austria Religious Communities Close Ranks in Support of Children’s Rights

21 October 2010

The representatives of Austria’s large religious communities – Catholic, Evangelical-Lutheran, Orthodox, Islamic, and Jewish – have come out in support of the initiative “Against Injustice.” The initiative opposes the practice of taking underage asylum seekers into custody, especially before expelling them from the country. The head of the Shura Council of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Fuat Sanac stated that it is “unacceptable for children to have to suffer for the mistakes of the authorities.”

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.

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.

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.

Green Light for a Minaret in Langenthal

21 September 2010

The canton of Bern has confirmed the construction permit for a minaret in Langenthal. Despite the minaret ban that exists in Switzerland since the referendum of 29 November 2009, local officials stated that the project had been approved before the referendum took place, and thus the prior legal situation should take precedence. The president of the Langenthal Islamic Religious Community, Mutalip Karaademi, has called a “victory for the rule of law.”
However, canton officials also judged valid complaints by neighbors with regard to the expansion of the Islamic center, namely a lack of parking spaces, an overuse of the land, and wheelchair inaccessibility. Consequently, the expansion of the center will not be allowed, leaving the Langenthal Islamic Religious Community with doubts over whether they will continue with the project in its current location, or whether they will attempt to move it somewhere else.
No matter what the religious community decides, local activists from the “Stop the Minarets” movement have announced that they are ready to fight the decision to allow the minaret in Langenthal, and will take the issue to the constitutional court if necessary.

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.