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.

Number of Muslims Disputed

Official figures, as well as those of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), place the number of Muslims in Austria at 330 000. This number is disputed by those who are not members of the IGGiÖ, such as the liberal Turkish Alevis. The Alevis do not consider themselves to be represented by the current leadership (most of whom being of Arab origin), and consequently are fighting for state recognition of their religious community.

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.

Franciscans publish imam’s book on Allah and his prophets

Yahya Pallavicini, imam of the mosque al-Wahid in Milan, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community and founder of the International Committee of Imams, and Rabbis and Christians for Peace UNESCO in Paris, has decided to publish his last book “The Merciful. Allah and his Prophets” with a major catholic publishing house in Italy, Edizioni Messaggero.

It is a strong choice in a country that fights the veil and mosques. In Veneto, worshipping space is denied to Muslims and non-catholic religious symbols aren’t accepted. Pallavicini believes that courage is necessary to enhance dialogue, the only way to overcome isolation, prejudices and contrasts.

Spreading knowledge about Allah’s prophets (the same for Muslims, Jewish and Catholics), discusses how to foster integration while avoiding suspicion, fear and ignorance about different traditions. The book tries to facilitate the encounter of two worlds. Following what San Francesco once said regarding the Crusades: “We don’t have to go against anybody, rather we have to go among everybody”, the book seeks to meet the Others upon ideas of mercy and dialogue.