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.

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.

Op-ed on Muslim life and integration in Austria

In this op-ed piece, Erich Kocina takes issue with the collective fear of a “clash of civilizations” in Austria with respect to Muslims, most often referring to Turks.

First of all, he says that this fear is due to a number of real integration problems; however, this should not be surprising given that uneducated Eastern Anatolian farmers, let loose in a big city in which they have difficulty finding their place, and who consequently turn inwards to find comfort in their partly archaic traditions, do not offer the most favorable circumstances for successful integration. The Austrian way of doing nothing, and then wondering why the group would rather stay closed upon itself, merely encourages this situation.

Secondly, he states that Turks have become the recipient for all negatives image of Muslims in general – whether it be from the 9/11 attacks, shaky videos of Islamist extremists threatening the West, or dictatorial regimes justifying their power by means of the Qur’an. Turk equals Muslim. Muslim equals bad. Period.

Though it seems ridiculous to need to differentiate Turks in Austria from Al-Qaida, Kocina believes that the latest publication from the Austrian Integration Fund may yet bring back the idea that the country will soon be overrun by Muslims, and that all women will be forced to wear a headscarf. Yet, the numbers from this report demonstrate only that there are more Muslims in Austria; those from countries such as Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo or elsewhere, have had children; they have arranged for their families to join them in Austria; and that many have become Austrian citizens.

The study estimates that 58 percent of Turkish youth is religious, and points out that this religiosity is more pronounced the less educated these youths are. Kocina argues that this is logical, as less education means fewer chances in finding a job, and consequently more need for a social foothold, which can often be found in religion.

The oft repeated stories that the land will soon be overrun with Turks, due to their tendency to have more children, are contradicted by statistics. Though at the moment the average birth rate for Muslims is slightly higher than the national average, as living standards rise, the willingness to bring more children into the world sinks.

Kocina concludes by saying that the rest of Austria already knows this process, leaving one last development that the Catholic majority has already long behind it: secularization. This idea has just received an unexpected institutional pillar: the recently-announced formation of a Central Committee of Ex-Muslims in Austria.

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.

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.

Muslims to overtake Protestants in Austria, study says

Austria’s Muslim community continues to grow, and according to a study by the Austrian Society for International Understanding, Islam will overtake Protestantism as the country’s second-largest religious group by 2010. Christian religions had to suffer a massive decline in membership over the last 30 years, the study said. According to the 1971 census 6.49 million Austrians were Catholic. By 2006 that number had shrunk to 5.63 million. The number of Protestants went down by 120,000 to 326,000 faithful during the same period. At the same time, the number of Muslims in Austria increased 15-fold – from 22,200 in 1971 to around 400,000 in 2006, the study was quoted by DPA as saying.