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.
The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) will hold elections in the various federal states of the country from November to April 2011, and has expressed a desire to have a higher number of female candidates as well as a high turn-out by female Muslim voters in general. Current president Anas Schakfeh has stated that the new electoral system is designed to bring in a greater degree of plurality– this is reflected by the participation of the Austrian Socialist politician Omar Al-Rawi in the IGGiÖ, while the possibility of a female president has also been evoked.
In order to be participate in the elections one needs to be a member of the IGGiÖ, to be older than fourteen, to have paid the yearly fee of 40 Euros, as well to have lived more than one year in the corresponding electoral region. Direct elections are held only for the assemblies of each federal state, who in turn elect the Shura Council, which then elects the High Council, one of whose members becomes the president.
The Austrian Liberal Muslim Initiative (ILMÖ) have criticized this process, which they claim is not representative for the approximately 600 000 Muslims in Austria. Moreover, the ILMÖ distanced themselves from the misuse of Islam and Muslims for political purposes, and characterized the participation of politicians such as Al-Rawi as illegal, unconstitutional, and contrary to Islam.
When Leopoldine Weidinger found out that the Turkish Islamic centre across the street from her was planning on renovating its interior so as to receive five hundred people a week for prayers, she decided to act. Weidinger founded the “Citizen’s initiative – Rappgasse” in an effort to halt the expansion of the centre’s activities, which in her view would permanently disturb the tranquility of the small street, comprising no more than eight house numbers. The poor conditions of the building itself has also led the building inspection department to forbid the continuation of activities therein.
Her initiative has now received a considerable degree of media attention following a rally organised against the Islamic centre on 17 June 2010. Though all political parties had been invited, the participation of far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, who thanked the “real Viennese” for having attended, as well as the presence of a number of skinheads with “Honour, freedom, fatherland” t-shirts, clearly set the tone. Bringing together between 150 and 200 people –as well as a significant police presence–, the demonstration was denounced as a flop by the nearby counter-demonstration, which clearly outnumbered the former.
The following day Weidinger attended the “Open Doors Day” at a nearby mosque in Hubertusdamm. After having respectfully asked whether she should wear a headscarf, Weidinger spoke with Omar Al-Rawi, Socialist member of the municipal council, who assured her that though “there was nothing [she] could do about it, the skinhead Nazis cheering on [FPÖ-leader] Strache wrecked everything.” Weidinger lamented that she had invited all the parties from her district, however the only one to come was the FPÖ – even then, it had not been planned that the local representative would only speak five minutes and then leave the podium for Strache.
Weidinger maintains that her initiative is not against Islam, and she says she is also supportive of having more large and representative mosques in Austria. However she complains that the Turkish association in her street (the Turkish Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria, ATIP) is not like the mosque in Hubertusdamm: consisting mostly of men who do not understand Austrian culture (or the German language), they have gone so far as to ask her to stop lying in her garden topless, as she is visible from the top floor of the Islamic centre. Despite her successful visit to the local mosque, Weidinger plans to keep on fighting.
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.
Austria’s first ever Islamic cemetery will see its first burial tomorrow (Fri). Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democrat (SPÖ) municipal councillor and the person responsible for integration at the Islamic Believers Denomination (IG), said today the first body to be buried there would be that of a Moroccan who at worked for the UN in Vienna and died of illness. The service will take place after the daily prayers at the site in southern Vienna. Al-Rawi said the cemetery was available to every Muslim who died and parcels of land in it would be not sold or reserved for anyone. The cemetery would be open to all who wanted to visit it, just like any other, he added. Al-Rawi said the first bodies to be buried in the cemetery would be placed deep into the ground to allow the stacking of corpses in order to accommodate a maximum number of bodies, which he estimated to be 4,000.
The cemetery has a long history. The first discussions between IG and the city government about an Islamic cemetery started some 20 years ago and finally led to acceptance of a plan by both sides in 2001, when it was hoped the cemetery would be able to open in 2003. In the interim, archaeologists would conduct excavations on the 3.4 hectares of land in question.