Austria Passes ‘Law on Islam’ Requiring Austrian Muslim Groups To Use German-Language Qurans

Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.

Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.

Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”

Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

RELATIONS UNPROBLEMATIC

While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.

Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.

Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.

These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.

The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Muslim boys told their beards breach school rules

Two Muslim schoolboys have been barred from classes because they will not shave off their beards. Both 14-year-olds were placed in “isolation” from the start of the new term at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic high school in Accrington, Lancashire.

 

The head teacher said the matter was not one of religion but about dress code. Xavier Bowers told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: “We have not taken this decision lightly. I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders.

 

A relative of one of the youngsters said it was “pure discrimination”. The family member, who did not wish to be named, told the paper: “Because these boys cannot shave their beards for religious reasons, they are being put in isolation for six-and-a-half hours every day. They are not being allowed to mix with anybody or speak to friends. It is pure discrimination.

 

In response to this week’s beard ban, Bowers added that the clean shaven rule had been in place for some time, although two boys were allowed to keep their beards on religious grounds as an “exception” last year as their exams approached and the school did not want to place them under “unfair pressure”. He said that a number of other Asian boys were then spoken to and it was made clear they must return from the summer clean shaven.

 

It is understood talks are on-going between the families of the two boys and the school to resolve the issue.

The Pope’s New Clothes: A Message from Rev. Jerry Campbell, Tamar Frankiel, Ph.D.and Imam Jihad Turk

As Jorge Bergoglio begins his new life as Pope Francis, we join in celebration with the Roman Catholic Church in the election of the first Latin American, first Jesuit pontiff. With the selection of the name Francis (in reference to St. Francis of Assisi) it appears Bergoglio seeks to ring the bells of St. Peter’s for global inclusion, care for the marginalized and — we sincerely hope — inter-religious cooperation.

This week, Pope Francis has acquired a new set of clothes. In accepting the papacy, he now is shrouded in the protection of the church’s political vestments.

As representatives of an interreligious university, we trust that Pope Francis will wisely recognize the transparency of his new clothes and hew to the naked simplicity of his namesake’s example. We hope he will dialogue with all who are committed to honesty, open inquiry, social equality, economic justice and understanding between the religions.

Jorge Bergoglio’s past has not been perfect, nor his public record spotless, for, after all, he is human. But for the new man he has become as Pope Francis — for his outlook, for his stamina, for his health — we pray. We join together with millions around the world to ask God to bless him and give him wisdom as he leads the Catholic Church into the possibilities of a better future.

U.S. Muslim Group Offers ‘Best Wishes’ to Resigning Pope, Seeks Positive Relations with New Pontiff

In a statement reacting to Pope Benedict’s decision to step down at the end of this month, Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said:

“We offer the American Muslim community’s best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

“In recent years — and despite some passing controversies — relations between Muslims and Catholics have strengthened, particularly on issues related to social justice and family values.

“We look forward to continued and growing positive interfaith relations under the new pontiff as Muslims in the United States and worldwide join with people of all faiths and cultures who seek to make a better world.”

Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in Catholic Colleges

DAYTON, Ohio — The flow of students from the Muslim world into American colleges and universities has grown sharply in recent years, and women, though still far outnumbered by men, account for a rising share.

 

No definitive figures are available, but interviews with students and administrators at several Catholic institutions indicate an even faster rate of growth there, with the Muslim student population generally doubling over the past decade, and the number of Muslim women tripling or more.

 

Arriving from Kuwait to attend college here, Mai Alhamad wondered how Americans would receive a Muslim, especially one whose head scarf broadcasts her religious identity.

At any of the countless secular universities she might have chosen, religion — at least in theory — would be beside the point. But she picked one that would seem to underline her status as a member of a religious minority. She enrolled at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic school, and she says it suits her well.

 

“Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that,” said Ms. Alhamad, an undergraduate in civil engineering, as several other Muslim women gathered in the student center nodded in agreement. “I’m more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.”

 

At those schools, Muslim students, from the United States or abroad, say they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged, socially and academically. Correctly or not, many of them say they believe that they are more accepted than they would be at secular schools.

PEW: Lobbying for the Faithful

Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C.

The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly fivefold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. These groups collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $390 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy. As a whole, religious advocacy organizations work on about 300 policy issues. For most of the past century, religious advocacy groups in Washington focused mainly on domestic affairs. Today, however, roughly as many groups work only on international issues as work only on domestic issues, and nearly two-thirds of the groups work on both. These are among the key findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life that examines a total of 212 religion-related advocacy groups operating in the nation’s capital.

The study finds that about one-in-five religious advocacy organizations in Washington have a Roman Catholic perspective (19%) and a similar proportion are evangelical Protestant in outlook (18%), while 12% are Jewish and 8% are mainline Protestant. But many smaller U.S. religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, also have established advocacy organizations in the Washington area. In fact, the number of Muslim groups (17) is about the same as the number of mainline Protestant groups (16). And the largest category today is interreligious: One-quarter of the groups studied (54) either represent multiple faiths or advocate on religious issues without representing a specific religion.

This report is based on a systematic examination of the websites, mission statements, tax documents and other public records of religious advocacy groups spanning the years 2008-2010. Researchers also relied on responses to a written questionnaire that was sent to 148 separate, active groups included in the study and completed by 61 of them. Additionally, lead researcher Allen D. Hertzke conducted in-depth interviews with leaders of 36 groups and observed the advocacy efforts of many other groups at congressional hearings, lobby days, press conferences and other Washington-based events.

GroenLinks Leader Feels “Islam is a Problem”

Leftwing Green (GroenLinks) leader Femke Halsema expressed criticism of Islam in an interview with newspaper De Pers, stating that the religion is “of course a problem”. The statement was a response to the newspaper’s suggestion that the ‘progressive’ GroenLinks does not campaign against orthodox Islam. Halsema reacted dismissively to the claim, citing her provocative 2006 criticism of fundamental Muslims, fundamental American Christians and the Roman Catholic Church as an “axis of religious evil” for their oppression of women. Invited to criticize Islam without making a parallel attack on Catholicism, Halsema did not shy away. “I notice it in my district: of course Islam is a problem. Anyway, specifically Islam in combination with illiteracy. It is: having few of your own opinions about the good life. (…) Being fearful of our society and thereby becoming very susceptible to what the Imam thinks, who is often very conservative.”

Dutch army recruits two imams as army chaplains; parliament poses questions about their backgrounds

The Dutch defense ministry and parliament clashed over the appointment of a Muslim imam as an army chaplain. The defense ministry appointed two imams of Turkish and Moroccan origin to serve as army chaplains, who were supposed to be sworn in on Thursday, but the swearing-in ceremony was postponed after the parliament objected the appointment of one of the men, citing his “radical” views.

One of the chaplains – Ali Eddaoudi, has had questions raised about his political views, including defending the right of Muslim neighborhood stewards to refuse to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. In a 2007 column, he criticized the Dutch mission in Afghanistan, citing the Taliban as “a proud people” that will never give up.

Because of questions raised about his views, defense minister Jack de Vries was forced to postpone the appointments – a decision is said to be made in about two weeks time. The defense ministry said that the Muslim chaplains could be sent in missions outside the Netherlands, to aid an undetermined number of Muslims serving in the Dutch army. The army currently employs 150 chaplains – including 50 Protestant pastors, 40 Roman Catholic almoners, humanist representatives, two rabbis, and two Hindus.

A Pro-Church Law Helps Mosque in France

While France is a model of centralized law, its Alsace- Moselle region differs, especially on the question of religion and politics. The region has German in 1905 when the French passed legislation separating church and state; today the local government continues to provide a wide variety of subsidies and even religious education in public schools. Fouad Douai, in charge of a bid to build a mosque in the city of Strasbourg, noted that the region “is a model for inter-religious dialogue, which is much stronger here than in the rest of France.”

In 1998, the heads of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Churches, as well as members of the Jewish minority signed a letter to the local goverment supporting the construction of the mosque. The mosque’s construction has faced obstacles, however. Construction of the mosque began in 2007 but has now stalled with only the foundation completed. Similarly, in public elementary schools a weekly hour of religion class is required for all students, although their parents can request their children not attend. While there are classes for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, Muslims can take a secular ethics class instead.

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