ATIB: Cultural Association or Shelter for Islamists?

9 February 2011

ATIB, the “Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria,” is a favorite target for anti-Islam activists in Austria. The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) maintains that the goal of ATIB is to spread Turkish values and the Qur’an in Austria, while local activists such as the spokesperson for the Dammstraße anti-mosque initiative Hannelore Schuster believe that “naturally” there are Islamists active within ATIB, and that the goal of the Turkish state is to use ATIB to promote the domination of Europe by Islam.

Cengiz Günay of the Austria Institute for International Politics agrees ATIB is “definitely not independent” of the Turkish state, however he says that it represents a more moderate form of Islam, and that there are no “underground currents attempting to invade Austria.” Günay in general refutes the idea that Islamic centers promote parallel societies in Austria: “they exist already,” he says, due mainly to the fact that Turkish migrants occupy the lowest level of the social ladder.

Suspects under Arrest Following Attach on Mosque

5 February 2011

Following an arson attack against a Turkish Islamic association in Kufstein three suspects, aged 15, 18, and 21, have been taken into custody. The three suspects were arrested only a few days after the attack of 16 January 2011, during which a fire was lit outside both entrance doors of the mosque.

The suspects admitted their guilt after having been arrested by police. They explained how they had fabricated a “kind of Molotov cocktail” which they then threw against the mosque. According to one source, one of the suspects admitted a racist motive for the attack, which was then corroborated by one of the other two suspects. The police are equally holding the three suspects responsible for recent neo-Nazi graffiti in Kufstein.

Church plans to establish kindergarten for Muslims

The Protestant church in Mannheim has announced plans for building an “integration kindergarten” to accommodate Muslim children. The plans are a reaction to an envisioned Turkish kindergarten that would be run by DITIB, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs in Germany. It is a controversial project for fears of isolation instead of integration, and is also being criticised by Turkish parents. The church’s initiative is an attempt to show “true concern with the issue of integration” and a Muslim partner would accompany the planning process, the Protestant dean Günter Eitenmüller said.

Fighting an Islamic Centre in Vienna’s Floridsdorf

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.

Fighting an islamic centre in Vienna’s Floridsdorf

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.

Islamic Burial in Austria: “That is true integration”

In Vienna cemeteries have long been seen as “interconfessional,” and in 2008 a 3.4 hectare Islamic cemetery was opened. According to the speaker for the cemetery, Ali Ibrahim, “There is no longer an excuse to be repatriated to the homeland for burial, as Islamic rites are respected in Austria as well. When one is buried is the same place in which one has lived, that is true integration.”

On the other hand, Helga Bock, who works for one of the largest funeral homes in Austria, highlights that if a person wishes to be buried in one’s country of origin that does not necessarily mean that that person was not well integrated, and moreover, many such burials do not take place since the people in question might have already retired and moved back to their home countries. The repatriation of corpses itself is usually facilitated by mosque associations, such as the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), while the costs are paid by years of contributions to a special fund of such associations.

All fourteen state-recognised religious groups are present in Vienna’s central cemetery, and the officials do their best to respond to the specific wishes of each group. In the case of Islam, this requires the ritual ablution of corpses divided by gender, as well as burial in a simple sheet, with the corpse facing Mecca. In Austria however, burial without a coffin is not permitted, thus Muslims are buried in softwood coffins – not dissimilar from Jews, who are also buried in coffins, but with a hole in the bottom in order for there to be direct contact with the earth.

Islamic burial in Austria: “That is true integration”

In Vienna cemeteries have long been seen as “interconfessional,” and in 2008 a 3.4 hectare Islamic cemetery was opened. According to the speaker for the cemetery, Ali Ibrahim, “There is no longer an excuse to be repatriated to the homeland for burial, as Islamic rites are respected in Austria as well. When one is buried is the same place in which one has lived, that is true integration.”

On the other hand, Helga Bock, who works for one of the largest funeral homes in Austria, highlights that if a person wishes to be buried in one’s country of origin that does not necessarily mean that that person was not well integrated, and moreover, many such burials do not take place since the people in question might have already retired and moved back to their home countries. The repatriation of corpses itself is usually facilitated by mosque associations, such as the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), while the costs are paid by years of contributions to a special fund of such associations.

All fourteen state-recognised religious groups are present in Vienna’s central cemetery, and the officials do their best to respond to the specific wishes of each group. In the case of Islam, this requires the ritual ablution of corpses divided by gender, as well as burial in a simple sheet, with the corpse facing Mecca. In Austria however, burial without a coffin is not permitted, thus Muslims are buried in softwood coffins – not dissimilar from Jews, who are also buried in coffins, but with a hole in the bottom in order for there to be direct contact with the earth.

Portrait: the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB)

During the numerous controversies that have occurred with regard to the construction of mosques in Austria, one association is frequently cited: the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB). This federation, linked with the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) and similar to the German DITIB, brings together 63 mosque association and comprises 80 000 members, of which 70% are Austrian citizens. The spokesperson for ATIB, Nihat Koca, emphasises that ATIB is a reliable and open partner, and is not influenced by the Turkish state.

Other than offering religious services by means of imams sent from Turkey, ATIB also offers after-school tutoring for students, musical activities and German language classes. The repatriation fund for burial in Turkey, which counts 25 000 registered families, is also an important activity for the association.

Integration expert Kenan Güngör criticises some of ATIB’s programmes, such as kindergarten classes, which he says encourages parallel societies: “it is especially children who need to be socialised in a mixed environment as early as possible.” While ATIB tries to be inclusive and not raise controversy, Güngör concludes that it needs to distance itself more clearly from the antidemocratic and backwards image that many people have of Islam, especially since the terror attacks of 9/11.

Reconciling pop culture and Islam: Interview with Melih Kesmen

Melih Kesmen, the creator of fashion label Styleislam, recounts the success story of this small company. The German designer of Turkish background made his first t-shirt, bearing the slogan “I love my Prophet”, during the cartoon controversy in Europe. He received a lot of positive feedback from Muslims and non-Muslims, which caused him to open a fashion label for street wear with Islamic slogans. Reconciling the two cultures he grew up with, Turkish-Islamic and German street art, his label has become very popular and the most successful in this niche market.

Report: decline in mosque and church attendance in the Netherlands

Mosque and church attendance in the Netherlands has dropped over the past ten years, according to a publication from the Central Statistics Bureau (CBS) outlining religion at the beginning of the 21st century. Last year 29 percent of the Netherlands’ 825,000 Muslims attended mosque at least once a month, a decline from 35 percent in 2004-2008 and 47 percent in 1998-1999. The study found analogous pattern in attendance at other religious institutions, noting that attendance at Catholic churches has also declined. Mosque and church attendance differed in terms of age demographics, as 40 percent of those attending mosques are under the age of 18.

Researchers attribute the decrease in mosque and church attendance to a “general shift towards individualization” in religious practice. However Emin Ates of the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation has not noticed a decline in mosque attendance and reports that imams cannot complain about a lack of listeners: “For us it’s just not a matter for discussion.”