From Habsburg equality to Islamophobic discrimination

From Habsburg equality to Islamophobic discrimination

A critique on the draft of an amendment of the Austrian Islam-law

When the first waves of labor immigration of Turkish origin started coming to Austria in 1966, Islamic institutions were still few and small. Only 13 years later the Islamic Council of Austria (IGGiÖ) was established based on the Islam-law dating back to 1912. This legal recognition of an Islamic denomination paved the way for many unique relations between the state and its Muslim institution compared to most other Western European countries.

Since Islam has become a more and more politicized issue in the public sphere, the importance of the IGGiÖ has increased. Its spokespersons are regularly debating on Islam and negotiating with the government in a number of political fields related to religion. In fact, this institutionalized communication has brought a number of advantages. Most importantly: There is trust. And on this trust, a good working atmosphere made many actions possible, where both sides profited.

And it is this trust that seems to be jeopardized in these days. The government has been working on a draft to amend the current existing Islam-law. In fact, this has been an aim of the IGGiÖ itself since 2003. And there are many arguments for such an amendment. The Muslim population has changed and so have their needs. A new law is necessary since a long time.

But the draft, which was presented by the government and can now be assessed by different interest groups until November 7, has a number of critical aspects. One of the many aspects that hits especially the largest organized groups among Muslims in Austria, who are of Austro-Turkish origin, is the prohibition of Muslim associations. Within six months, says the draft, Muslim associations have to be dissolved and turned into smaller unities of the IGGiÖ. On one side this means a strengthening of the IGGiÖ and its control over all Muslim associations. What looks like strengthening the former Muslim associations by incorporating them into the IGGiÖ and hence giving them a status of public corporate body, is a dangerous mistake in a mid- to long-term. It would be unconstitutional to exclude Muslims from their right as citizens to establish religious associations. In Austrian law, associations are established according to the law of associations. This law allows every two persons to found an association based on various kinds of commonalities. A prohibition thus would be unconstitutional and against the very core values of rule of law.

Such a prohibition of any Muslim associations according to the law of associations would also destroy civic Muslim engagement. Another aspect is that the draft forbids Muslim organizations to get money from outside of the country for funding religious activities. The political aim behind it is clear. The Austrian Republic tries to create its own Austrian Islam, a state-driven Islam. And that implicates to eliminate any possible influence coming from outside. Some argue, this article aims to turn against Turkey and Saudi Arabian ‘Wahhabism’. ATIB (Avusturya Türk İslam Kültür ve Sosyal Yardımlaşma Birliği), which is connected to Diyanet, would be one of the losers of such an amendment. There Imams would not be able to be paid off from Turkey. Although this article is also unconstitutional, political aims seem to be more of priority. But what does that mean for everyday Muslim life? Where do the mosques, who’s Imams are funded by Turkey get their religious authorities from? The draft does on the other side not provide any financial support for Muslim religious leadership by the government. In addition to being unconstitutional, this article also manifests unequal treatment. Never would the state forbid the Protestant and Catholic Church or the Jewish Community to get funds from outside of Austria.

The future discussion and parliamentarian action towards this draft will show us, if Austria wants to stick to its constitutional values, to the rule of law, practice religious freedom, equal treatment of all legally recognized religious churches and denominations or if the Republic of Austria will become a manifestation of institutionalized Islamophobia.

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