Austria’s integration minister, Sebastian Kurz, spoke of his desire ahead of the vote to create an “Austrian-style Islam.” He told the BBC on Wednesday that the reforms would stop certain Muslim countries using financial means to exert “political influence” in Austria.
“What we want is to reduce the political influence and control from abroad and we want to give Islam the chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values,” he said.
The reaction from Austrian Muslim communities has been less than enthusiastic. Some groups have commented that the new law is unfair as international support is still permitted for the Christian and Jewish faiths. “The attempt to create an ‘Austrian-style Islam’ ignores the need for fostering religious diversity and mutual respect,” the Vienna-based Turkish Islamic Union said. “It turns the Islam law into a security law.”
Turkey’s leading Muslim cleric, Mehmet Gormez, has decried the bill as “a 100-year regression,” and argued that no complaints have ever been lodged over Turkish funding for imams in Austria. Others said that compared to other European countries, there has been no extremist violence in Austria, and relations are generally good between communities.
Enes Bayraklı, a foreign affairs specialist and an academic at Istanbul’s Turkish-German University, told Daily Sabah that: “A paranoid fear is being instilled in society. Muslims in Austria have never engaged in terrorism or extremism in Austria thus far. Taking into consideration the peaceful atmosphere in Austria, the government’s purpose seems to be nothing but an engineering and social manipulation project.”
However, some aspects of the law have been welcomed. The law will set up a university-level education programmes for imams in Austria, and Muslims will be given the right to receive spiritual guidance from Islamic clerics when working in hospitals, retirement homes, prisons and in the armed forces. Muslims in Austria will also have the right to halal meals in those institutions as well as in public schools, and will be allowed to miss work on Islamic holidays.
On Tuesday, public broadcaster ORF reported that a recent poll showed that 58% of Austrians believed that “radicalization” of Muslims had increased and 41% feared terrorist attacks. It is estimated that around 200 people from Austria – including women and children – have gone to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist militias.