Reforms to Austria’s Islam law seek to prevent ‘parallel society’

Amendments to Austria's Islam law will ban foreign funding of mosques and religious groups. [onnoia/Flickr]

Reforms to Austria’s Islam law came into force on Tuesday (1 March). Muslim associations will now be subject to stricter rules on funding, and even educational institutions will have to change. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Austria is something of a unique case in Europe, in that Islam is an officially-recognised religious community, its status brought about by the Hapsburg Empire’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. Last year, the century-old so-called Islam law was amended and is set to affect the Alpine republic’s half a million-strong Muslim community, which accounts for about 7% of Austria’s population.

Additionally, 409 religious associations will have to adapt their bylaws to the amended piece of legislation, in order to focus on “a positive attitude towards the state and society”.

The most significant change comes in the shape of a ban on foreign funding, which is intended to prevent people from being “remote controlled” externally and to help the Austrian authorities maintain a certain amount of control. This will have a knock-on effect on the employment of Imams, 65 of which were commissioned by Turkish religious authorities and who will now be forced to return to their homelands.

Critics of the reforms highlighted that other religious groups will not have to abide by the same rules and that Christian and Jewish associations will still be allowed access to foreign money.

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In addition to religious associations, 150 Muslim nurseries or kindergartens in Vienna will also be seriously affected. During a random sampling of nurseries in autumn of last year, a number of concerns came to light, chief among which was the perception that Muslim children and adolescents are not integrated sufficiently into mainstream society and that a “parallel society” is springing up as a result.

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A new research report by the Institute for Islamic Studies of the University of Vienna, which covers some 178 pages, calls for a change of course and more control. However, Ednan Aslan, head of the institute, took the opportunity to take the Vienna authorities to task over their handling of the situation in the past. For years, the relevant authorities exercised insufficient control and were crippled by “technicalities”. The lack of “education quality review” has also hampered the situation further.

Language classes have also been criticised, with children’s grasp of German highlighted as a major obstacle to social integration. Inadequate teaching and lack of contact with native speakers creates a vicious circle in which children are unable to be a part of mainstream society due to linguistic barriers.

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The report added that Austrian society faces “unique challenges” and that both sides, the host country and people arriving to find a new home, will have to work together to find a solution.

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