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ISLAM

Austrian Muslims denounce decision to close mosques and expel imams

Austria's main federation of Muslim residents (IGGiOe) on Sunday voiced its "indignation" after Vienna announced the closure of seven mosques and said it would expel Turkish-funded imams.

Austrian Muslims denounce decision to close mosques and expel imams
A Muslim woman walks by a mosque at the Vienna Islamic Centre on April 14th 2017. Photo: AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had on Saturday strongly criticised the move as anti-Islamic and promised a response and the Muslim federation launched a broadside.

Vienna wants to “discredit the religious community,” the group's president Ibrahim Olgun said.

Olgun said the policy was not “appropriate to control political Islam” and “will lead ultimately to a weakening of structures within the Muslim community in Austria.”

The Austrian government has not produced any “objective justification” for the closures, four of which apply to mosques in Vienna, he added. 

Olgun also criticised the government for not informing the federation of the measures in advance and for unveiling them on the final Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 

“Solutions should be worked out together around a table rather than unilaterally on the backs of the Muslim minority,” said IGGiOe, which is to hold its own audit of mosques and personnel affected by the policy before requesting a meeting with the ministry of culture.

Vienna announced Friday that it will close the seven mosques, saying they breached 2015 guidelines requiring “a positive attitude towards the state and society”. Several imams have been accused of preaching radical Islam.

Vienna has thus called into question their future despite their being on the approved list of Turkish Islamic Union of Austria (Atib), the most powerful Turkish religious association in the country and linked to Turkey's directorate of religious affairs Diyanet. 

Up to 60 Atib-approved Imams and their families could be expelled, with Vienna saying they are financed by Ankara, contravening a ban on foreign finance of religious organisations. Two imams have had pending requests for residence permit renewals turned down.

Atib denies there are radical imams working in the mosques concerned although the association recognised some Turkish finance which it justified saying this was a known fact and necessary to ensure adequate training.

Erdogan reacted furiously on Saturday, saying that “these measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent.”

Some of Austria's opposition parties have been broadly supportive of the move, with the centre-left Social Democrats calling it “the first sensible thing this government's done”.

But the Green Party pointed out it could serve as a propaganda victory for the Turkish government.

Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.

Erdogan faces stiff opposition in presidential and legislative elections on June 24th and the Austrian government has banned Turkish officials from holding meetings in the country ahead of the polls.

ISLAM

Austrian government comes under fire over ‘Islam map’

The Austrian government came under fire on Thursday for a new "Islam map" showing the location of mosques and associations around the country, with religious groups saying it would stigmatise Austria's Muslim population.

Austrian Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled the controversial website. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Austrian Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled the controversial website. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled an internet website earlier called the “National Map of Islam” with the names and locations of more than 600 mosques, associations and officials and their possible links abroad.

However, the interactive map — compiled in collaboration with the University of Vienna and the Documentation Centre of Political Islam — alarmed many of Austria’s Muslims and the ruling centre-right ÖVP party’s coalition partner, the Greens, also distanced itself from it.

Map demonstrates ‘intent to stigmatise all Muslims’

The IGGÖ Muslim representative council said in a statement that it “demonstrates the government’s manifest intent to stigmatise all Muslims as a potential danger”.

The Green party’s spokeswoman for integration Faika El-Nagashi complained that “no Green minister or MP was involved or even told about it.

“The project mixes Muslims with Islamists and is the contrary to what integration policy should look like.”

Map not meant to ‘place Muslims in general under suspicion’

Raab insisted that the map was not meant to “place Muslims in general under suspicion”.

The aim was “to fight political ideologies, not religion,” she said. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has regularly criticised what he calls “political Islam”.

“Imagine if a similar map was drawn up for Judaism or Christianity,” said Tarafa Baghajati, the head of another Muslim organisation, complaining that it equated terrorism with religion.

He pointed out that around eight percent of Austria’s overall population of 8.9 million were practising Muslims and most of them had no links with such organisations. “It’s worrying and I’m disappointed with the government for adopting far-right ideas,” he said.

Rise reported in attacks against Muslims

Since a jihadist attack left four people dead in Vienna last November — the first to be carried out in Austria — a rise has been reported in the number of incidents in verbal and physical attacks against Muslims in the country. IGGÖ complained that “racism against Muslims is growing”.

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