Austria passes law on Islam, banning foreign funding
VIENNA - Agence France-Presse
Head of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache delivers a speech in front of Foreign and Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz during a session of the parliament in Vienna February 25, 2015. REUTERS PhotoAustria's parliament on Feb. 25 passed a law banning foreign sources of financing to Muslim organisations and requiring imams to be able to speak German, in a move closely watched by other European nations facing growing problems with radical Islam.
The new law aims to promote what conservative Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz calls an "Islam of European character" by muting the influence of foreign Muslim nations, organisations and funding at a time when concerns are rising about the spread of extremist Islam.
The legislation also offers Austrian Muslims a mix of increased rights and obligations in practising their faith in the central European country.
But the law has generated opposition from several quarters, including Austrian Muslim groups that call it "discrimination" that imposes restrictions on Islam that other religions aren't saddled with. Turkey's leading Muslim cleric, Mehmet Gormez, has decried the bill as "a 100-year regression," arguing that no complaints have ever been lodged about the fact that Turkey funds many imams in Austria.
Austria's far-right Freedom Party, meantime, mocked the bill as a "placebo" at a time when estimates suggest around 200 people from Austria -- including women and minors -- have gone to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist militias like Islamic Front.
The two-year-old bill passed by parliament Wednesday predates the recent jihadist violence in France and Denmark, but is designed to "clearly combat" the growing influence of radical Islam, Kurz said.
The new law will be studied by Austria's neighbours.
Earlier this month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls raised the notion of banning foreign funding of Islamic organisations. Kurz says officials in Germany and Switzerland have also expressed interest in the legislation.
To combat the rising risk of radical indoctrination of foreign origin, the new legislation bans Islamic cultural organisations and imams in Austria from receiving funding from abroad.
It also requires the nearly 450 Muslim organisations in the country to demonstrate a "positive approach towards society and the state" in order to continue receiving official licensing.
Imams will be obliged to be able to speak German under the law -- a bid to make their comments more accessible and transparent, while also facilitating the fuller integration of Islam into wider Austrian society.
"We want a future in which increasing numbers of imams have grown up in Austria speaking German, and can in that way serve as positive examples for young Muslims," Kurz explained ahead of the vote.
The legislation also provides for Muslims to be able to consult Islamic clerics on the staffs of 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 skip work on Islamic holidays.
Austria's previous "law on Islam" dates from 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The adopted text scaled back farther-reaching measures contained in an earlier version, including the imposition of an "official" Koran in German that had sparked considerable controversy.
A poll published by the OGM institute Tuesday found 58 percent of Austrians feeling radicalisation of the nation's Muslims was underway.
Muslims make up roughly 560,000 of Austria's total population of 8.5 million. Most Austrian Muslims are of Turkish and Bosnian origin, as well as ethnic Chechens and Iranians.