Austrian law rules imams must be able to speak German

New law passed in parliament also bans foreign sources of financing for Muslim organisations.

    Austrian law rules imams must be able to speak German
    Protesters gathered outside the parliament in Vienna to protest against the new law [EPA]

    Austria's parliament has passed a bill amending historical laws on Muslim organisations which will ban foreign sources of financing and require imams to be able to speak German.

    The text aims to promote what conservative Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz called an "Islam of European character" by muting the influence of foreign Muslim nations and organisations, and offering Austrian Muslims a mix of increased rights and obligations in practising their faith in the central European country.

    However, the law has generated opposition from several quarters, including Austrian Muslim groups that call it "discrimination" that imposes restrictions on Islam that other religions are not saddled with.

    Mehmet Gormez, a leading Muslim cleric in Turkey, 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 current "law on Islam" dates to 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire.

    The two-year-old bill predates the recent shootings in France and Denmark but is designed to "clearly combat" the growing influence of radical Islam, Kurz said.

    Earlier this month, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls similarly raised the notion of banning foreign funding of Islamic organisations.

    Kurz says officials in Germany and Switzerland have also expressed interest in the bill.

    'Positive approach'

    The passing of the law comes amid estimates indicating about 200 people from Austria - including women and minors - have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    A poll published by the OGM institute on Tuesday found 58 percent of Austrians feeling "radicalisation" of the nation's Muslims was underway.

    The 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.

    "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.

    The legislation also accords Muslims the right 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 not come to work on Islamic holidays.

    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.

    SOURCE: AFP


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