Controversial New Austrian Reform Amends Country’s 1912 Law on Islam

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In order to promote what Austria’s conservative Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz calls an “Islam of European character,” the country’s new parliament has amended historical laws with a new bill that requires imams, the officiating priests of Islam, to be able to speak German, and also bans foreign sources of financing, thusly mitigating the influence of foreign Muslim nations.

Although the new law gives Austrian Muslims more legal security, Mehmet Gormez, one of the leading Muslim figures in Turkey, has decried Austria’s new law as a “100-year regression,” arguing that there have been no complaints lodged about the fact that Turkey funds many of Austria’s imams.

Austria’s current “law on Islam” was first made back in 1912, after the Austro-Hungarian empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. The law, which recognized Islam an official religion in Austria, has been widely used as a model for other European nations. The law’s legal history, which is the study of how law has evolved and why it changed, has now taken a dramatic new turn. Finally being passed after two years, Kurz said the new amendment is to “clearly combat” the growing influence of radical Islam.

The timing of the new law is also interesting. Though it’s been in the works long before the recent shootings in France, its passage comes amid estimates that some 200 Austrians have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Additionally, an OGM Institute poll recently found that more than half (58%) of Austrians feel that the “radicalization” of their nation’s Muslims is already underway.

Once the law takes effect, Islamic cultural organizations and imams in Austria will no longer be able to receive funding form abroad, and imams will be obliged to be speak German. In order to get licensing, the new law will also require the near 450 Islamic organizations in Austria to demonstrate a “positive approach towards society and the state.”

As Kurz explained, “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.”

These restrictions have not been placed on any other religion in Austria.

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