Austria: Civil Law vs. Sharia Law

The Austrian government has unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the country’s century-old “Islam Law” that governs the legal status of Austria’s Muslim community.

The proposed revisions—which are aimed at cracking down on Islamic extremism in Austria—would regulate the training and hiring of Muslim clerics, prohibit the foreign funding of mosques, and establish an official German-language version of the Koran, among other changes.

The government says the modifications would give Muslims legal parity with other religious groups in Austria. But the leaders of Austria’s Muslim community counter that the contemplated new law amounts to “institutionalized Islamophobia.”

The updated Islam Law (Islamgesetz) was presented as a draft bill to parliament on October 2 and overhauls the current law, which dates back to 1912.

The original law was brought into being to help integrate Muslim soldiers into the Habsburg Army after the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. The law recognized Islam as a religious community in Austria, and allowed Muslims to practice their religion in accordance with the laws of the state.

After the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in the aftermath of World War I, the number of Muslims in Austria was reduced to just a few hundred people. After World War II, however, Austria’s Muslim population increased rapidly with the arrival of “guest workers” from Turkey and the Balkans in the 1960s, and refugees from Bosnia in the 1990s.

The Muslim population in Austria now exceeds 500,000 (or roughly 6% of the total population), up from an estimated 150,000 (or 2%) in 1990. The Muslim population is expected to reach 800,000 (or 9.5%) by 2030, according to recent estimates.

Official statistics show that nearly 60% of the inhabitants of Vienna, the capital and largest city of Austria, are immigrants or foreigners.

The massive demographic and religious shift underway in Austria, traditionally a Roman Catholic country, appears irreversible. In Vienna, for example, Muslim students now outnumber Catholic students at middle and secondary schools. Muslim students are also on the verge of overtaking Catholics in Viennese elementary schools.

At the same time, Austria has emerged as a major base for radical Islam. A June 2014 report by the Austrian intelligence agency [BVT] warned of the “exploding radicalization of the Salafist scene in Austria.” Salafism is an anti-Western ideology that seeks to impose Islamic sharia law.

Austria has also emerged as a central hub for European jihadists seeking to fight in Syria, because Austria’s geographic location provides easy access to land routes through the Balkans.

In an interview with Austrian Public Radio Ö1-Morgenjournal, the Austrian Minister for Integration and Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz, said the rapid rise of Islam in Austria has rendered the old Islam Law obsolete. A new law is needed, he said, to stipulate more clearly the rights and responsibilities of Muslims living in the country.

From now on, according to Kurz, Muslims residing in Austria will be expected to adhere to Austrian values and to acknowledge the primacy of Austrian law over Islamic Sharia law. In practice, he said, this means that Muslims would be prohibited from citing Islamic law as legal justification for ignoring or disobeying Austrian civil laws. Sharia law has “no place” in Austria, he stressed.

Full article: Austria: Civil Law vs. Sharia Law (Gatestone Institute)

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