Monday 7 January 2019

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Austria

Like many European countries, Islam too is the second largest religion in Austria too. As per an estimate (2016), about 8% of the total Austrian population is Muslim. The actual number of Muslims vary between 600,000 to 700,000, mostly Turks, followed by Muslims from Bosnia Herzegovina, Arab countries, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of the Muslim population belongs to the Sunni sect of Islam.

The first evidence of Muslims in Austria dates back to nomadic tribes from Asia that entered the region in 895. Following the Ottoman conquest of the Habsburg Empire in the late 15th century, more Muslims moved into the territory that makes up modern-day Austria. However, they were expelled after the Habsburg Empire took control of the region in the late 17th century but a few were allowed to remain. The largest number of Muslims came under Austrian control after the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878. Austria was the first European country to recognize Islam as an official religion in 1912 following its annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, Muslims moved into Austria in sizable numbers in the 1960s when migrant workers from Yugoslavia and Turkey moved to the country. Many Muslim refugees of the Yugoslav Wars also moved to Austria during the 1990s. In 2013, Austria granted the status of a recognized religious community to Alevism, a branch of Shia Muslims.

Perhaps in the wake of growing Islamophobia, a new law was passed by the Austrian parliament in 2015 which illegalized the foreign funding of mosques and paying salaries of imams. The law also gave Muslims additional rights, such as the rights to halal food and pastoral care in the military. The government was of the view that the changes were intended to "clearly combat" the influence of Islamic extremism in Austria. [1]

The life of Muslims in Austria has never been easy. However, in recent years it is getting even worse. In October 2017, the Austrian government passed a law named the "Prohibition on the Covering of the Face." The law was introduced by the center-left Chancellor Christian Kern. Anyone wearing clothes that obscure their face in public is liable to a fine of €150 and must remove the offending garment “on the spot” if ordered by police. This act is out rightly rejected by the local Muslims as it directly affects the Muslim women.
An open display of hostility against the Muslims - Photo The Washington Post

Lat year before the elections, an open display of growing hostility of Austrians towards Muslims was seen in streets of Vienna. Some major political parties were observed deliberately brandishing Islamophobia. A torch-lit procession of ultra-nationalists gathered on the outskirts of Vienna to listen to fiery speeches on the anniversary of a 17th-century victory over Muslim Ottomans. “Today we have to defend our homeland again,” thundered the leader of the Identitaren movement. [3]

There are 205 registered mosques in Austria with hundreds more unregistered prayer rooms. There are four mosques in the country that were purpose-built with minarets. However, recently, there has been also been a clampdown over mosques, specially the ones funded by foreign countries, specially Turkey which funds most of the mosques in Austria to cater for the needs of Turk Muslims in Austria.  The Muslim asylum seekers have a more difficult life as they are considered suspicious and are generally rounded up for questioning. Thus most of them have stopped going to the mosques since the placement of the rightest government in the center. 
The mosques are silent these days, a metaphor of sorts for the low profile many Muslims are keeping because they no longer feel welcome in Austria. One of the worshipers at Schura Mosque on a recent Friday was Viennese Councilman Omar al-Rawi. He said Muslim asylum-seekers are especially afraid to enter mosques nowadays. "They say, 'We won't go to pray because maybe they will think we are radicals so it's better not to pray'" until their refugee status is approved, he explains. [2]
Majority of voters voted for the Sebastian Kurz party for keeping Austria safe from terror attacks carried out by Muslim extremists elsewhere in Europe, as well as curbing asylum and immigration. In June earlier this year, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz promised a crackdown on radical Islam  - saying is ‘just the beginning’ of a crackdown.
"These factors stir up uneasiness and fears and makes the Muslim to be seen as 'the other,'" says Carla Amina Baghajati, 51, who is spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. That "other," she adds, is perceived as a threat to the Austrian norms." The distance between Muslims and top political brass is widening and can be felt. Sebastian Kurz, who used to play an active role in bringing Muslims and the government closer when he was integration minister in 2011, is now distancing himself and no longer attends Islamic holiday events. [2]
The Turkish government has responded aggressively to the Austrian government's clampdown on Muslims and their prayer places and have accused Austrian leaders of "ideologically charged practices that are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of coexistence." A Turkish government spokesman has been quoted as saying: "The move was "a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country." However, Kurz's government insists that the move is intended to protect Austria from radical religious extremism. [3]

The Muslims are very apprehensive of the treatment meted out to them in Austria. “When parties address the issue of Islam, it’s always in a negative context,” said Vienna City Councillor Omar al-Rawi who previously worked as integration representative for Austria’s Islamic Community, a key Muslim group. “The populist undertone is always present. It’s a shame because Austria used to be a success model for how to deal with Muslims,” the 56-year-old from Baghdad told AFP. [5]

The verbal and physical abuse of Muslims in Austria, which between 2015 and 2016 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — rose 62 percent to 253 incidents. Veiled or Hijab wearing Muslim women are often the main target. Besides, there are other problems as well, including vandalism at Muslim businesses and mosques.

While Muslims feel outscored by the people and government of Austria, radicalization among young Muslims is also a concern, with some 300 Austrians having joined Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. “Most Muslims here are good people but the danger of insidious political Islam is real,” said Austrian-Iraqi journalist Amer Albayati who heads the Liberal Muslims Initiative of Austria. [5]

The year 2018 dawned with the birth of the first child of Austria and the newly born baby girl happens to have been born to a Muslim couple. Asel Tamga's her birth sparked outpouring of racist abuse towards the parents. When the couple shared their photo posing with their baby on Facebook, it sparked hateful and racist comments because they are Muslim. The uproar was so intense that the Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, had to step in and hit back at abusers. President Van der Bellen shared a Facebook post condemning the hateful attacks on Baby Asel, and added his own stern words of wisdom. After wishing Asel welcome to the world, he added that; 'all people are born free and equal to dignity and rights. [6]

However, despite the odds and rejection into the society, Islam is on the rise in Austria and growing "dramatically." Watch the video below:
Muslims continue to celebrate their religious days like the two Eids and the month of Ramadan - the month of fasting and actively engage in prayer congregations specially on Fridays. In order to inculcate inter faith harmony and understanding, a Tag der offenen Moschee (Open Mosque Day) was first organized in October 2013 with the aim of building interfaith connections between Austrian Muslims and non-Muslims. The event has continued every year since.

Well this is how life of Muslims is in Austria.The data has been collected from the Internet and I wish I could find anything positive about life of Muslims in Austria since most of the material I came across is negative. I wish Muslims of Austria best of luck and I do hope their struggle for their just rights will bring fruit one day, In sha Allah (God willing) !!

Photo (Mosque) | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
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