Sunday, February 25, 2024

Austria’s Mosques Work Against Muslim Integration 

NewsAustria’s Mosques Work Against Muslim Integration 

Viennese mosques are promoting Islamic separatism and actively obstructing the integration of Muslims into Austrian society, according to a new report about mosques and Islamic associations in the Austrian capital. The in-depth investigative study also reveals that foreign governments continue to exert enormous influence on the practice of Islam in Austria, even though a so-called Islam Law prohibits such meddling. 

The research, which provides evidence of active support for jihadi and Islamist organizations at several of the most prominent and influential mosques in Austria, sheds light on the depth of the challenge posed by the encroachment of political Islam at mosques in the country. The report serves as an important wake-up call for Austria and other Western countries struggling with the integration of Muslim minorities. 

The 113-page report — “Mosques in Vienna” (Moscheen in Wien) — was published on February 23 by the Austrian Integration Fund (Österreichischer Integrationsfonds, ÖIF), an agency tasked with integrating immigrants into Austrian society. The study evaluated randomly selected Friday sermons (khutbah) at 14 of Vienna’s most representative mosques to determine if they were encouraging or discouraging Muslim integration.  

The study reveals that Turkish mosques are, collectively, by far the greatest obstacles to integrating Muslims into Austrian society. Most Turkish mosques “take a negative view of the social integration of their members,” according to the report, which adds that this is highly relevant to the integration process “because ethnic Turks comprise the largest subgroup of Muslims in Austria.” Not coincidentally, the Turkish government continues to try to expand its influence over the practice of Islam in Austria. 

Nearly all Sunni Muslim mosques in Austria belong to the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGÖ), the state-recognized Muslim umbrella group that represents more than 250 mosques in the country. IGGÖ is effectively controlled by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. IGGÖ’s current president, Türkiye-born Ümit Vural, is closely linked to the Turkish nationalist Milli Görüş movement and IGGÖ’s mufti, Türkiye-born Mustafa Mullaoǧlu, is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. IGGÖ plays a “central role” in spreading the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Islamism expert Lorenzo Vidino. FWI reached out to IGGÖ for a comment on the report but did not receive a reply. 

The report’s lead author, historian Heiko Heinisch, told FWI that “with the Milli Görüş movement, ATIB [the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria, which is part of the Turkish government’s Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet] and the Muslim Brotherhood, three major players of international Islamism are active in Austria.” He added that “our report shows that these major players are in part actively working against the integration of Muslims into society.” 

He added that “our report shows that these major players are in part actively working against the integration of Muslims into society.” 

Vienna’s single-most problematic mosque, the study shows, is the notorious Islamic Association of Austria (Islamische Vereinigung Österreich, IVÖ), commonly known as Al-Hidaya Mosque, which is controlled by IGGÖ and, by extension, the Muslim Brotherhood. All the evaluated sermons from this mosque were categorized as “extremist.” IVÖ “rejects, as a matter of principle, Austria and Austrian society, its values, its laws and its constitution,” the report says. 

IVÖ, an Arabic-language mosque, has a long history of glorifying jihad and martyrdom and seeking to establish a parallel society in opposition to Austria’s liberal democratic order. IVÖ’s imam, 53-year-old Egypt-born Ibrahim al-Demerdash, is known for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. He has been accused of radicalizing a “new generation” of young Muslim males in the foundational doctrines, practices, and tactics of political Islam. FWI asked IVÖ for a comment but did not receive a reply. 

Another subversive mosque is the Imam Ali Islamic Center (Islamischen Zentrum Imam Ali, IZIA), which cooperates closely with the Islamic Center of Hamburg (Islamischen Zentrum Hamburg, IZH), described by German intelligence officials as a leading “propaganda center” of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Europe. Both mosques are well known for spreading anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel extremist ideology. 

On a more positive note, sermons delivered at the Arabic-language Islamic Center of Vienna (Islamisches Zentrum Wien) are described as “cosmopolitan” and “open to integration.” The mosque, the largest and oldest in Vienna, was built by Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s and is now jointly controlled by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Malaysia. “This mosque,” the report states, “scores in all categories as the most pro-democracy, the most open and the most tolerant.” 

According to the report, none of the surveyed mosques — which cater to Muslims from Albania, Bosnia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Türkiye — openly identifies with Austrian society. With rare exceptions, sermons in Viennese mosques are not available in German, according to the study, and fully one-third of the evaluated mosques promote ethnic and religious segregation. Many of the mosques promote a dichotomous worldview that opposes ideological and religious pluralism and brands non-Muslims as enemies of Islam. They also appear to be directly or indirectly controlled by foreign governments. 

Officials were unhappy with the conclusions of the study. Vienna’s Deputy Mayor, Dominik Nepp, said the report showed that “many Muslims still see no reason to conform to our social values” and predicted that “the consolidation of already existing parallel societies is therefore inevitable.” Vienna City Councilor Caroline Hungerländer described the results of the study as “shocking” and warned that the city government “must finally recognize that Vienna has a manifest problem with political Islam.” 

The new study is a follow-up to the ÖIF’s landmark October 2017 report — “The Mosque’s Role in the Integration Process” (Die Rolle der Moschee im Integrationsprozess) — which was commissioned by Austria’s then Minister for Integration and Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz, and presented to the public amid much media fanfare. That report found that mosques in Austria were routinely promoting Islamic supremacism by teaching, among other Muslim dogmas, that Sharia law is superior to Austrian law and that Austria’s liberal democratic order is subordinate to Islam. 

Heinisch, the lead author of both reports, told FWI that although the new study provides “only a snapshot” of the hundreds of mosques in Austria, “our results are more or less representative for all of Austria because we focused primarily on the large mosques of the major Islamic federations.” These federations, he said, “are represented by their affiliated mosques throughout Austria and we have to assume that similar preaching takes place in those mosques everywhere.” Heinisch added that “we deliberately did not examine small Salafist mosques because they would have negatively distorted the results.” 

Overall, the report reveals that reforms to Austria’s century-old Islam Law (Islamgesetz) governing the status of Muslims in the country appear to have failed to promote an “Islam with an Austrian character.” The changes, promulgated in February 2015, seek to prevent the growth of a parallel Islamic society in Austria by regulating mosques and the training of imams, who are now required to be proficient in German. 

Paragraph 6.2 of the law aims to limit the religious and political influence of foreign governments within the Austrian Muslim community by prohibiting the foreign financing of mosques in Austria. Paragraph 4.2 states that Muslim organizations “must have a positive attitude toward society and state,” a formulation, according to the government, that makes it clear that Austrian civil law has priority over Sharia law. The new report suggests that eight years after its entry into force, the Islam Law has still not had its intended effect. 

Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow. 

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