On the 30th of March 2015 the amendment of the Islamic Law 2015 had just passed a plenary session of the Austrian National Council. This law was largely co – designed by at the time Foreign Minister and late Chancellor of the Alpine Republic Sebastian Kurz. But what has changed by the new amendment of the law, and what was it trying to regulate in practice? 8 years later, the MENA Research Center takes a look back at the impact of the legislative novella and the related supremacy of relevant Islamic networks in the Muslim community.
The legislative amendment, which was prepared for almost three years, focused primarly on two main aspects: on the one hand, a reduction in the so – called external financing and, on the other hand, the regulation of the dissemination of religious teachings in Muslim faiths.
Paragraph 6 of the legislative amendment regulates the foreign financing in detail as follows: ” The provision of the funds for ordinary activities to satisfy the religious needs of its members has been provided by the religious society, the cult communities and/or the religious communities.”
Before the law novella passed the national assembly, imams of the mosques were financed from abroad. Either via the respective sending states themselves, or by government ministries, such as the turkish Diyanet. The Diyanet is the Turkish religious authority with an official apparatus of more than 100,000 people and an annual budget of nearly 1 billion euros. In order to be able to send imams to Europe, the Diyanet set up scholarships and specialized courses, paid the salaries of the sending and offered career opportunities within the organization itself. In this way, Imams were sent abroad for 4 – 5 years and after their return to Türkiye, they were used as trainers for the next generation of imams. Persons who had proved themselves in the course of their job abroad were given the opportunity to be sent again as religious attachés, with the advantage already being familiar with the country, the local legislation, but also the local community. For the Diyanet itself, those attachés, to this day, are an essential link between the community in Europe and the central office in Ankara. The paths to the Turkish head of state are also correspondingly short, as the Diyanet is directly led by the Turkish President Erdogan. With the amendment of the law in 2015, it was no longer possible for the Diyanet to defer its own imams. Due to the lack of financial support from the religious authorities, the jobs abroad lost a lot of their attractiveness for young theology students, which quickly led to a bottleneck of imams in the more than 400 mosques and faiths in Austria. At the same time, the Diyanet offshoot ATIB in Austria, which was by far responsible for most of the imams in Austria before the law novella, placed the hands tied. There was a power vacuum within the Muslim community, which was quickly filled up by a new organization – the networks of Milli Görüs.
The Milli Görüs is a conservative and transnational movement originating from Türkiye. Before Erdogan came to power in Türkiye, those networks were forbidden in the country, because of its Islamist tendencies. Under the patronage of Erdogan, the networks of the Milli Görüs movement reshaped and regained new influence by the appointment of Selim Argun, the Vice – President of the Diyanet. Argun, a connotable Milli Görüs supporter, quickly recognized the potential of the movement, especially in the European diaspora. One of those countries, which quickly became the focus of the political ambitions of Türkiye, was Austria, due to its legal framework of an Islamic law. The existing Islamic faith community in Austria, also known as the IGGiÖ, was raised by the amendment of the law into the status of a legal person in public law. With the Islamic Law, the IGGiÖ has all been endowed with rights and obligations to orchestrate the coexistence of Muslims in Austria. These are regulated in Section 7 of the Islamic Act as follows: the IGGiÖ oblies in particular:
- the representation of the interests of its members, insofar as they extend beyond the scope of a cult community; it is the upper authority of the religious society,
- the presentation of the Constitution of the religious society and of statutes of the cult communities, their amendments and changes in the composition of the institutions to the Federal Chancellor,
- the submission of institutions for the obtaining of legal personality according to national social law with legal personality also for the public sector, its authorized organs and organ walters, as well as their amendments to the Federal Chancellor,
- the responsibility for any financial management, in particular the accounts and any other financial documents
- the establishment of a list of all their associated facilities and of all their function carriers, including religious function carriers. Religious function carriers are only recorded as far as they are attributable to the spread of religious doctrine of religious society.
In other words, the IGGiÖ has been fully empowered to switch and wallow under the legislation in force in the Muslim community through the legislative amendment. It has to be noted at this point, that the Islamic Law had been negotiated at a time, when Fuad Sanac was the President of the IGGiÖ. Sanac, also a Milli Görüs sympathizers, opened the interests of the Milli Görüs networks.
The current IGGiÖ chairman Ümit Vural was already involved in the planning in 2013. In the meantime, the Milli Görüs has long since replaced the ATIB as the strongest faction of the Turkish community in Austria. Vural, who presents himself as open – minded and adapted to the outside world, is by far not as independent as it looks like. He has been accused several times of getting exact specifications from Cologne, where the Milli Görüs runs its European headquarter. Even in the deselection of his predecessor, Ibrahim Olgun, Vural was supported by none other than Abdi Tasdögen, the Milli Görüs chairman for Austria.
8 years after the adoption of the law in 2015, Austria has to admit that it was possible to stop the foreign financing, but the gap has not been filled by precise rules and cooperation with the Muslim community itself, but with a network which is way more unconventional and more fasting than the now powerless ATIB.
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