One of the largest mosques in the Austrian capital is suspected of defending Hamas terrorists. There is also the suspicion that they are close to political Islamism and are spreading the ideology of the Islamist-extremist Muslim Brotherhood. This is what the Austrian “Documentation Office for Political Islam” claims to have found out in a newly published study.
It is one of the largest Islamic places of worship in Vienna: The Al-Hidaya Mosque, operated by the Islamic Association of Austria (IVÖ) and linked to the “Alrisalah – Association for Family and Youth” and its associated Alrisalah Mosque. A few years ago, the IVÖ made headlines across Austria when the authorities had to close the kindergarden they operated because it is said to have brought up small children to reject Western values, to praise the Sharia and to reject Western societies. Now a study by the “Documentation Center for Political Islam” shows that the chief theologian of the mosque, where sermons are held in Arabic, is said to have delivered extremist speeches hostile to Western values. He is also said to have defended Hamas’ acts of terrorism.
The Islamic association was founded in 1987 by the siblings Jamal and Aiman Morad, who also held leading positions in the association for a long time. One of the founders is said to have openly admitted to an Arab television channel that he was one of the “leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe” and, when asked by an interviewer, confirmed that he was a Muslim Brotherhood cadre in Austria. Before the last election he was a member of the Supreme Council of the Austrian Islamic Religious Community (IGGÖ).
In its early days, the IVÖ was also closely linked to the “Islamic League of Culture”. Both were official members of the “Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe” (FIOE), the European umbrella organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. IVÖ officials were also actively involved in the “R4bia Austria Movement”, which describes itself on Facebook as “grandchildren of Hasan al-Banna”, the ideological founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, leading activists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly visited the IVÖ in previous years. Among them, the popular Egyptian preacher Wagdi Ghonim, a representative of the radical wing within the Muslim Brotherhood, was won over to give a Friday sermon in the al-Hidaya Mosque in 2005.
Now, in a new study by the Documentation Center for Political Islam, the sermons of the Imam of the al-Hidaya Mosque and President of the IVÖ, Ibrahim al-Demerdash, examined in more detail. The sermons available online were held between 2013 and 2020 and indicate basic Islamist patterns, in particular they suggest an ideological link with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. As early as 2011, the “Wiener Zeitung” reported on Islamist sermons in the mosque. It asked a Syrian who was often present for Friday prayers. He reported as follows: “Actually, the Arab Spring was almost always addressed in the Friday prayers at the Hidaya Mosque. Last week, Imam Ibrahim Demerdash praised the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, and quoted many of his statements. Many visitors there are known as Muslim Brothers.”
The imam was already the focus of the Austrian security authorities during the investigation into “Operation Luxor”, during which dozens of raids against alleged Muslim Brotherhood and suspected members of the terrorist Hamas took place on November 9, 2020. In the investigative files on Operation Luxor, not only the Imam appears as a suspect, but also the two brothers who founded the IVÖ. They should also have good contacts to Qatar. In view of the new allegations, the imam’s lawyer speaks of “incorrect, distorted reporting”. The press in Austria quotes him as saying that he calls the reports “false” and the quotes “taken out of context”. These were never like that, he found the translations “mostly” wrong.
In the sermons of Imam al-Demerdash, it is repeatedly pointed out that Islam is an all-encompassing faith with a totalitarian claim to religion. “Islam is religion and state, government and community, morality and strength, culture and law, struggle and mission, army and idea. It is with such an understanding that the ummah [the community of all Muslims is called the ummah. It was at the time Moḥammed and the first caliphs were still largely united both in the religious and political sense, so later it split into different states, in religious terms into different denominations.The restoration of the ummah in its original form is currently regarded by many Muslims as an important goal] to deepened faith and correct formation and to the ceaseless work of realizing the Islamic idea in the real world of man, of all people, Muslims and the followers of other religions.” The political moment in Islam, especially for Muslims in European societies , is repeatedly brought up by the Imam, who believes that Islam cannot be detached from politics and even armed struggle. “Our faith is not detached from the activity of politics. The prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was preacher, politician, leader, warrior and fighter in one! For us, religion encompasses all facets of life. And here in Vienna, in the Hidaya Mosque, I speak about this understanding and concept of Islam!”
Al-Demerdash also criticizes Muslims, who feel committed to Western values and see faith as a purely private matter for the individual. In a sermon, the Imam describes these believers as “confused heads”, expressed by, among other things, liberalism, secularism and Westernization among Muslims: “Yes, there are [among us] those whose heads are confused and whose faith is defective. They don’t fully understand the matter because they are starting from the wrong basic assumptions and because they are infested with the secular liberal mindset, they live westernized. The difference between them and the Ummah of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, this difference is enormous! The ummah live [on the basis of] their religion, doctrinal and jurisprudence, revelation and the Sunna of the Prophet. But there is also another faction [meaning secular Muslims] who live with a different set of beliefs and duties, with a different spirit that is far removed from the spirit of Islam. Therefore, they do not sympathize with what is happening in Gaza, but conspire against it and turn the world against it. They demand killing and expulsion and damage, yes I say: damage to Islam and the Islamic ummah!”
The terror of Hamas in Gaza is also addressed by al-Demerdash. In a sermon he praises the violent actions: “And we saw in Gaza, the land of honor, a youth: It is a youth of the generation of Gaza, a mighty and bold generation! A generation that defies the dangers. Yes, they are destroying the power of Israel and the international Zionists, that great deception. We have a weapon whose strength only the one who believes in knows: it is the weapon of faith and Islam, the weapon of the Quran and monotheism. It is a weapon unrivaled by any enemy when man uses it as necessary. That is why this small handful of people in Gaza are standing up against Israel and teaching humanity a lesson: God has prepared the way for a mighty and battle-hardened generation in Gaza and in all our lands.”
He also preaches in a western European mosque about how honorable the martyrdom of Muslims is: “The martyrs are with their Lord, they have received gifts. But the others, since they long for life, feel the greater pain. We are full of joy ‘when we see that God takes from us martyrs. Why? ‘And God wanted in this way to purify those who believe and make those who disbelieve perish. Or do you think that you enter Paradise without God recognizing those who have fought among you and without recognizing the patient?’ Paradise is not easy to reach, never. It is necessary that we be tested and tried and that God, Most High, takes from us martyrs and with them these hearts purify, verily!”
The Al-Hidaya Mosque as the official house of prayer is legally under the control of the IGGÖ. This takes the allegations in the room seriously, but it would be, such a statement to “Der Standard”, “failed to assess the facts without giving those responsible for the community concerned the opportunity to comment”. Therefore, one cannot yet comment specifically on the allegations. However, should these substantiate, the IGGÖ will take “adequate measures”.
The junior partner in the Austrian federal government also commented on the allegations in the Al-Hidaya Mosque. “We must not and will not allow radical preachers in the spirit of political Islam to poison our youth with homophobic, misogynistic, child-threatening and anti-Semitic ideas,” says Green MP Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic. “If the findings of the Documentation Center for Political Islam are confirmed in the preliminary proceedings announced by the responsible federal minister, the consequences must be drawn as quickly as possible.”
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