Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Austria’s Islamic Reforms

By SOEREN KERN, NYT, APRIL 7, 2015

In February, the Austrian Parliament amended the country’s century-old “Islam Law.” The new legislation, though controversial, is a significant achievement. In promoting a moderate, homegrown Islam compatible with democratic values, Austria has taken a positive step to combat extremism while protecting religious liberties.

The original Islam law, passed in 1912, sought to integrate thousands of Muslims who officially came under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following its annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Predominantly Roman Catholic, Austria-Hungary extended Muslims the same rights of worship as other official religions, and granted state protection to Islamic customs, doctrines and institutions. But the empire’s breakup following World War I left just a few hundred Muslims in Austria, and the Islam Law became irrelevant.

The current landscape is vastly different. A 2014 University of Vienna report put the number of Muslims in Austria at over 550,000, or about 7 percent of the national population as of 2012.

The number of Muslims first began to increase in the 1960s and 1970s, with the arrival of tens of thousands of guest workers from the Balkans and Turkey. Refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo followed in the 1990s; more recently, Austria absorbed thousands of asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There has also been natural expansion among second- and third-generation immigrants; as of 2009, about half of the country’s Muslims were Austrian nationals.

(More here.)

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