The Fourteenth General Conference : The Truth about Islam in a Changing World
ISLAM IN AUSTRIA BETWEEN INTEGRATION POLITICS AND PERSISTING PREJUICES
ISLAM IN AUSTRIA BETWEEN INTEGRATION POLITICS AND PERSISTING PREJUICES
Prof. Dr. Susanna Heine, University of Vienna, Austria
This article is based upon various specific perspectives: the basis is formed by the inter-religious dialogue with Islam, to which the author, as a Christian theologian, has been committed for more than fifteen years, both internationally and, especially, in Austria.1 Resulting from this is an attitude that combines a detached, comparative- religious and religious- political perspective with an understanding perception of an alien self- understanding, in this case that of Islam. This context forbids any one-sided partisanships with respect to religious and political differences- also among the partners; much rather, dialogue follows the principle of audiature et altera pars. Between the outsider's perspective, even if it is rooted in empathy, and one's self- understanding, there remains a difference that demands both respect and a politics that recognizes dissent topics as the basis for an integration that does not force one to assimilate.
Another perspective ensues from the fact that the author belongs to the teaching staff of the Protestant Theological Faculty, the faculty of the Protestant minority in Austria, and is thus familiar with minority politics. From the history, as well as the residual problems, of the Protestant minority in a country marked- also mentally- by Roman Catholicism, many parallels to the minority situation of Muslims can be recognized, albeit with a not inconsiderable time difference. Discrimination and defamatory stereotypes, to which Protestants were also exposed, have given way to a basic social acceptance, not least of all due to an established ecumenical movement.2 The education of pastors in their own educational institution, which has been in existence since 1821 and which incorporated as a faculty into the university system in 1922, allowed the Protestant Church to become independent of academically- trained theologians imported from outside the country, whereas Muslims are still dependent upon such import, since they (still) have no opportunity for university- level theological training in this country. Currently, the two minority groups have other things in common, namely, little perception of them as a constitutive part of society, public inattention to some specific aspects of linguistic rules, or simply ignorance with respect to one's own distinctiveness as regards theological theory, organizational structure, and spiritual practice.3 The problems are entirely different in that part of Germany that is shaped by Protestantism. A realistic integration policy related to Muslims in Europe therefore presupposes sufficient knowledge of religious history in the various European countries. A third perspective represents the focus on education, with an emphasis on public schools, since increasingly more children of Muslim immigrants sit side by side at their school desks with non- Muslim children and read together- in general subjects, such as, history, social studies, economics, geography, or philosophy- from the same textbooks that (still) contain a wealth of stereotypical prejudices with regard to Islam. In Austria, there are also special resentments; the "Turkish threat", the twice- repeated siege of Vienna in 1529 and 1683, decided in favour of Austria, the "saving of the Christian West" from Islam and the subsequent blossoming of this country. All of this constituted a historical trauma that has left its marks, up to this day, in the consciousness of the people. Memorials, legends, folksongs, and even names of certain foods attest to this. The so-called "Turkish wars" were therefore also made a topic of discussion in most textbooks and merge the Islam of the past and the present into an undifferentiated phenomenon of threat.
In the second part of this contribution, there is a presentation of some of the results of a textbook analysis that the author performed within the context of an international research project, in collaboration with the Islamic Scientific Academy in Cologne,4 for the purpose of uncovering prejudiced clichés in the portrayed image of Islam and submitting criteria to government officials for making corrections.
The revision of textbooks would be a European - wide task, since the textbook occupies a special place in education, representing a unique medium in daily instruction whose texts clearly appear in written from and are therefore less fleeting than the spoken word. Textbooks are not considered "lofty" literature; however, for the majority of the population, textbooks represent the first and final source of information and education, which is the reason why they belong to the most important literary products of a country. "A people can be recognized by the books it reads." writes Robert Minder. "Their sociological function is two- fold: they reflect and they shape." They reflect a society's store of knowledge and simultaneously shape it.5
Muslims in Austria
The Development Of The Legal Status Of Muslims.
With regard to the history and situation of Muslims, Austria distinguishes itself in many respects from other European countries. The Austria of the Hapsburgs, located on the border to Eastern Europe, had close ties with Muslims long before the Muslim migration of the 60s and 70s. These 'encounters' had admittedly mostly a political- military character, and they intensified during the Turkish wars that constituted the already mentioned historical trauma still vivid in the consciousness of the people.
Special relations resulted for Protestants, who, during the violent re-Catholicizing of an almost completely Protestant country, sought and found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, something which allows them to feel a greater sympathy for Muslims up to today. Emperor Joseph II's patent of tolerance of 1781 then guaranteed the "non-Catholic" religious communities, which included Protestants as well as Muslims, free religious expression. Then it was the Balkans that strengthened the contacts of Austria with the Muslim world. The Austria- Hungarian monarchy had in Hungary a country in which Muslims had settled and become integrated since the Middle Ages. Added to this later were Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were put under the control of the Austrian administration in 1878 (congress of Berlin) and then annexed in 1908. Then Austrian officials had to familiarize themselves with a completely different legal system and to recognize a high- level Muslim educational system.
As is usually the case during military confrontations, a cultural exchange and an attentiveness to Muslims also occurred simultaneously here in this country, though more dictated by necessity, not least of all also on the military level. The imperial (k.u.k.) Bosnians, who for the most part were Muslims, constituted an elite troop of the monarchy. They had their own military mufti and their own military mosque. In 1916, during the first World War and shortly before the death of Emperor Franz Josef 1(1830-1916), the building of a large mosque in Vienna was planned and financed, although it could then no longer be realized.
Neither side emerges unchanged from such an encounter. On the one hand, Muslims examined Western culture intensively. Thus, Bosnian Muslims understood themselves to be the only representatives of an European Islam. A prominent representative in Austria is the internationally known Dr. Smail Blaic. On the other hand, the cultural exchange led to a certain respect for Muslims, which smoothed the way to various laws of recognition.
The first law of recognition, which was restricted to the Hanafite rite, was dated May 20, 1874; and it was expanded and supported by the law of July 15, 1912. Muslims could appeal to this law when they later sought to achieve the official state recognition of Islam as a legal, public corporate body, something in which above all Smail Balic6 participated. In the meantime, however, a large number of Muslims had immigrated to Austria from many different countries, especially from Turkey, so that Bosnian Islam could no longer form a common base. Thus, the various ethnic groups and schools first had to unite, a cause to which Dr. Ahmed Abdel Rahim was strongly committed; he was then elected as the first president of the new "Islamic Religious Community in Austria"7 (IRCA). With the final law of recognition of May 2, 1979, the constituting of the IRCA 8, which since 1988 covers all Islamic Schools of Law9, could then begin. This recognition, therefore, did not fall from the heavens, nor is it the result of work initiated by politicians of tolerant leanings. It was rather preceded by a varied history, which has long been determined by a Muslim presence.
At the same time, the Islamic Centre and the Great Mosque on the Hubertusdamm 10 in Vienna were opened. With the law of recognition, Muslims received, in correspondence with recognized Christian confessions, the right to establish their own religious instruction in all public schools. In July of 1983, the curriculum was established and officially acknowledged; it was followed successively by several textbooks for compulsory public schools. This instruction- like all other subjects in the area of pedagogy and methodology- is subject to current general educational goals and state supervision, whereas the Muslim community is responsible for the contents.
In 1997, the "Islamic Academy for Religious Education" was opened, with Dr. Hassan Moussa as director of this officially recognized institution.11 Here, the teachers of religion for the compulsory public schools, that is, for the lower and middle grades, are trained. Presently, there are more than 100 Muslims- the majority of them women- who want to take up this profession. The question of university education of teachers for secondary schools (Gymnasien) is still open; but it is on the agenda for the future, since it would presuppose, as in the case of the churches, a teacher training program in Muslim theology and therefore a Muslim theological faculty, or at least courses taught by Muslims lecturers. Currently, teachers for secondary schools are selected by the IRCA, which sets up criteria for qualification.
The respective religious divisions of the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation), the legal- public station, including both radio and television in Austria, are not "church stations", but must rather grant all officially recognized religious communities their own programs for proclamation or preaching- therefore, also the Muslims. 12 Various research projects13 and symposia- organized, on the one hand, by the Muslim community, on the other hand, by the universities, the city of Vienna, or the ORF, in co-operation with Muslims- have increased during the last few years and render Islam more and more publicly visible.