SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — The Austrian government has celebrated with its Muslim community the 100th anniversary of issuing a law that recognized Islam as an official law in the European country.
"Austria is a model in Europe in dealing with Islam, but the Austrian Muslims are also a European model," Omar Al-Rawi, a Vienna City councilor, told the BBC on Tuesday, July 3.
Al-Rawi comments came as the Austrian government organized ceremonies celebrating 100 years on recognizing Islam as an official religion in the country.
The law gives Muslims the same rights as other officially recognized religions in Austria, such as Catholicism, Lutheranism, Judaism and Buddhism.
Austria's Thriving Islam
Described as unique in Europe by members of the Austrian Islamic Community, the law also guarantees Muslims in the country wide-ranging rights including religious education in state schools, administration of internal affairs and public worship.
It was brought into force in 1912, under the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, as a result of Austria's annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
It began as an attempt to integrate Muslim Bosnian soldiers into the Habsburg Army, and referred at first just to adherents of the "Hanafi rite of Islam".
Later on, the law was expanded to include Sunni and Shiite Muslims, who are now all represented by the Austrian Islamic Community.
Marking the anniversary, senior members of the Austrian government and the country's Islamic Community leaders attended a mosque ceremony at the weekend.
At another ceremony in Vienna's neo-Gothic town hall, Austria's President Heinz Fischer called for peaceful and respectful relations.
He stressed that Austria's official religions, because of their legal status, were obliged to "respect and accept the laws of the state".
The head of Austria's Islamic Community, Fuat Sanac, described the law as an example for the rest of Europe.
He added that Islam in Austria was seen by most people as an enrichment, not as a danger.
Austrian Muslims has praised the law for helping the integration of Muslims into the mainstream society, giving them a sense of being accepted.
"The Muslims know that with rights there are also obligations and duties," Al-Rawi, the Vienna City councilor, said.
“And if you have a lot of rights and benefits, you also have something to lose.”
He added that the unique law enhanced Muslims’ sense of pride as true Austrians.
"Austrian Muslims go all over the world saying we are Austrians, we belong to this country that gave us respect and recognition and gave us a lot of benefits that even some Muslim countries don't enjoy,” he said.
“And that is why they are very proud saying that they are Austrians.”
Austrian Muslims are estimated at about half a million or nearly 6 percent of the European country's 8 million population.
In Vienna, Islam is the second-largest religious grouping, after Roman Catholicism.
About 60,000 children take part in Muslim religious education classes in Austrian state schools, according to the Islamic Community.
In 2007, Austria’s Muslims have championed a nation-wide campaign to introduce Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) and his teachings to their fellow countrymen.
The campaign echoed others launched by Muslims Europe-wide in response to the sacrilegious Danish cartoons that lampooned the Prophet in 2005.— www.shafaqna.com/english/