Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Starche announced recently that Austria was to shut down seven mosques and expel 40 imams due to their being foreign-funded. A 2015 controversial law requires Muslim organisations to express a “positive fundamental view towards state and society” and to develop an Islam of “European character”, forbids foreign funding of both imams and mosques.
Many see it as a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory leanings of the current coalition of the far and centre-right political parties as an attempt to score cheap political points. A recent Pew poll found that churchgoing Christians in most ~Western European countries tend to have more extreme anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiments.
These measures, in a bid to stop parallel societies, could in fact, due to its discriminatory nature, backfire. Social exclusion or the sense of being excluded is generally the reason why parallel societies form.
Some Muslims may view this initiative as a declaration of war thereby adding to the already stoked attitudes of the extremists, almost like poking a stick into a beehive!
With many countries in Europe extolling their religious freedom laws, Austria chooses to violate its constitutional principle of equality and Austrian law on the financing of religious communities. Closing down mosques and deporting clerics is certainly not the solution. The approach should be one that conforms to the constitution, human rights and religious liberties for all.
Islamophobia and xenophobia are not just points of debate today but a living, breathing reality Muslim communities face daily. Hostility toward Islam and Muslims is not a mainstream idea but rather sentiments consciously fuelled by far-right leaders to gain votes and well-paid Islamophobes to sow fear and discord.
Islam has a centuries long history in South Africa as Muslims were and are still part of the anti-Apartheid struggle. They are an integral part of the society and are mostly accepted as such. Our constitution affirms this view and it is therefore important for South Africans to not import the prejudices of politically regressive people from elsewhere.
The sustainability of Muslim communities globally depends on its ability to be seen as fully fledged and an integral part of the social fabric. Thus, to thrive Muslim communities need to find ways that make them more relevant and ensuring that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are reminded of their active role in society constantly.
Muslims cannot and should not allow themselves to be silenced or marginalised. To deny a voice to a voiceless community allows the trolls and bigots to win. Yes, we should not have to put up with the abuse but we cannot afford the Islamophobe his corrupt, biased victory.