The Berlin-based expert on Turkey, Ralph Ghadban, warns that the Islam being preached in Turkish-controlled mosques in Europe is a “Sharia Islam with strong Turkish-nationalist overtones” that calls for a “strict separation from Western individualistic values.”
In February 2016, the University of Vienna published study which found that Islamic kindergartens in the capital are dominated by “intellectual Salafists and political Islamists” who are contributing to the “theologically-motivated isolation” of Muslim pupils. The report calls into question claims by the IGGiÖ that anti-Western textbooks have been removed from Austrian schools.
Muslim students now outnumber Roman Catholic students at middle and secondary schools in Vienna, according to official statistics, which show that Muslim students are also on the verge of overtaking Catholics in Viennese elementary schools. The data confirms a massive demographic and religious shift in Austria, traditionally a Roman Catholic country.
The selection of an ethnic Turk to lead the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ), the primary representative of Muslims in the country, is being challenged by Muslim groups opposed to Turkey’s growing influence over the practice of Islam in Austria.
Ibrahim Olgun, a 28-year-old Austrian-born Islamic theologian with ties to the Turkish state, was quietly named on June 19 to replace 62-yer-old Fuat Sanac, who stepped down after serving as IGGiÖ president for five years.
Sanac, also a Turk, was reviled by Turkish authorities for helping the Austrian government draft a new Islam Law (Islamgesetz) that aims to promote an “Islam with an Austrian character.” The law, which was promulgated in February 2015, seeks to reduce outside meddling by prohibiting foreign funding for mosques, imams and Muslim organizations in Austria. It also stresses that Austrian law must take precedence over Islamic Sharia law for Muslims living in the country.
Observers worry that Olgun — a member of the Turkey-financed Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), an influential group that has vowed to challenge the Islam Law at Austria’s Constitutional Court — will use his new position both to undermine the Islam Law and to increase further Turkey’s influence over Muslims in Austria.
At least eight Austrian Muslim groups (representing Albanian, Arab, Bosnian and Sufi Muslims) are challenging Olgun, who was selected by the IGGiÖ’s Shura Council (Schurarat), a rules committee (Shura is an Arabic word for consultation) whose five members all happen to be ethnic Turks.
IGGiÖ statutes require a person to be at least 35 years old to head the group, but the Shura Council secretly annulled that stipulation last December, according to Hassan Mousa, head of the Arab Religious Community in Austria (Arabischen Kultusgemeinde in Österreich). He said that Olgun’s selection was “undemocratic” and “illegal” and added that his ties to ATIB would shift IGGiÖ’s balance of power further in Turkey’s direction.
ATIB, an umbrella group that operates more than 60 mosques in Austria, is directly managed by the religious affairs attaché at the Turkish embassy in Vienna, and the imams of these mosques are Turkish civil servants. ATIB and its German counterpart, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), are financed by the Turkish government’s Directorate for Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet.