A major consequence of the law, which is due to come into effect from January, would be the rescinding of permits for scores of Turkish imams, or religious teachers, paid for by the Turkish government.
Austrians of Turkish descent make up the biggest group of Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, followed by those of Bosnian background. Muslims comprise about six percent of the population.
Like those in many other European countries, Austrian authorities are deeply concerned about Islamist radicalization of Muslim citizens at home and abroad. As many as 140 Muslims who are Austrian citizens or residents are believed to be fighting with jihadist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
Foreign Affairs and Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz said Thursday there should be no contradiction between being a devout Muslim and a proud Austrian.
The draft bill, which aims to regulate Muslims’ rights and obligations and revises a 1912 law that officially recognized Islam, states that religious doctrines, institutions and practices must not conflict with the laws of Austria. If teaching institutions promote negative views of society or jeopardize public order, their recognition may be withdrawn.
Foreign funding of operating costs for mosques, schools and other Islamic facilities will be prohibited.
As in many other European countries, Austrian officials are concerned about foreign imams who speak little of the local language, are not well-integrated into local society, and who may be spreading radical views.
Imams working in Austria will be expected to have Austrian theological training so as to better connect with the local community. Religious organizations will be required to show a unified German-language version of their doctrine and religious texts, including the Qur’an.
The Qur’an proposal is potentially controversial, since Muslim scholars teach that the Qur’an – in the original Arabic – is the actual divine revelation given by Allah to Mohammed over a 23-year period in the 7th century. Translations in any other language are considered no more than approximations of the meaning, and not the Qur’an itself.
Kurz said in a recent radio interview there were “countless translations, countless interpretations” of the Qur’an, and having a uniform German translation would help to prevent extremist “misinterpretations.”
It was in the interests of the Muslim community, he said, that words in the text are not “incorrectly interpreted and reproduced.”
Other provisions in the draft law cover issues like religious holidays, dietary matters and cemeteries. Genital mutilation is forbidden, although circumcision is expressly permitted.
The bill was drafted in consultation with two recognized Islamic bodies, the mainstream Islamic Religious Community in Austria and a body representing Alevis, a Muslim sect sometimes viewed as heretical by Sunnis, originating in Turkey.
The Vienna daily Wiener Zeitung noted in an editorial that some of proposed new regulations, such as the ban on foreign funding, were not applicable to other religions.
“But as long as murderers refer to Islam at the beheading of helpless hostages, Islam is just not a religion like any other,” it said. “Every law is a child of its time.”
In response to the rise of ISIS, the Austrian government last month announced a ban on ISIS symbols, plans to revoke the citizenship of any dual citizens who join the jihad, and new rules making it harder for minors to travel outside the European Union.
Earlier this year Austrian media reported on cases of teenage girls of Bosnian origin who traveled to Syria to “marry” jihadists and then join the fight, after being radicalized by an imam at a Vienna mosque.