Austria debates democratic credentials of its Islam teachers

February 5, 2009

Austrian politicians and media are in uproar over a recent survey that said a fifth of all Islamic religious education teachers here hold anti-democratic views.

In the survey of 210 teachers, conducted as part of a PhD thesis, 21.9 percent agreed with the following statement: “I oppose democracy because it is not compatible with Islam.”

The public debate has worn on without asking a few crucial questions, such as how representative these findings are, how thorough the survey was and whether the questions steered the answers.

(Photo: A Muslim woman and a far-right election poster saying “Now it’s about us Austrians” in Vienna, 18 Sept 2008/Dominic Ebenbichler)

Instead, only days after the survey appeared in the weekly magazine Falter, the education ministry unveiled a five-point programme to be implemented by the Islamic Community overseeing the teaching of Islam.

Children in Austria can choose to study their own religion at school. Lessons are funded by the state and, until now, teachers were not required to have any formal education. Now, among other measures, Islamic religion teachers will have to sign a contract stating their adherence to democracy, human rights and the Austrian constitution.

“No teacher- in any subject, and of any religion — should express undemocratic opinions in Austria’s schools or disdain our constitution,” said Education Minister Claudia Schmied of the Social Democrats.

Members of Austria’s far right Freedom Party, which scored 17.5 percent in the Sept. 2008 elections, extrapolated the findings to the Muslim community at large. “For years, (politicians) have looked away and acted as if there were no problems with the integration of Muslims,” they said. “It is high time that the Social Democrats wake up out of their multicultural dreams.”

The author of the survey, Islam expert Mouhanad Khorchide, 37, said he had feared his findings could be misused by the far-right and Austria’s estimated 400,000 Muslims. The Palestinian-born Austrian citizen  held back from publishing them until after the elections, in which the far right nevertheless garnered a record 28 percent of the vote.

(Photo: Muslims protesters pray outside Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, 10 Feb 2006/stringer)

Khorchide said those saying Islam was incompatible with democracy were often older Islamic religion teachers, many of whom came from countries in the Middle East without established democratic traditions.

In a previous survey in 2007, he found that 97 percent young Muslims between 16-26 years of age in Austria felt that democracy and Islam were compatible. “This shows there is a change in attitude over the generations, younger people think differently, which is actually positive” he said.

Austria’s Greens party has criticised the government for not extending their new plan to teachers of other religions. A question like that raises another one, i.e. how many Austrians overall are dissatisfied with democracy and national institutions if so many vote for far-right parties?

Former British diplomat Henry Hogger was in Vienna this week to discuss two recent Gallup polls debunking some common misconceptions about Muslim communities. One main finding was that the generally higher religiosity of Muslims did not imply a weaker sense of national identity.  On the contrary, about two-thirds of Muslims in London said they had confidence in the British government, for example, compared with just 36% of the British public overall.

Hogger pointed out that the formulation of the statement in the survey of Austria’s Islamic teachers could have been misleading — arguably, it already suggests that Islam is not compatible with democracy, something many Muslims might disagree with.


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I agree that Islam is compatible with democracy for even here in the Philippine, The Moro Islamic Liberation Front wants to establish a Bangsamoro State. Christians in Mindanao are hated by them and the group Abu Sayyaf had beheaded or murdered several Catholic Missionaries already.

But of course there is an exception to this. Some Professional Muslims can live very well in a democratic society devoid of any desire to Islamize the country. But that is only an exception

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

Are you kidding me???? Are you blind???
Islam will never be compatible with democracy. Do you see any democracy in every islamic country? Can you tell me there’s is democracy in Saudia Arabis,or Iran, etc. Look at Pakistanis, they’re trying to adopt democracy, but failed.
If you study in depth about islam, you will find that Islam is not compatible with democracy. So, when are going to wake up from your ignorance and learn??? Do you want to wait till Islam dominate the wolrd and persecute you??? Islamophobia is a myth but islamic threat is real.
ALI SINA (of Faith Freedom International)should educate you more about the nature about Islam.

Posted by Ahmed | Report as abusive

Sorry, “Ahmed”, but I’m not sure what you are asking.

If your question is whether there is democracy in “every” Islamic country, the answer is no.
But then again, in the most Christian state on earth (the Vatican), there is no democracy either.

If your question is whether there is democracy in *any* Islamic country, the answer is yes: Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim-majority population in the world (!!!) has been a stable democracy for a decade.

Maybe you should get some of the education you so kindly encouraged the first commenter to obtain.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos.Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won’t feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith.
Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities. There is a belief among ethnic minority parens that the British schooling does not adequatly address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response.

State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslims have the right to educate their children in an environment that suits their culture. This notion of “integration”, actually means “assimilation”, by which people generally really mean “be more like me”. That is not multiculturalism. In Sydney, Muslims were refused to build a Muslim school, because of a protest by the residents. Yet a year later, permission was given for the building of a Catholic school and no protests from the residents. This clrearly shows the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and racism. Christians oppose Muslim schools in western countries yet build their own religious schools.

British schooling and the British society is the home of institutional racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop
self-confidence and self-esteem, therefore, majority of them leave schools with low grades. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. Every native child is born with a gene or virus of racism, therefore, no law could change the attitudes of racism towards those who are different. It is not only the common man, even member of the royal family is involved in racism. The father of a Pakistani office cadet who was called a “Paki” by Prince Harry
has profoundly condemned his actions. He had felt proud when he met the Queen and the Prince of Wales at his son’s passing out parade at Sandhurst in 2006 but now felt upset after learning about the Prince’s comments. Queen Victoria invited an Imam from India to teach her Urdu language. He was highly respected by the Queen but other members of the royal family had no respect for him. He was forced to go back to India. His protrait is still in one of the royal places.

There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.
Iftikhar Ahmad

Posted by Iftikhar Ahmad | Report as abusive

If your question is whether there is democracy in *any* Islamic country, the answer is yes: Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim-majority population in the world (!!!) has been a stable democracy for a decade

Posted by Academy | Report as abusive