Austria's parliament passed a law on Wednesday that bans Muslim organizations from accepting financing from foreign sources and requires imams to be able to speak German.
The “Law on Islam” law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population. It was backed by Austria's Catholic bishops, and was accepted by the main Muslim organization.
"We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries," said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister.
Austria's previous "Law on Islam" dates from 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Passage of the law comes amid government estimates indicating about 200 people from Austria — including women and minors — have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
A poll published by the OGM institute on Tuesday found 58 percent of Austrians feeling "radicalization" of the nation's Muslims was underway but the two-year-old bill passed by parliament predates the recent violence in France and Denmark, Kurz said.
Earlier this month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls similarly raised the notion of banning foreign funding of Islamic organizations. Austria's neighbor, Germany, also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly protests, that have spread aross Europe. These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful Nazi Germany's persecution of Jews, who asserted that "Islam belongs to Germany."
Austria's half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.
Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that "with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years."
Austria's biggest Islamic organization accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.
Austria’s far-right Freedom Party criticized the bill as insufficient and dismissed it as a "placebo."
The legislation requires the nearly 450 Muslim organizations in Austria to demonstrate a "positive approach towards society and the state" in order to continue receiving official licensing.
Imams will be obliged to be able to speak German under the law — a bid to make their comments more accessible and transparent, while also facilitating the fuller integration of Islam into wider Austrian society.
"We want a future in which increasing numbers of imams have grown up in Austria speaking German, and can in that way serve as positive examples for young Muslims," Kurz said ahead of the vote.
The legislation accords Muslims the right to consult Islamic clerics on the staffs of hospitals, retirement homes, prisons and in the armed forces.
Muslims in Austria will also have the right to halal meals in those institutions as well as in public schools, and will be allowed time off work on Islamic holidays.
The adopted text scaled back farther-reaching measures contained in an earlier version, including the imposition of an "official" Koran in German that had sparked considerable controversy.