VIENNA – Austria's parliament adopted legislation on Wednesday amending laws on Muslim organisations to ban foreign sources of financing and require imams to be able to speak German.
The new law aims to promote what conservative Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz calls an "Islam of European character" by muting the influence of foreign Muslim nations and organisations, and offering Austrian Muslims a mix of increased rights and obligations in practising their faith in the central European country.
Austria's previous "law on Islam" dates from 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The two-year-old bill passed by parliament on Wednesday predates the recent jihadist violence in France and Denmark, but is designed to "clearly combat" the growing influence of radical Islam, Kurz said.
The new law will be carefully watched by other European countries facing the problem of spreading extremism.
Earlier this month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls similarly raised the notion of banning foreign funding of Islamic organisations. Kurz says officials in Germany and Switzerland have also expressed interest in the legislation.
Passage of the law comes amid estimates indicating around 200 people from Austria – including women and minors – have gone to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist militias like Islamic Front.
A poll published by the OGM institute on Tuesday found 58 per cent of Austrians feeling radicalisation of the nation's Muslims was underway.
To combat the rising risk of radical indoctrination of foreign origin, the legislation bans Islamic cultural organisations and imams in Austria from receiving funding from abroad.
It also requires the nearly 450 Muslim organisations in the country 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 explained ahead of the vote.
The legislation also 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 to skip 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.
Yet the legislation has still generated opposition.
Before its adoption Turkey's leading Muslim cleric, Mehmet Gormez, decried the bill as "a 100-year regression", arguing no complaints have ever been lodged about the fact that Turkey funds many imams in Austria.
The country's main Islamic group, the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria, approved the bill despite other organisations denouncing its restrictions as "discrimination" that other religions aren't saddled with.
Austria's far-right Freedom Party, meantime, criticised the bill as insufficient in facing a rising threat, and dismissed it as a "placebo".
Muslims make up roughly 560,000 of Austria's total population of 8.5 million. Mist Austrian Muslims are of Turkish and Bosnian origin, as well as ethnic Chechens and Iranians.— AFP