June 13, 2018
Muslim life during Ramadan in Europe is much the same as anywhere else on the planet. The sun rises, the sun sets; people fast, others don’t; prayers are extended, families spend more time with each other and charity is abundant.
But there remain, alas, periods of tension – and at the same time, periods of great creativity, positivity and optimism.
It was most unfortunate that this Ramadan the Austrian government declared it was closing down seven mosques, including several in Vienna itself. But it was perhaps not altogether surprising.
The current chancellor sits on the right wing of Austrian politics and has a vice chancellor who is from the far-right extremist Freedom Party, which declared the move at a press conference as “just the beginning”. It indicates how far populism has come in Europe and how we as Europeans have tolerated it in our societies.
It was only in the year 2000 that the European Union applied a series of sanctions on Austria, an EU member state, when the Freedom Party was admitted into an Austrian coalition government. The open justification for those sanctions was that such a coalition “legitimises the extreme right in Europe”. Today, the extreme right is not just legitimised but mainstreamed.
Austria is one of the few European states that has a recognised, institutional structure that manages the affairs of its Muslim population. Dating back several decades, it finds its legal origins in a law that is more than a century old. The official Islamic Religious Community of Austria appears to have been sidelined in this move, which was apparently predicated on accusations that imams had foreign funding, which is now against the law in Austria.
Be that as it may, it is rather unlikely that this has nothing to do with the populist rhetoric that brought both the right-wing chancellor and far right-wing vice chancellor to power in Austria. Anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia are not merely points of debate in Europe today – they are living, breathing realities that Muslim communities have to deal with daily.
But Ramadan in Europe is not all doom and gloom. In writing this piece, I spoke to Cambridge University academic Dr Timothy Winter, also known as Islamic scholar Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, who has often been invited to speak in Austria as a guest lecturer. He agreed with the concerns raised about the rise of populism – but he is focusing his own energies on building and constructing institutions that will hopefully outlast such a phenomenon.
The Cambridge Mosque, currently under construction, is set to become something of a historical landmark in the UK. Mr Winter, chairman of the trust building the mosque, also established the Cambridge Muslim College, an institution set up to to train Islamic scholars.
Source: The National