SHAFAQNA – Across the street from Vienna’s iconic Ferris wheel, the Schura Mosque is packed each Friday with Muslims who come to pray.
It’s one of some 300 mosques and prayer rooms serving 700,000 Muslims who live in Austria and who’ve enjoyed the same rights as Christians and Jews since Islam was made an official religion there in 1912.
A few mosques, like Vienna’s Islamic Center, even have a minaret. But they are silent these days, a metaphor of sorts for the low profile many Muslims are keeping because they no longer feel welcome in Austria. One of the worshipers at Schura Mosque on a recent Friday was Viennese Councilman Omar al-Rawi. He said Muslim asylum-seekers are especially afraid to enter mosques nowadays.
“They say, ‘We won’t go to pray because maybe they will think we are radicals so it’s better not to pray'” until their refugee status is approved, he explains.
Much of the Muslim discomfort in Austria is linked to its new government that was sworn on Dec. 18. One of its factions is the far-right Freedom Party, which has Nazi roots and which has joined its bigger partner — the center-right People’s Party — in taking a hard line against Muslims. Critics charge that even before they took office, these parties changed the political discourse in Austria by playing on people’s fears. A majority of voters embraced their message of keeping Austria safe from terror attacks carried out by Muslim extremists elsewhere in Europe, as well as curbing asylum and immigration.
“These factors stir up uneasiness and fears and makes the Muslim to be seen as ‘the other,'” says Carla Amina Baghajati, 51, who is spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. That “other,” she adds, is perceived as a threat to the Austrian norms.