Austrian government officials have sharply criticized a recommendation by the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGO) that Muslim women start wearing a headscarf from the onset of puberty, describing it as an attack on integration and women’s freedom.
“As an integration minister, I have to say clearly: we reject an obligation to [wear] the headscarf,” Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, told the daily newspaper Österreich on Sunday. “I urge the IGGO to say whether the recommendation will remain on their website.”
“Such a position is an attack on the freedom and self-determination of women. I reject [headscarves] deeply,” added Secretary of State Muna Duzdar, who is of Palestinian origin and describes herself as a non-practicing Muslim.
“It is unacceptable that women and girls are restricted in their freedom and men want to dictate to them how to live and how to dress.”
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far-right Freedom Party, took the opportunity to blast both Islamic tenets and Austria’s secular law alike.
“Both the Islamic law and the proposed integration law are toothless,” said Strache, as quoted by the Austria Press Agency.
“The current debate around the headscarf bid published recently by IGGO on its website shows the lines between the alleged integration efforts of the federal government and the intentions of the representatives of the Islamic faith community who refuse to integrate.”
The criticism comes in response to a ruling made by the IGGO’s Advisory Council in February. “For female Muslims coming to the age of puberty, the covering of the body, with the exception of the face, the hands, and the feet of some lawyers, is a religious command, and thus part of the practice of faith,” Mufti Mustafa Mullaoglu said in a fatwa, or religious announcement.
However, the ruling also “advocates and underscores the personal freedom of the individual woman to choose different views in her religious practice” and states that “women and men who do not adhere to the religious attitudes cannot be devalued by others.” The ruling also encourages Muslim women to abide by “local tradition” and avoid wearing the full-face veil.
Representatives of the IGGO have responded that the mufti only made a recommendation and that the final choice rests with the woman, decrying what it called political interference in religious matters.
Austria has recently passed a law banning full-face veils in courts, schools and other “public places” as part of an “integration law” in February. The controversial legislation has sparked heated debates and protest marches, as opponents see it as a “sexist” and “anti-Muslim” measure, which violates women’s and general human rights.
Apart from the ban on Islamic face veils, the “integration law” includes mandatory attendance at German language lessons and “value courses” for all refugees and migrants arriving in Austria. Those who refuse to do so would see their social benefits cut.