B Explanatory memorandum
by Ms Doris Fiala, rapporteur
1 Origin, scope and purpose of the report
The controversy triggered in
France by words spoken in a sermon by the imam of the Grand Mosque
in Toulouse, translated and posted online in June 2018 by the Middle
East Media Research Institute (MEMRI),Note
well illustrates the subject of this
The sermon, given in December 2017 by a Franco-Algerian imam,
Mr Mohammed Tataï, who had lived in Toulouse (France) for 30 years,
included an anti-Semitic hadith
Some French newspapers referred to the imam’s
“double language”, which they said encouraged radicalisation. Most
of the reports also mentioned that he preferred to preach in literary
Arabic rather than in French. Some journalists, on the other hand,
pointed out that the imam had previously officiated at the Grand
Mosque in Paris, that he was active in inter-faith dialogue and
that he was not considered “radical”, but rather “moderate”. In
addition, a supporter of his, Algeria’s Minister for Religious Affairs,
Mr Mohammed Aissa, is said to have spoken in Mr Tataï’s defence
in the Algerian media, saying that he was “a man who would not break
the laws of the country he lives in” and lashed out at the “extremist
media … which should cease their attacks on Islam”.Note
Lastly, several articles stressed
Mr Tataï’s close ties with the Algerian authorities, who, they pointed
out, had helped to fund the construction of the Grand Mosque in
However it may develop,Note
this case is marked by accusations
of radicalisation on the one hand, the denunciation of a certain
Islamophobia on the other, and the public intervention of foreign
authorities who appear to have helped to fund a Muslim place of
worship. All the ingredients of the current debate on foreign funding
of Islam in Europe are present here.
4. My interest in the question of religious funding is nothing
new. It is the logical result of a conclusion I came to some time
ago that the funding of religions is not always fully transparent.
I come from a country where a religion, when officially recognised,
has access to public funds through what we call the “Kirchensteuer” or church tax. Therefore
it is quite easy to find out how much money the public authorities
collect for allocation to the different religions. However, unlike
non-profit associations, which are subject to a series of obligations regarding
their accounts, there are no real constraints on religions as to
how they use their public funds. Yet large sums of money are at
5. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that this difference
of treatment gives rise to some suspicion, especially when certain
religions are involved in financial scandals, like the one the German
episcopate faced in 2013. It was obliged to be much more transparent
by making its assets public, which it had never done before. We
all know that lack of transparency can lead to questionable practices
and, in turn, to suspicion.
6. In view of the current security environment, foreign funding
of Islam has in recent years attracted particular attention and
the alleged lack of transparency opens the door to political speculations,
suspicion and fears, including the fear of possible misuse of such
funds for the purposes of radicalisation. Moreover, because Islam
in Europe is, on the whole, not funded on an equal footing with
the other religions, it can be perceived as being particularly vulnerable
to influence exerted by generous donors.
7. The purpose of the report is therefore to see to what extent
the foreign funding of Islam in Europe is or is not transparent.
If it is not transparent enough, to what extent does this lack of
transparency really allow the phenomenon of radicalisation to flourish?
And if this proportion is small while being real, how can one avoid, as
part of the financing of Islam, that an amalgam is made with all
the Muslim communities and that Islamophobic sentiments do not develop?
and terminology used
In order to measure the reality
of the link between foreign funding of Islam, radicalisation and Islamophobia,
I made two fact-finding visits. The first, to Vienna, focused on
the law on Islam enacted in 2015, which updated a text from the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, dated 1912, containing strong provisions
on the funding and organisation of Islam. The aim of the second
visit, to London, was to understand how the United Kingdom, usually
so reluctant to meddle in religious matters, dealt with potential
problems linked with the funding of Islamist extremist activities.
This was interesting because the United Kingdom and Austria have completely
different traditions when it comes to managing religious matters,
but both are home to large Muslim communities.Note
I also sent a detailed questionnaire to the parliaments in
Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland
and Turkey on the different legislation regulating the funding of
religions, as well as the figures on which the flows of funds could
shed some light.Note
These parliaments were selected
based on the size of the Muslim communities in the countries concerned
and how long they had been established there. Five of the seven
parliaments replied – all but the Bulgarian and Turkish parliaments.
10. Lastly, in connection with this report, the Committee on Political
Affairs and Democracy heard Mr Jean-Pierre Chevènement, a former
French Minister of the Interior and Religious Affairs, President
of the Foundation for Islam in France, who presented one of the
European models for the organisation of religions, that of a strict separation
between the latter and the public authorities, with all the consequences
this entailed for financing.
The Parliamentary Assembly, for its part, has on a number
of occasions called on the Council of Europe member States to combat
radicalisation and extremism.Note
At the same time, at its 125th session in Brussels on 19 May
2015, the Committee of Ministers adopted an Action Plan on “The
fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism” (CM(2015)74addfinal
). The Secretary General of the Council of Europe made
public its implementation in a final
published in April 2018.
While the Action Plan includes a wide range of measures, it
remains relatively silent on the definition of radicalisation. The
term “radicalisation” does not refer to a legal category but rather
to something in the realm of the social sciences, which explains
why there is no consensus as to its definition.Note
14. The experts do appear to agree, however, on the extremist
and totalitarian nature of radical ideas, and on the acceptance
of recourse to violence to put them into effect. Yet it is not always
certain that radicalised individuals will resort to violent action.
As far as funding is concerned, this leads me to broaden the
scope of this report to the movements and individuals who profess,
allegedly in the name of the Muslim religion, values incompatible
with the values shared by the Council of Europe’s member States,
namely those of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. As
our colleague Mr Mogens Jensen stated in 2010, in his report “Islam,
Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe” (Doc. 12266
), in paragraph 28: “Islamism, also called political
Islam, is an ideology which aims at getting political influence
in order to apply Islamic principles in the world. Muslims who think
that the precepts of Islam are not just a religious belief but should
be fundamental to the political and social order of society can be
called Islamists. Islamists believe that Islam guides all spheres
of life and therefore do not accept the separation of religion and
State. They attempt to reach their goal either through peaceful
indoctrination, propaganda and political struggle or by violent
methods such as assassination and terrorism.” Foreign funding promoting
this vision should not be allowed in Council of Europe member States.
16. I would add that the Action Plan of the Committee of Ministers
supports this view in point 2.1.1 of document CM(2015)74addfinal,
which advocates “[l]iving together as equals in culturally diverse
and democratic societies”. Organisations which oppose such living
together should not be allowed to receive foreign funding.
17. With regard to Islamophobia, Mr Jensen’s report emphasised
that this term was often used to describe prejudice or discrimination
against Islam and Muslims. But it was also rightly stated in paragraph
41 that “discrimination against Muslims in the fields of economic,
social and cultural integration might be based on a xenophobic rather
than a religious motive”, which seems to be true.
funding of Islam in Europe: a reality which is difficult to pin
down, but an undeniable political issue today
of global aggregated public data
18. The first line of research
consisted in trying to quantify the sources of funding of the main
religions in the seven States to which the questionnaire were sent.
The idea was to identify the share of foreign funding in all the
resources available to each religion and determine whether the various
Muslim faiths differed from other religions in that respect. In
addressing the funding of religions, I expected replies concerning
activities related to worship (construction of places of worship,
maintenance, remuneration of clerics, presence of chaplains in hospitals,
prisons or the armed forces, etc.), but I specifically asked the
parliaments to specify the exact scope of the funding.
19. In addition, the last question on the questionnaire concerned
activities unrelated to worship (the running of religious schools,
cultural, charitable and sporting activities, etc.).
20. The first thing the replies to the questionnaire made clear
was that there are no global aggregated public data that give a
clear and complete picture of the sources of funding of the different
religions and how the funding – public or private and, more to the
point here, domestic or foreign – is broken down.
21. There are a number of reasons for this. They include the lack
of any specific regulations on the funding of religions, as in the
United Kingdom. There is also the lack of any unified system or
approach to the matter in federal States (Switzerland, Germany).
In its reply to the questionnaire, the Swiss Parliament reported
that “in Switzerland there are 26 different ways of regulating relations
between the State and the religious communities. As a result, the
funding of these different communities is not completely clear”.
22. As to the question whether the national laws on the funding
of religion made any distinction between donations received from
domestic sources (legal entities or individuals) and those received
from legal entities or individuals abroad, including States (question
No. 7 on the questionnaire), all the respondent parliaments replied
in the negative.
23. In other words, as far as activities considered to be related
to worship are concerned, there is no statistical overview that
enables us to measure the scale of foreign funding available to
any particular religion, including the Muslim religion in its broadest
sense (Shiite, Sunnite and others).
24. This is even more noticeable in respect of activities not
directly related to worship.
That report was the first phase of what should have been a
three-phase task. However, in a plenary debate of the parliament
on 11 June 2015, the government recommended “not proceeding with
the subsequent phases because the Rand report had found that there
was insufficient information to be able to estimate the volume and
nature of foreign funding of Islamic institutions in the Netherlands”,
according to that parliament’s reply. The parliament followed the
27. Yet the lack of comprehensive data does not mean that foreign
funding of Islam is a non-subject. Its presence in the public debate
today proves the contrary.
undeniable topical issue
28. Three sets of facts prove that
this is the case:
publication of numerous reports
In addition to the 2015 Rand
report in the Netherlands, the Senate in France looked at local
authorities’ funding of places of worship in 2015,Note
in 2016 at foreign funding, as part of a study on the organisation, role
and funding of Islam and its places of worship in France.Note
30. In Belgium, the Chamber of Representatives examined the funding
of Islam as part of a study on the terrorist attacks perpetrated
in Belgium on 22 March 2016, and the question of funding by Middle
Eastern countries was addressed.
In Germany, a progress report (Zwischenbilanz
for the government on how the Gulf States exported their religion
was drafted in December 2016 by the two federal intelligence agencies,
the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst
and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz
This report was partly leaked to the press and appears to have dealt
in particular with the “long-term influence strategy” of these States
or their related organisations, with a focus on the financial aspect.Note
In the United Kingdom on 12 July 2017, the Home Secretary
presented to parliament the main findings of a report on the funding
of extremism, including foreign funding.Note
Also in the United Kingdom, a think
tank called the Henry Jackson Society, classified as neo-conservative
according to the reply I received from the House of Commons, published
an interesting study in 2017 entitled “Foreign funded Islamist extremism
in the UK”
33. Clearly, therefore, this issue is of considerable interest
to public authorities and opinion-makers.
of political announcements and debates
34. In France, former Prime Minister
Manuel Valls contemplated prohibiting the foreign funding of mosques “for
an unspecified period” following the terrorist attack in Nice on
14 July 2016, an announcement that has not yet been followed up
and which may not even be legal according to the French Parliament’s
reply to the questionnaire.
35. In Bulgaria, one of the countries with the largest (8% according
to the last census) and longest-standing Muslim minority in Europe,
after banning foreign funding of Islam became an issue in the presidential
and parliamentary elections of 2016 and 2017, the majority coalition
(GERB) and two opposition parties (PSB and DPC) agreed in May 2018
to pass a law modifying the Religious Denominations Act of 2002
to provide for State funding of the two majority religions (Orthodox
and Muslim) and, in exchange, prohibit foreign funding of all religions
without the prior approval of the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
This caused concern among the Catholic authorities. The reason given
for this change to the law was to combat radicalisation.
36. In Austria, heated debate surrounded the enactment of the
law on Islam (Islamgesetz)
in 2015, which prohibited the funding of religions for day-to-day
activities, but I will come back to that.
In Germany, following the enactment of the Islamgesetz
in Austria, the question
actually arose in the CDU whether the Austrian law should not be
used as a model. The Federal Government’s reply was that Germany
needed integration, not Islamgesetz
of a recent controversy
the different federal prosecution
authorities have conducted investigations following accusations
made by a former Austrian MP, Mr Peter Pilz, in February 2017, against practices
he described as espionage by certain organisations (such as the
Union of European Turkish Democrats) and, of relevance to our particular
subject, imams or religious leaders who allegedly abused their position
to take part in such activities.Note
imams included employees of the Diyanet, the Directorate of Religious
Affairs, which answers to the Turkish Government.
39. Clearly then, the question of foreign funding of Islam in
Europe is a sensitive issue which is on the political agenda.
funding of Islam in Europe: observations and criticisms
40. While it is difficult to know
the exact picture with regard to foreign funding of Islam in Europe,
the information gathered through sectoral studies, replies to the
questionnaire and to the two fact-finding visits enables certain
conclusions to be drawn.
41. The first is that in Sunni Islam, private donations are of
significant importance, in the form, for example, of voluntary offerings
(sadaqah), or the “purifying
charity” (zakat al-fitr) offered
at the end of the month of fasting.
If we take the example of the construction and maintenance
of mosques in France, a significant matter considering the financial
burden this type of activity represents for the community of worshippers,
the French Senate, in its report in 2016, estimated that the share
of foreign funding was marginal compared with the donations made
by the faithful and amounted to approximately 20% of the total cost.
In 2015, it reported: “Contrary to common belief, the funding of
Muslim places of worship in France by foreign States makes up only a
minority share of total funding, most of which comes from donations
made by the faithful, although these contributions are much more
difficult to supervise. State funding generally goes towards one-off,
large-scale projects and is officially declared to the French authorities;
in most cases it comes either from the countries of origin of the
faithful (mainly Algeria and Morocco) or from Turkey and the Gulf
Senate emphasises that offerings from the faithful in France are
more difficult to quantify than foreign funding, which in any event
only makes up a marginal fraction of the overall sources of funding.
43. This finding, which does not apply to all Muslim communities,
or to all member States, nevertheless brings to mind a second important factor:
foreign funding is by no means always the primary source of radicalisation.
On the contrary, in the United Kingdom for example, former
Home Secretary Ms Amber Rudd, in a written statement to parliament
in July 2017, presented the main findings of a report her department
had prepared on “The nature, scale and origin of the funding of
Islamist extremist activity in the UK, including any overseas sources”,
stressing the fact that:
The most common source of support for Islamist extremist organisations
in the UK is from small, anonymous public donations, with the majority
of these donations most likely coming from UK-based individuals.
- For a small number of organisations with which there are
extremism concerns, overseas funding is a significant source of
income. However, for the vast majority of extremist groups in the
UK, overseas funding is not a significant source.”Note
45. The extremist threat is therefore mainly funded by sources
inside the United Kingdom.
46. A third point is something I already mentioned in my introduction:
lack of transparency in the funding of Islam in certain countries
47. In its reply to the questionnaire, for example, the German
Parliament refers to statements made by an Islamologist based in
Germany in 2016 indicating that no systematic survey had been carried
out on foreign funding of Islam, that she had frequently heard rumours
of financial support from abroad but without further details and,
above all, that it was an issue people avoided addressing.
48. The subject should not be taboo, however, especially in countries
like Germany and Austria, where a church tax exists. In these countries,
representatives of Islam could apply for funding from the tax. Then
much of what the faithful contributed in the form of private offerings
could be collected by the public authorities and paid to the religions
concerned. The sums transferred in this manner, while not public
funds, would then be perfectly transparent, which they are not today.
49. I have given thought to this failure to use the church tax.
The German Parliament informed me that “most Muslim communities
are opposed to the State introducing a church tax because it would
be in contradiction with the image they have of themselves”.
50. I also spoke to the President of the IGGÖ, the main organisation
of the Muslim faith in Austria, who was very clear: while charity
is one of the five pillars of Islam and is therefore a duty of the
faithful, it must not be compulsory, as a church tax would be. He
did tell me, however, that as the 2015 Islamgesetz had
prohibited foreign funding the IGGÖ was now considering the possibility
of introducing a church tax for the Muslims it represented, although
I am unaware whether the idea has been followed up or abandoned.
the criticisms voiced about foreign funding of Islam
51. Foreign funding of Islam in
Europe, the organisation of which takes many different forms, generates three
main types of suspicion, of differing intensity.
funding and terrorism
The first concerns security
and is linked to terrorist activities and radicalisation. It is
claimed that foreign organisations, under the guise of funding for
religious or charitable activities, help set up support networks
on the territory of member States, as has been done by Daesh, either
to carry out attacks or to pay the travel expenses of potential
recruits to areas controlled by Daesh.Note
53. The problems raised by this type of funding are real but are
clearly identified, and member States generally have a range of
legislative measures and resources enabling them to track these
funds and punish any criminal behaviour.
54. At the request of the Council of the European Union, the European
Commission has moreover proposed a revision of the 4th Anti-Money
Laundering Directive (2015/849) adopted on 20 May 2015. The proposed amendments
are designed to address the possible threats linked to the use of
new technologies in financial transactions, strengthen and harmonise
checks on financial flows from high-risk third countries, increase transparency
and confer more powers on national financial intelligence units.
55. At Council of Europe level, the Committee of Experts on the
Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of
Terrorism (MONEYVAL), a permanent body whose task is to assess compliance
with the principal international standards to counter money laundering
and the financing of terrorism, has launched a “Terrorist Funding
56. It is clear that this no longer concerns the funding of Islam,
however, but rather the funding of terrorism.
instrumentalisation of religion
57. The second criticism of foreign
funding one frequently hears today is the use of religion by States
for political purposes, as a means of exerting influence in a foreign
Very clearly, the States criticised are those such as Turkey,
primarily with regard to the Diyanet, Iran in the United KingdomNote
and, for a large
number of member States, the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, Qatar,
the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, acting either directly as States,
which is rare, or through mixed organisations or foundations of
59. In this list, Turkey occupies a special place. The Diyanet
sees Islam as one of the features of the identity of Turkish citizens
living abroad or European citizens of Turkish origin and, as such,
part of a political strategy based on a mixture of religious beliefs
and national pride, which some observers have called Islamo-nationalism.
Thus, even if the Diyanet trains, sends and pays the salaries of
imams in mosques controlled by its local branches, like the ATIB
in Austria or the DITIB In Germany, their goal is by no means messianic.
By contrast, the Gulf countries finance organisations which
the German intelligence services, in a progress report, have claimed
are pursuing a “long-term influence strategy”, promoting the “exportation
of their religion” and engaging in the creation of Salafist networks
in Europe with a “missionary” role.Note
There is abundant literature on these countries in which the
names of the following organisations regularly appear: the Sheikh
Eid Charity Foundation, the Qatar Charity, Al-Muntada Trust, based
in Qatar, the World Islamic League (LIM) and the International Islamic
Relief Organisation (IIRO), founded by the LIM, the World Assembly
of Muslim Youth (WAMY), based in Saudi Arabia and the Revival of
Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), based in Kuwait. To differing degrees,
all these organisations have been criticised because of the opacity
of some of their activities, be it building mosquesNote
religious schools, sending imams, supplying books or doing charity
work. Some have been accused of funding not only Salafist groups
but also terrorists.
Some of the Gulf countries under suspicion are believed in
recent years to have increased their supervision of private donations
collected on their territory for use abroad, especially the zakat
In addition, Qatar’s Minister
of Finance, Mr Ali Sharif al-Emadi, stated on the occasion of the
international conference in Paris against the funding of terrorism
in April 2018 that any aid project of a Qatari non-governmental organisation
(NGO) would henceforth require the authorisation of the country
for which it was intended, and also that all NGOs would have to
transfer their donations through the Red Crescent, which is under
the control of the Qatari State.Note
In spite of my research, I have been unable to establish precisely
what measures might have been taken. The subject is worth exploring.
At the same time, one might legitimately wonder if a country like
Saudi Arabia can easily abandon its strategy of exporting a vision
of Islam, Wahhabism, which is a form of Islamism, when its budget
for promoting it abroad is purported to have increased from 2 to
4 billion dollars between 2007 and 2015.Note
the other hand, the Kingdom’s current policy of openness, including
in religious matters, might be a sign of change.
64. As regards foreign State or parastatal funding, the debate
is relatively clear-cut and it is up to member States to differentiate
between what is quite naturally a conventional strategy of influence,
acceptable to a greater or lesser degree, what relates to espionage
activities and what contributes to the development of radicalisation
challenge to the idea of living together
65. Over and above the activities
financed or the origin of the funding, the main issue at stake is
the social cohesion, the “living together”, which political Islamism
66. Noting that our legal systems differed widely in their organisation
of the various religions, our colleague and former President, Ms Anne
Brasseur, emphasised at the hearing of the former French Minister
of the Interior and of Religious Affairs, Mr Jean-Pierre Chevènement,
before the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy that our
“Bible”, where rights and freedoms were concerned, was the European
Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5), which reflects the values
we share and is the foundation on which our living together rests.
67. In his report on “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe”,
mentioned earlier, Mr Mogens Jensen said precisely that in paragraph
74: “Europe’s values – human rights, democracy and the rule of law
– ensure peaceful cohabitation” and we should “reject the establishment
of a parallel society”.
68. Here my feeling is that Council of Europe member States should
be able to put a stop to foreign funding which helps to spread ideas
clearly at odds with the European Convention on Human Rights, even
though it may not necessarily lead to radicalisation or fuel unlawful
behaviour such as hate speech.
This is the case, for example, when the aim and indeed the
effect of the funding is to discourage the integration of Muslim
communities in the countries they live in and encourage them to
keep to themselves. One example of this is the analysis made by
Spain’s intelligence service, the CNI, in 2011, regarding the funding
of the construction of two mosques in Reus and Torredembarra in
Catalonia, by the Kuwaiti organisation RIHS. The CNI reported that
“the interpretation of the religion disseminated there was anti-integration
into Spanish society, encouraging separation and hate towards non-Muslim communities”.Note
Member States should also be able to put a stop to attempts
to indoctrinate the youth made by instrumentalising religion. This
seems to have been the case in Austria in a kindergarden in Vienna
where a structure linked to Diyanet insisted in its pedagogical
project on “Turkishness” and the religion.Note
The challenge to living together can, of course, arise when
Muslim communities become the theatre of confrontations between
outside powers who export their conflicts or their politico-religious
tensions. That is the case in certain Balkan countries where Turkey’s
Diyanet has been present since 2001 and where it clashed with the
Gülenists after the attempted coup against President Erdoğan. Certain
pro- or anti-Muslim Brotherhood Gulf States also export their differences
there, by funding mosques and sending imams.Note
of action taken in respect of foreign funding of religions
72. Depending on the situation
they are faced with and how relations between public authorities
and religions are organised, member States have adopted fairly different
approaches to the foreign funding as is shown in the following three
73. Federal Law No. 341-FZ of 28
November 2015 amended Federal Law No. 125-FZ of 26 September 1997 on
freedom of conscience and religious associations. It introduced
two types of provisions.
74. First it required religious associations receiving funds from
abroad to make fuller declarations (new section 25). Now those associations
must present accounts which separate funds received from abroad
and explain what they are used for. They are also required to submit
an annual report to the federal authority responsible for their
registration, describing their activities, the membership of their
decision-making bodies, the purpose of the expenditure or the use
made of the funds received. They must also post this report on line.
75. The second important provision (section 1.2.b.4 of the amendment) authorises
the federal registration authorities to require them to submit documents,
and also to carry out inspections without prior notification. In both
cases, this possibility concerns religious associations which receive
foreign funds or in respect of which there are signs of extremist
or unlawful activities.
76. This law was a cause of concern for most religions, except
the Orthodox Church, which seemed to be the only one not affected
by it. The association of foreign funding and “signs of extremist
activity”, on the other hand, was interpreted as a sign that the
Russian authorities were targeting Muslim communities.
Although the federal law on “foreign agents” does not affect
religious associations, the 2015 law was seen as part of the current
climate of clampdowns on any independent public activity. Furthermore,
the mention of “signs of extremist activity” is a direct reference
to the federal legislation on extremist activities, namely terrorism.
And that law was criticised by the Human Rights Committee in 2015,
on the occasion of the 7th periodic report on the implementation
by the Russian Federation of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights. On that occasion, the Committee called on
the Russian Federation to clarify its definition of “extremist activity”,
which did not require any presence of violence or hatredNote
and was vague and open-ended.
passed in 2015, updated a law of
the Austro-Hungarian Empire dating from 1912 regulating relations
between the authorities and Muslim communities. The 2015 Act defines
the rights and duties of “the Islamic religious community in Austria”
and “the Alevi community in Austria”.
79. According to the Austrian authorities, there are between 500 000
and 700 000 Muslims in Austria, half of whom have Austrian nationality.
That is approximately 8% of the country’s 8.7 million population,
making it proportionally one of the largest Muslim communities in
80. Austria has a system of acknowledgment of the different religions
(15 in all), with which its relations are organised either by a
specific text, as in the case of Islam, or based on a general text
dating from 1874.
81. The 2015 Act originated in a proposal made by the Expert Council
for Integration, an independent body, in its 2011 annual report
on integration. Noting the importance of religions in the integration
process, the Council had identified a gulf between the immigrant
populations practising traditional Islam and the rest of the population,
explained that this gulf was caused more by cultural differences
than by religious differences and considered that it was for the
public authorities to help familiarise the Islamic community with
the Austrian way of life.
According to the Council, the important thing was to reaffirm
the benefits of living together within a framework of immutable
The desired effect
was to help rid the population of its fears, prejudices and concerns.
To achieve this, the Council recommended setting up a forum for
dialogue, along the lines of the Islamkonferenz
in Germany in 2006.
83. In 2012, a Dialogforum Islam was
established in Austria, made up of seven working groups composed of
experts from different backgrounds. It presented a report in 2013
with several recommendations, including for amendments to the Islamgesetz, which would be enacted
two years later.
84. One of the aims of this text was to foster an “Austrian Islam”
on a “give-and-take” basis.
85. On the one hand, the Islamic religious community would be
given full recognition (authorisation to manufacture products in
compliance with Islamic rules, provision for Muslim dietary requirements
in the army, prisons, hospitals, public teaching establishments,
etc.). In addition, a faculty of Muslim theology was established
in the public University of Vienna, with six teaching/research posts,
which in addition to conducting research would train imams and teachers
of Muslim religion in public and private teaching establishments (infant
schools and lower and upper secondary schools).
86. In exchange, the religious organisation with legal capacity
to represent the Islamic community was required to renounce foreign
funding for “everyday religious activities” (paragraph 6.2 of the
Act) and to provide for its own financial independence. This was
an attempt by the Austrian authorities to reduce the influence which
ATIB, the local branch of the Diyanet in Austria, had acquired by
sending imams trained in Turkey and paying their salaries and the
overheads of the mosques they administered.
87. The Islamgesetz was
passed by the majority at the time – conservatives of the ÖVP and
social democrats of the SPÖ. Although it came under criticism during
the parliamentary debates, it is important to note that the ban
on foreign funding was generally well received, the main criticisms
voiced against it being that it did not go far enough, or that it
should have been applied to all religions.
88. In this connection I identified three types of criticism during
my fact-finding mission to Vienna.
89. One concerns the effect produced both by the debate in 2015
and by certain provisions of the law: a general feeling of suspicion
towards Muslims. While section 2.2 of the Act stipulates that religious
communities and their members cannot put their religious laws above
Austrian law, no such condition is found in any text regulating
relations between the Austrian State and other religions, so it
is not hard to understand why this affirmation, inoffensive in itself,
might upset a member of the faith. A representative of the Austrian
authorities explained that this principle was already included in
the law of 1912, but that is not a satisfactory response because
when updating the law the authorities could quite easily have deleted
that provision, which is of no real legal consequence. The same
criticism was voiced concerning section 6.1 of the Act, which requires
the application file for the creation of a Muslim religious society
to include, amongst other things, a presentation of the doctrine
and the founding texts of that religion, something none of the other
religions officially authorised in Austria are required to do.
90. The second criticism flows from the first and also concerns
the prohibition of foreign funding: differential treatment. Sections
2.2 and 6.1 of the Act already imposed obligations that concerned
only the Muslim faith. The same applies to the ban on foreign funding,
regarding which the Green group in the Austrian Parliament rightly
remarked that it should apply to all religions. What justification
can there possibly be for allowing the Mormon or Greek Orthodox
congregations in Austria to continue to receive foreign funding
when Muslims are not allowed to?
91. The third and last criticism specifically concerns this ban.
The Act does allow for some foreign funding of the Muslim faith,
but only by “foundations” (Stiftung),
without clearly explaining the rules applicable to them. As a result,
some critics considered either that the law was easy to circumvent,
or that the law did not make it clear enough exactly what type of
foreign funding it was really meant to prohibit.
In June 2018, following a scandal in a Viennese mosque run
by the Grey Wolves, an extreme right-wing Turkish organisation,
the Austrian Government appears to have made use of the 2015 Act
for the first time to close seven mosques and send some 40 ATIB
93. In a country where the State
is reluctant to interfere in religious affairs and there are no
special regulations governing the funding of religions, the British
authorities have stuck to their traditions. After the statement
presented by the Home Secretary (see paragraph 44), the Charity
Commission introduced stricter rules on the transparency of “charities”,
which provide the framework for the organisation of religions in
the United Kingdom, with a fairly flexible status.
94. The measure exclusively concerned the imposition of new obligations
in respect of the annual reports published by charities. Starting
in 2019 they will all have to list the countries from which they
receive donations and exactly where each donation comes from (government,
paragovernmental body, association, NGO, civil society organisation).
In addition, those with an annual income of more than GBP 25 000
will have to state the total value of the donations made by individuals
and institutional donors outside the United Kingdom. Charities with
annual revenues of less than GBP 25 000 will have to mention these
donations if they make up over 80% of their annual income. Another
piece of information that will have to be included in the annual
report is the use of informal money transfer schemes located outside
the United Kingdom, such as cash couriers and hawala networks,
which are traditional informal means of payment.
95. The only criticism I was able to identify is that of Bond
UK, an organisation which presents itself as a network of civil
society bodies working in international development and has links
with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They say that by focusing
on foreign funding the United Kingdom is sending the wrong signal
to authoritarian States which use the same means to monitor and
obstruct the work done by NGOs which depend on outside funding.
Personally, I make a distinction between requiring greater transparency
and restricting freedom of association. In this case, we are far
from the latter in my opinion.
96. In parallel with these limited measures, the United Kingdom
is focusing its efforts on the issues of education and living together.
From 2014 onwards, for example, in the wake of what was known
as the “Trojan Horse” case in schools in Birmingham, where forms
of entryism fostering an ultra-rigorous vision of Islam seemed to
be developing, a policy to prevent extremism in English schools
was introduced. Ofsted, the educational standards authority, began
to promote respect for “fundamental British values” in order to
ensure that the teaching dispensed in schools financed with public
funds and in certain “independent” schools which received no public
financial support did not foster religious extremism. Ofsted’s Director,
Ms Amanda Spielman, whose positions on the matter are rather unambiguous,
told Church of England representatives that “rather than adopting
a passive liberalism that says anything goes, for fear of causing
offence, schools leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism”,
which meant “not assuming that the most conservative voices in a
particular faith speak for everyone”.Note
In addition, on the issue of the Sharia councils,Note
councils which take decisions mainly on family matters under Islamic
law but have no regulatory powers, the government called for an
investigation into how they function and is examining two of the
three recommendations submitted to it.Note
restriction on foreign funding of religions must comply with the
framework laid down by the Council of Europe
99. Whatever measures member States
may take or consider taking to regulate foreign funding of religions, they
are bound by a framework of legal and moral standards.
requirements to be met according to the European Court of Human
Rights and the Venice Commission
Freedom of religion is protected
by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights,Note
the second paragraph of which
reads: “Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject
only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary
in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection
of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the
rights and freedoms of others.”
101. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission
for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) have explained the
scope of these restrictions and the margin of appreciation open
to member States.
The Court has established the general principle that “the
autonomous existence of religious communities is indispensable for
pluralism in a democratic society”,Note
acknowledging that there is no common European standard governing
the financing of churches or religions, such questions being closely
related to the history and traditions of each country, so that “the
margin of appreciation left to Contracting States in this regard
is thus a wide one”.Note
Based on this principle of autonomy, the Venice Commission
has considered that in terms of the financial aspects of religious
autonomy, “the right to ask and receive voluntary donations is inherent
to religious activities”.Note
It has also declared that while States have legitimate reasons
for regulating fund transfers of various types, provisions that
discriminate against religious groups on religious grounds should
not be permitted.Note
Furthermore, any regulation
of such transfers must be “proportionate”.Note
Having established that “a blanket prohibition on all foreign
funding (especially by foreign natural persons) is arguably unreasonable,
and ‘not necessary in a democratic society’”,Note
might have suggested that greater tolerance applied to bans on funding
by a foreign State or legal entity, the Venice Commission had occasion
to reiterate that principle in 2018 with regard to the funding of
religious organisations by “their spiritual centres located outside
of the territory”.Note
framework laid down by the Parliamentary Assembly
This framework is established
mainly in Resolution
on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe.Note
In it we reconcile supervision and
freedom of religion by clearly stating four principles:
- “Muslims are at home in Europe,
where they have been present for many centuries, as the Assembly noted
in its Recommendation
1162 (1991) on the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to European culture.”
(paragraph 3 of the Resolution);
- “The Assembly notes with concern … that some Islamic organisations
active in member States have been initiated by governments abroad
and receive financial support and political guidance from those governments.
…) National political expansion into other States under the disguise
of Islam should be brought to light. … member States should require
transparency and accountability of Islamic as well as other religious
associations, for instance by requiring transparency of their statutory
objectives, leadership, membership and financial
resources.” (italics added) (paragraph 7);
- “The Assembly also remains concerned at policies and practices
… that discriminate against Muslims and at the danger of the abuse
of popular votes, initiatives and referenda to legitimise restrictions
on the rights to freedom of religion and expression which are unacceptable
under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention.” (paragraph 13);
- “Stereotypes, misunderstandings and fears with regard
to Islam are typical symptoms of a widespread lack of adequate knowledge
among non-Muslims in Europe.” (paragraph 20).
These conclusions are confirmed by the report on “Freedom
of religion and living together in a democratic society”,Note
by Resolution 2076 (2015)
108. As a result of my research,
I have acquired the following convictions.
109. In order to dedramatise the debate we politicians must first
reaffirm that not all foreign funding of Islam is a problem per
se and that it can, on the contrary, contribute to inter-faith dialogue
or religious openness. We must also remember that, in certain countries,
foreign funding makes up only a small fraction of the resources of
the Muslim faiths, most of which stem from private donations.
110. Furthermore, the diversity of situations in member States
reveals that for some the danger of extremism is mainly endogenous;
others are faced with what they perceive as interference by foreign
agents in the religious freedom of their residents.
111. The use of religion by certain States as a means of exerting
influence in a foreign country is clearly problematic. In this respect,
it is essential that Council of Europe member States should be able
to put an end to any foreign funding of Islam which is used for
the purpose of national political expansion into other States under
the guise of Islam. They should also be able to reject all attempts
at interference in their territory by foreign organisations which
aim to put in place a parallel society, and not allow foreign funding
to reach any organisations which undermine human rights and dignity
and oppose living together as guaranteed by the principles of human
rights, democracy and the rule of law. In particular, any foreign
attempt to indoctrinate the youth must be prevented.
112. For the rest, the increased transparency in foreign funding
of Islam, which the Assembly has been calling for since 2010, can
only be a good thing. It could be achieved, for example, through
annual financial reports clearly identifying the origin of any foreign
funding and how it is used and should cover funding received through informal
transfer systems, such as money brokers or hawala networks.
The transparency requirements should not however contribute to the
restriction of freedoms and should effectively concern all religions
equally. The British example is extremely instructive in this regard.
Especially as it concerns formal as well as informal sources of
113. Also on the subject of transparency, in addition to any standards
member States may impose, they would be well advised to encourage
believers who donate to organisations with activities abroad to
find out more about the organisations they are donating to, and
also to encourage organisations which receive foreign funding to
find out more about the people behind those donations. A joint effort
with the religious communities on this subject would be welcome,
like the one I was able to observe with the London Central Mosque
Trust and the Islamic Cultural Centre.
114. When regulations with drastic effects are put into force,
as was the case in Austria, it is important, in addition to respecting
the framework laid down by the Council of Europe, to prepare those
regulations by means of a broad consultation, with clearly defined
objectives, as did the Expert Council and the Dialogforum. It
is also essential to ensure that the regulations concerned are not
instrumentalised for political purposes but shaped, to use the expression
Mr Chevènement used before our committee, by the desire to make
Muslim citizens citizens like any other, who enjoy the same rights,
in religious matters as in public life. Indeed, that was exactly
what Austria’s Expert Council said.
115. Whatever reservations one may have about an Austrian-style
reform, one should not underestimate the positive aspects of some
of its collateral effects. Firstly, the Islamgesetz considerably
increased the role of the IGGÖ religious authority as a speaking
partner of the Austrian authorities by strengthening its influence
over the religious associations and communities affiliated to it.
It is a well-known fact that the mosaic of Islam has always been
a challenge to the efforts of public authorities to organise it.
116. The Islamgesetz could
also “normalise” the funding of Austria’s Islamic religious community,
for as I have already said, the IGGÖ is contemplating applying for
support from the church tax. Hopefully, funding which makes transparent
donations which were previously private and invisible and which
works in the same way as that of other religions would help to allay
suspicions. Interestingly, other member States have undertaken this normalisation
of the funding of the Muslim religion, such as Italy, which in February
2017, following the signature of a national pact for an Italian
Islam between the government and organisations representing the Muslim
community, decided to allow Muslim Italian citizens to use the 8
per 1 000 system, that is, to voluntarily donate 8 thousandths of
their income to their religious community, as other believers do.
117. Another significant trend, which the Austrian example also
illustrates, is the growing awareness in member States that training
imams on European soil is a high-stakes issue. It is no doubt in
this area that the regulation of the funding of Islam is most pertinent.
Again, as Mr Chevènement said, the appropriate response to the rudimentary
and literalist Salafist theology which cultivates the breeding ground
from which terrorist acts can grow is to promote an enlightened
118. This requires substantial means, as shown by the Islamgesetz. But it is one of the
best ways of catering for the needs of the Muslim community and
making sure they do not use imams trained abroad whose vision of
Islam is not compatible with the values of the European Convention
on Human Rights or the societies in which Muslims live. Any project
to open faculties of theology to promote a European Islam is worth encouraging,
such as that of the Foundation for Islam in France, which intends
to open one at the University of Strasbourg, in partnership with
the University of Tübingen.
I should like to conclude with the results of two recent European
studies on the place of Muslims in Europe – one by the European
Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, of July 2017,Note
and the other by the Bertelsmann
Foundation, of August 2017.Note
These two studies show four things.
120. Firstly, that Muslims in the European countries concerned
feel a strong attachment to the countries they live in, with a level
of confidence in their democratic institutions higher than that
found in the general population. At the same time, they maintain
strong ties with their countries of origin or those of their ascendants.
Thirdly, the Muslims interviewed are more religious than other communities.
And finally, discrimination against them remains high and they form
one of the most rejected social groups.
121. In other words, integration does seem to have progressed over
the last fifteen years, but the specific identity of Muslim citizens
and residents remains, as does the Islamophobia of which they are
victims. It is for member States to take that specific identity
into account, including the needs of Muslim citizens in terms of practising
their religious freedom, and therefore of funding, and to combat
Islamophobia. We all know that while foreign funding can facilitate
radicalisation, Islamophobia is without a doubt one of its breeding