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Islam in Slovakia

Berlin Congress on July 18, 1878 granted to the Austro-Hungarian army the administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Novozapar sandzak. Mentioned territories still remained part of the Ottoman Empire, but now only formally. However, they still retained their own legislative regulation.
Austro-Hungary attempted to recruit soldiers also from the occupied territories, notwithstanding international protests and revolt in Herzegovina. (1882). Hence, for the first time on the territory of the Habsburg Empire, there appears greater numbers of Muslims – recruits from the occupied territories. Ministry of War, however, needs to have loyal soldiers serving under the Emperor’s and Royal military forces. The same benevolent way it had behaved toward religious convictions of soldiers of the Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish faiths, who, in the last decades of the 19th century already had their own war chaplains, was now employed toward Muslims, despite that fact that unlike the earlier-mentioned religions, they still did not represent a society recognized by the State (outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Formation of their own military units pointed to special privileges enjoyed by Muslims throughout the whole of the Habsburg monarchy. In 1896, they were reorganised and concentrated into four “c” and “k” Muslim regiments. For special Muslim military units, the Ministry would create a number of regulations within its internal policies, regarding eating, taking an oath, use of hygienic facilities, and funerals. List of teachers at the Military School for Cadets in Vienna from 1901 also includes the name of military imam.

Recognition of religious society of Islam by the State followed shortly after Bosnia and Herzegovina had been annexed by Austro-Hungary in 1908. Due to a host of exceptional specifics (polygamous marriage), this society was not recognised by an administrative act pursuant to Act No. 68/1874, but directly by law. After all, law had been used in recent major regulations to legal relations of the Protestant Lutherans and Calvinists (emp. pat. No. 41/1861) and Jews (act no. 57/1890).
Islamic religious society of the hanafi tradition (i.e. tradition prevalent in the Balkan countries) was recognised by Act No. 159/1912 for the Kingdoms and lands represented at the Reich Council (Cisleithania), and by legal article XVII/1916 recognised for Hungary. Act No. 159, approved on July 15, 1912, which “recognises adherents of Islam of the hanafi tradition as religious society”, states in its art. I, § 1 (verbatim quotation): “Let outside legal relations of the Islam adherents be regulated by imperative way on the basis of self-governance and self-identification, yet with preserved supervision of the State, as long as establishment and duration of at least one religious congregation is secured.
Meanwhile, let especially be remembered relation between religious organisation of the Islam adherents living in this country and adherents in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Thus before establishment of first religious congregation may be formed sacred guilds for religious ends of Islam.”
Important specific aspect was the possibility to appoint “religious commissaries” for congregations in Cisleithania, also from territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The only right that was not granted to them was the right to marry and keep Registers. Administration of matrimonial and registry affairs of Muslims remains, similar to the case of persons without confession, under administration of state authorities pursuant to Act No. 51/1870.
To implement the law, establishment of at least any religious congregation was needed. This did not take place in the whole of Cisleithania region before the war was over. In the Czech territories, first attempt in this area takes place through submission to the land office on December 31, 1934. On February 2, 1935, specific reply is received from pertinent Ministry of Education and National Promotion, which highlights several errors committed at submission: The law effective only for the Czech territories does not allow for founding a religious congregation for the whole Czechoslovakia, nor can registries be administered.
However, application was eventually accepted into the process. What contributed to its delay was difficult situation of threat to and attack on Czechoslovakia in 1938 and subsequent occupation of the remaining Czech territories by the Nazi Germany in March 1939. In December 1941, the Protectorate government of the Czech and Moravia acknowledges the existence of Islamic religious congregation of 640 members in Prague and approves detailed government order on regulation of legal aspects of religious society of adherents to Islam of the hanafi tradition, objecting that it be additionally approved by the Reichs Protector. Office of the Reichs Protector replied on January 15, 1942 that it would deal with the issue after about 6 weeks. This never happened, and on May 1942, Czechoslovak soldiers from the Great Britain disposed of the Reichs Protector. During consequent terror, the protectorate government could not urge speedy processing of its request.
The proceedings did not continue after the war, Islamic congregation in Prague was not recognised and by the end of second year of the Communist rule, i.e. in November 1949, act on recognition of Islamic religious society ceased being part of the legal order.

Since November 1949 until 1991, there was no law effective in Czechoslovakia under which churches could be recognized. Therefore, during the communist era Muslim activities limited to personal meetings. In 1968, Muslim believers took an unsuccessful attempt to legalize their faith. In the Czech Republic, they finally succeded to pass a registration only by means of Act No. 3/2002 restraining to 300 the number of signatures necessary for a submission of application for registration. The Center of Muslim religious societies was registered in the Czech Republic on September 17, 2004.

In the 2001 Census, 1,212 of Slovak inhabitants declared their religious affiliation to Islam. Nowadays, some representatives of Muslim organizations estimate the number of Islam worshippers in Slovakia up to 5,000, about 150 of them converts. The Muslim community in Slovakia is mainly comprised of foreign students at Slovak universities and former students who remained in the country, found new home here and founded their own families. This community is characterized in the high percentage of academically qualified people with a comparatively fair financial background (physicians, engineers, lawyers, economists). They join in various Muslim organizations (Association of Friends of Islam Literature, Islam Foundation, Union of Muslim Students in Slovakia etc.).
These days, any of Muslim organizations have been registered as a religious society in the Slovak Republic. They do not meet the condition of a number of adherents necessary for registration, as stipulated by a Slovak law. By way of informational meetings with State authorities and institutions, some members of Muslim community voiced a wish to registrate as religious society, and to receive financial support from the State as receive other registered churches and religious societies.

3 October 2012