Last week three Muslim conscripts of the Austrian army refused to salute the Austrian flag because this was incompatible with their faith. The Austrian paper Die Presse (18 March) reported that three soldiers of the Maria Theresia barracks, where most of the 1,000 Muslim soldiers serve, refused to salute the flag at a parade and instead turned their backs on it. The soldiers were not disciplined. However, an imam was summoned to issue a fatwa stating that Muslims are allowed to salute the Austrian flag.
Austrian Army officers have complained that Muslim conscripts – about 3,5% of the Austrian armed forces – are unable to do most jobs because they have permission to pray 5 times a day, no matter what job they are performing at the time. Some who attend Friday Prayers stay away for the rest of the day.
Following the incident the Austrian defense minister Günther Platter announced that the army will engage imams as permanent chaplains in order to mediate future conflicts. Die Presse suggests that it would be better to follow the example of the Austrian police and appoint Muslim officers to command Muslim recruits.