VIENNA As the debate on religious circumcision is raging in Germany, Austria's faith leaders united on Friday, July 27, to condemn calls from two provincial leaders to limit the practice as an attack on religion.
"We are concerned about all attempts to exploit the debate that has been triggered by the Cologne verdict to promote a hostile attitude in Austria towards Judaism, Islam or religion in general," Peter Schipka, general secretary of the Roman Catholic Austrian Bishops' Conference, told journalists on Friday, Reuters reported.
The meeting was attended by leaders representing Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths in Austria.Circumcision: Jewish or Islamic Practice?
The row follows weeks of emotional debate and outrage in Germany where a regional court in Cologne banned circumcision on June 27 as physical abuse.
The ruling followed the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy by a German doctor on his parents' wishes.
But the verdict sparked outrage among Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, who denounced the ruling as a serious intrusion on religious freedom.
The right to religious freedom is protected in the Austrian constitution and can only be changed in law by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Those seeking to ban circumcision argue a competing right to freedom from physical harm should take precedence, and that infants are unable to consent to being circumcised.
Protestant leader Michael Buenker noted there had been no similar attacks on other practices that were also physical interventions on children, such as ear piercing or vaccinations.
Commenting on the issue, the Justice Ministry in Vienna has expressed surprise that a German verdict should be thought to have any relevance in Austria.
Moreover, the health minister played down the importance of what he called an overhyped debate imported from Germany.
The gathering faith leader demanded that the government issue a clear statement in defense of religious freedom and the lawfulness of male circumcision.
Oskar Deutsch, leader of Austria's Jewish communities, said the law was clear that parents had a right to bring up their children in accordance with their faith.
"Nonetheless, the government is asked here very clearly to repeat this once more and to clarify that this will not be challenged in this country," he said.
Circumcision is a confirmed Sunnah in Islam as an act pertaining to fitrah (pure human nature).
The practice is also mandatory for Jewish males according to biblical texts Jews circumcise male infants eight days after birth to recall their covenant with God.
The time for Muslim circumcision varies according to family, region and country.
Others use the practice for hygiene purposes, generally among infant boys.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net