4 - 2000
Islam in Germany
For a Climate of Active Tolerance
Christians and Muslims living as neighbours in Germany
by Manfred Kock
At a press conference on 11 September 2000, the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany launched its handbook "Living with Muslim Neighbours in Germany". The President of the EKD Council made the following statement on this occasion.
Anyone who is concerned with developing peaceful relations among people of differing cultures will certainly understand and take seriously the responsibility of religion for peace in the society, as well as the importance of religious faith in helping to stabilise people's feelings of self-worth, which is an essential precondition for their integration. Christians and Muslims have been living side by side for decades in Germany, without knowing much about one another. Their acquaintance with one another's religious customs, practices and way of life is inadequate.
The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) considers it urgently necessary to improve the knowledge of and understanding between Christians and Muslims, not only for the sake of the work in local congregations, for example in children's day care centres or youth groups, but also for action in other areas of the society such as workplaces, schools and hospitals. Peace in our society in the years to come will depend on how well we have practised living together as neighbours in respect for one another. Good will alone is not enough. Both sides need to acquire the knowledge which makes them aware of sensitivities and helps give expression to uncertainties. We want to do our part to see that correct information takes the place of prejudices, and that people on both sides of the table come to accept the otherness of belief and are thus able also to give the proper weight to things held in common. This is the purpose for which the EKD Council commissioned a handbook for free distribution, giving guidance on planning for encounters between Christians and Muslims in Germany.
The title of the handbook, "Living with Muslim Neighbours in Germany", underlines the aim of the text: that we might no longer just live side by side, and certainly not in opposition to one another, but together as neighbours in mutual respect for the religious differences in our society. This is a matter of social policy. Together with all persons of good will, we want to create a climate of active tolerance which promotes understanding and reconciling of interests in our country. We know from our own pastoral work in German congregations abroad that for foreign minority groups anywhere, one's own religion is especially important for self-awareness and preserving one's own identity. And not least of all, the EKD considers it urgently necessary to give more importance to religious elements in the dialogue with Muslims in Germany.
This is also indispensable for the current discussion on curbing hostility to foreigners. The handbook explains through theological arguments that there is no possible reason for Christians to marginalise or persecute persons belonging to a faith other than that of the majority, even though their religious practices may be unknown. This study is intended to help the people in our congregations become free of fear of their Muslim fellow citizens' religion. It aims to encourage them to seek out Muslims in their neighbourhood, and also to be able to speak to them about their own Christian faith. We know how hard this is for many people, because religion is so often considered a private affair. Many Christians also have only a minimal knowledge of their own faith.
However, the desire to understand Muslims better also arouses the curiosity of many church members about their own tradition. We must encourage this curiosity, and also see that Christians learn how to talk about their own faith. This is absolutely necessary, so that dialogue between the majority religion and members of the religious minority will be effective in building workable bridges of understanding.
It was our purpose in this handbook to reappraise the relationship of Christianity with Islam theologically. This has become necessary because there are trends within Christianity in which differences in belief have led not only to theological criticism, but sometimes also to a distorted picture of Islam. We wanted to distance ourselves clearly from this. At the same time, we cannot fail to confess our faith openly to Muslims among others, as they do the same towards us. This has nothing to do with enmity. We believe it is possible to live peaceably together as neighbours with differences, even to work actively together at shaping the life of our neighbourhoods and society. The Christian faith offers us the possibility of finding a common basis for doing so. We have found a corresponding readiness also among Muslims. In this way Christian-Islamic dialogue can help to combat the rejection of foreigners which comes to light in attacks on them by extreme-rightists.
The dialogue we seek is not merely one of well-meant appeals to get along better together. We want to encourage easily understood, practical steps, while keeping the facts in mind. We know about terrorist acts which are based on Islam; we remain in solidarity with Christians living in Islamic countries whose religious freedom is limited. Nevertheless we believe that for the situation in Germany, based on experience, open encounter and beneficial cooperation among neighbours are possible. We have to learn to be more discriminating in our judgements, in the sense that we can explore various topics without lumping everything together which in any way seems connected. To make precise judgements means to practice criticism with respect for one another, to avoid false forms of consideration, but not to let fly thoughtless words at one another. - I very much hope that the distribution of this handbook will contribute to more neighbourly sharing between Christians and Muslims, to the lasting benefit of our whole society. May this handbook encourage Christians and Muslims alike to confess their faith openly and publicly, and to participate candidly in shaping the dialogue through many encounters.
This statement by President Manfred Kock of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany was published on 11 September 2000 by the EKD Press Office.