4 - 2000
Islam in Germany
Helpful Facts - But Without Instructions
A closer look at the EKD handbook, "Living with Muslim Neighbours in Germany"
by Eberhard Troeger
In German churches, the relationship with Muslims and with Islam is a controversial topic. This is made clear by the debate about the EKD's handbook on the issue. We present here an evangelical commentary on this text.
The quantity of factual information is very helpful. It is arranged in a clear and orderly fashion, which makes this substantial brochure easy to use as a reference work. The handbook strives to be balanced and admits that there are different opinions on this topic among the Protestant regional churches. Since the text was produced by a commission, it is understandable that gaps have appeared here and there in the argumentation. Overall the line followed in the text is quite clear. The handbook solicits understanding for Muslims, and for an understanding to be reached with Islam in Germany in which Christians preserve their own identity. The theological, legal and practical problem areas are named.
The theological section is surprising, with its emphasis on the heart of the Gospel in Jesus Christ and on Christian witness in the dialogue with those of other faiths. It says that God's love and reconciliation in Jesus Christ are intended for Muslims also, and even reckons with their conversion to Jesus Christ. It speaks of the missionary action of the church as its nerve centre, and supports the right of Christians in Islamic countries to confess their faith freely. - However, in the practical section this approach unfortunately is not carried through. All areas of life shared with Muslims are discussed, from nursery school to allocation of communal space for Islamic gatherings and events. But the question of how and on what occasions Christians can speak with Muslims about their Biblical faith does not enter into the discussion.
Should (young) Muslims be invited to children's church school, to children's and youth groups in the church, to Bible study and worship services? What points need to be considered in doing so? What Christian writings are appropriate to offer them? How can a Christian guide a Muslim who is open to believe in Jesus Christ? How can the pastor of a congregation prepare a Muslim who has come to Christ for baptism? What needs to be considered in receiving a newly converted person into membership in the congregation, and in the encounter with the person's relatives? What difficulties might arise for a Muslim converted to Christianity?
To these questions, very important ones for Christians and congregations who think in missionary terms, the handbook gives no answers. The practical section thinks only in terms of a harmonious life among neighbours, free of clashes, and thus leaves that which in a preceding section was called "the church's nerve centre" out of account. This diminishes the value of this otherwise helpful handbook significantly.
There are also contradictions in the statements on common prayer between Christians and Muslims. The different conceptions of God and of prayer to God are clearly brought out, but then the authors maintain nevertheless that interreligious prayer is possible, if it is limited to praising God. However, this still amounts to the Muslims' prayers being co-opted by Christianity, because it is stated that basically they too are praying to the trinitarian God, and that God hears their prayers.
In any case it is worthwhile to study this handbook carefully and to compare it with the 1957 statement of the Lausanne Movement in Germany, "Christian Faith and Islam". This comprehensive statement of only 30 pages is still available from the distribution office of the Evangelical Alliance in Bad Blankenburg, and in many ways is less ambiguous than the EKD handbook, which had to seek a balance among differing views.
The Rev. Eberhard Troeger was Director of the "Gospel Community of the Middle East" (EMO) from 1975 to 1998, and is Acting President of the Working Group on Islam of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, German Branch. This article appeared in the 25 October 2000 issue of "IDEA-Spectrum Evangelische Nachrichten". We publish the article here in slightly abridged form.