27.11.2008Catholic-Islamic Dialogue: Interview with Christian TrollFor Freedom of FaithTroll: Those aspects were of course brought up a number of times, including by the bishops from countries with a Muslim majority. Whenever peaceable Qur'an texts were cited, it was always pointed out that there are some very different verses in the book; it was very consciously addressed.
No spontaneous new set of hermeneutics - but controversial subjects are not excluded from discussion in the Catholic-Islamic Forum But there weren't any major controversies over the subject…?
Troll: Yes, there were tensions, of course, but not necessarily controversies. I mean, one can't develop an entirely new form of hermeneutics at a meeting like this, all one can do is draw attention to the points in question, and every intelligent believer – of whatever faith – will naturally notice there's a major hermeneutic problem at stake. But there's no way to deal with such issues in depth at a meeting of this kind.
You have written in the past that Muslim-Catholic dialogue meetings are also important for Christianity, because it needs qualified criticism from outside the religion. What type of impulses were you thinking of in that context?
Troll: On the practical and political level, a paper like that published by the German bishops on building new mosques would be inconceivable without dialogue with Muslims. This particular issue made it clear that we have to defend and fight for rights in Europe – including the basic religious rights of minorities, including Muslims – if we realistically expect changes in the mindset and the legislation in places like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and in the majority Muslim countries in general! It's a learning process, of course – on both sides.
But there's another level, the values level. For example, take the value of the family, which has lost a great deal of weight in Europe and the West. In this case, the Christian church can recall its core values to do with the family together with the Muslims.
Furthermore, there are parallel texts in the Qur'an for values such as the Ten Commandments; that was another subject of intense discussion in Rome and is probably the most important area we have in common.
And not to forget the example of the many Muslims who courageously practice their religion, including in public and against great resistance – the Muslim devotion to liturgical prayer, for example.
"A long learning process": calling for new church buildings in Islamic countries is only legitimate if religious freedoms are also guaranteed for minorities in the West, says Troll Critics such as Hamid Dabashi assume that Christianity only reformed under political pressure, because the Enlightenment put an end to its claim to power. How would you characterise the relationship between Islam and the Enlightenment?
Troll: The challenge of justifying faith in the face of critical reason and the modern methods of the humanities, re-interpreting the sources, is something Christianity started out on more than 200 years ago. In my editorial for the November issue of the Christian cultural journal Stimme der Zeit (Voice of the Time), I quote at length from the Pope's speech of 22 December 2006, in which he addressed precisely this subject and said that the Islamic societies generally have yet to face this challenge.
On the Muslim side, including in the Sufi tradition, there is a certain tendency to idealise the classical period of Islam and to see modernity as negative, branding it as a sign of degeneration. The Catholic opinion on the matter is rather more complicated. On the one hand we'd say the Enlightenment is first and foremost a challenge that has led to a lot of good as well – for instance the emphasis on individual freedom and the realisation that there is no point to belief if it is not chosen by free will. On the other hand, however, there really are signs of degeneration in modern societies, and that's something we can certainly think about together. This subject – faith, biblical faith, Koranic faith and the challenge of modernity – is certainly an area where this forum in particular can make progress.
Interview: Lewis Gropp
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
Christian Troll is one of the most important proponents of Christian-Islamic dialogue in Germany, and has had an eventful academic career. He was a professor of Islamic Studies in New Delhi from 1976 to 1988, then senior lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations an der University of Birmingham up to 1993, and after that a professor of Islamic Institutions at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome until 1999. He was appointed an honorary professor by the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in 2001.
Until 2005, Troll was a twelve-year member of the Catholic Church's subcommission for religious relations with Muslims, which is part of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID).