30.10.2009Commentary by Aiman MazyekPutting Christian-Muslim Dialogue to the TestAiman Mazyek, media adviser and editor-in-chief of islam.de, criticizes the stagnation of Germany's dialogue between the religions and suggests practical ways for reviving it
To help religious dialogue overcome its impasse, Christians and Muslims must talk actively again, rather than communicating solely via the media Hardly any other religious community in Germany has distanced itself from religiously-motivated violence as clearly and as often as the Muslim community. Yet the Chairman of the Board of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), Bishop Wolfgang Huber, has repeatedly called on Muslims to distance themselves from violence, most recently at the announcement of the EKD synod in November.
At the closing press conference the Chairman also expressed his view that tolerance has come to a dead end, as, alluding to "Lessing's Parable of the Ring", the question of truth has been left out of the dialogue. Huber vehemently demanded that the church have its "own profile" which must be "clearly emphasized" – not least by disassociating itself from other religions.
Signs of crisis
Has the Christian-Muslim dialogue run out of issues, or has it in fact reached an impasse? The Protestant-Muslim dialogue is indeed showing signs of crisis. At the moment moderate forces on both sides seem to be at a disadvantage.
Moreover, statements like these make it impossible to escape the feeling that some representatives of the church are more concerned with public posing than with communicating with Muslims.
This cannot produce mutual trust, the cement which is so necessary for discussing the truly critical issues. What is more, in dialogue with Christians, Muslims often present only the positive side of the Muslim religion.
It is difficult for them to speak openly about the often miserable circumstances which prevail in many Muslim societies and the injustice which is committed in the name of religion.
No alternative to dialogue
At a recent Christian-Muslim conference in Paris the president of the Fédération Protestante, Jean-Arnold de Clermont, said that Muslims and Christians would have to continue down the path of European dialogue if a common Christian-Muslim future were to be possible. The Vice-President of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland, Christian, seconded this view that there is no alternative to dialogue.
But what direction should these efforts toward dialogue take in future? In any event it is surely not advisable to simply carry on as before. Perhaps the stagnating dialogue between Christians and Muslims could pick up if a practical rather than academic approach is taken.
Ultimately, after all, academic dialogue is not the only variant of the dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Joint actions instead of papers, studies and declarations are becoming increasingly necessary.
Thus, the exclusive discussion among theologians – who must of course continue to define the boundaries and differences as well as commonalities between the two religions – is less important than dialogue as a forum for people who are prepared to take on joint responsibility in society.
In addition, dialogue must be conducted on equal footing. That means that in future people must talk to each other more, rather than communicating via the media. People must listen more closely to what the other side has to say. Then this dialogue could in fact regain its sense of trust.
Determining the limits of dialogue
This dialogue should also determine its limits and cautiously arrive at hermeneutics which could be formulated as follows: "Let us come together with the knowledge that we will never, nor must we, understand the other exactly as he understands and perceives himself!"
This will increase calmness and trust, things which seem to have fallen by the wayside recently in the heat of battle.
Also, Muslims can learn a great deal from the historical processes and experiences of their Christian counterparts' churches. One significant example is German Protestantism's recognition of fundamental democratic and human rights and the ideological neutrality of the state in the last century.
This historical knowledge could encourage Muslims to better understand unresolved issues of their own against the background of experience with church policy and take more time with their own processes of development.
If these issues – however non-exhaustive – could be addressed in future in discussions and debates in important places and forums such as churches and mosques and on the streets and campuses, and last but not least in this world's academies, it might become clear to all that dialogue means peace work, rather than naiveté.
Aiman A. Mazyek
© Qantara.de 2005
Translated from the German from Isabel Cole
Aiman Mazyek is editor-in-chief of the German-Islamic Web portal islam.de and deputy chairman of the Green Helmets. He was formerly press spokesman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.