"Dialogue With Both Society and Other Muslims"

Interview with Nadeem Elyas, Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany

Leading German politicians and representatives of the Church recognized the Islamic Charter as the first step towards Muslim integration and participation in Germany. They also called for actions to follow the words. How did you react to this appeal?

Nadeem Elyas: The Charter is a challenge and a gauge for both sides, not only Muslims. We made our commitment to the Constitutional State clear, which is nothing new for Muslims in Germany. After all, they've already been living here in line with the constitution for three or four decades. And our efforts in integration did not only begin in the Charter. Integration must, of course, be intensified now. But on the other hand, the state and society can't expect integration if Muslims are always given the feeling that they are undesired and foreign. I think politicians, especially local politicians, should send clear signals to Muslims.

Were there reactions to the Charter in the rest of Europe?

Elyas: Yes, and actually very positive ones. The Islamic Charter is not only something new in Germany but also in Europe. We have already had the document translated into many languages – including English, Arabic, Turkish and Spanish, and have presented it to European countries and the Islamic world. We have contacted several English organizations in Europe to publish similar texts. Furthermore, we have made an agreement within the Islamic Co-operation Council to hold a conference with the European Commission next spring to discuss the content of the Charter. Our goal is to publish similar texts for Muslims throughout Europe.

Why did the Central Council of Muslims draw up the Charter alone? Why didn't other Muslim organizations take part in your initiative right from the beginning?

Elyas: It was important to make a binding statement and we could not express our commitment through any meetings or compromises. But we would like to initiate a dialogue through the Charter, a dialogue with society as well as with other Muslims. We would like to discuss concepts. That's why we contacted other Islamic organizations after publishing the Charter and we were granted consent. There was criticism, indeed, that is why we did it on our own. As I already said, it was important to us to express our commitment.

What is your standpoint on the accusation that many formulations in the Islamic Charter are sketchy and that the Muslim relationship to the German constitution remains ambiguous?

Elyas: The document is unclear until it is clarified. We will work on the Charter and publish further comments in spring. Besides, German constitution is commented extensively and the same goes for the Islamic Charter. I also think that you can't have pages and pages of explanations or comments for each point.

Islam academics especially criticize Point 10 of the Charter, in which the Sharia is allegedly referred to as the legal system that ranks above all other legal systems.

Elyas: We did not use the term Sharia in the Charter, and we accepted the German constitution. To us, it means that the legal basis of our lives in Germany is the German constitution. And that also means the political parts of the Sharia are not applicable in Germany. Our Charter addresses two groups: Non-Muslims and Muslims themselves. We must formulate our Islamic conviction in such a manner that Muslims find it comprehensible and are able to identify with it. Of course, Non-Muslims cannot immediately grasp this type of argumentation.

Interview: Arian Fariborz, Translation: Helen Groumas

© 2003 Qantara.de

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