A dialogue between the religions is absolutely essential for the German State, writes Federal Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble. It strengthens the foundations of the community, beyond questions of religious claims to truth
We live in a world of brisk change. The technical advances of the past two hundred years have fundamentally transformed the way we live today. Many people thought this would cause religious concerns to recede from our consciousness.
In fact, however, we are experiencing just the opposite: people are reflecting more on their religion, searching for orientation and stability in a world marked by constant upheaval.
The organised religions are having difficulty dealing with the rapid changes taking place in the modern world. The situation is even more problematic when believers of different faiths live together in a densely populated country.
When religions offer different answers and each asserts a claim to truth in accordance with its own worldview, this is certainly nothing unusual. But it can lead to widely divergent opinions regarding the rules that should govern our coexistence.
Religious heterogeneity as challenge
Religious heterogeneity then becomes a challenge to social cohesion. This is why the dialogue between and with the religions is so important for the well-being of all of us. It is a matter of concern for the religiously neutral state because better mutual understanding helps people to coexist in harmony.
Interreligious dialogue makes it clear that, beyond each religion's claim to the truth, all people share a common basis. Without such a basis, there can be no acknowledgement of religious diversity. The state also promotes interreligious dialogue because it sees in religion a source of orientation and community.
Even the secular state depends on religion as a force for lending meaning to life. Reason alone does not ensure amicable coexistence. For this reason, Germany has a secular order, but is not a secularist state.
Our constitutional law regarding religion is marked by "positive neutrality". It unites the reciprocal demarcation of the worldly and spiritual realms with a positive interaction between both realms – for the good of the individual and society.
Finding a place in this order of things is particularly difficult in Germany for relatively newly arrived religions such as Islam. Muslims' integration in Western states is hampered additionally by what are often negative perceptions of Islam.
Christian-Muslim dialogue sends positive signals
There are not many Germans who associate the Islamic faith with positive values. One reason for this attitude can be found in the extremists who invoke Islam as their motivation. They constitute only a small minority among Muslims, but many people evidently expect other Muslims to distance themselves from extremism more forcefully and to demonstrate more vigorous support for our democracy.
Also contributing to a negative bias are the social conflicts triggered by the construction of mosques or the headscarf debate. Finally, contradictions between the German legal system and traditional societal values and some statements coming from Islamic quarters can provoke irritation.
This is naturally not only a problem of Islam. The Christian Churches as well took some time before they not only accepted democracy but were also able to justify it, based on the Christian image of humanity. Today Islam is facing the challenge of modernisation.
The Christian-Muslim dialogue here in Germany can provide important stimulus for a theological address within Islam of themes such as secularity, human dignity and equal rights.
The Churches can share their experiences – whether in pastoral care, in attending to accident victims, in burials or in issues of self-organisation.
"Muslims should feel at home in Germany"
Helping Muslims to settle in Germany and make their home here is one of the major challenges of our time. The German State would like to see them establish institutions that are anchored in our liberal system.
Muslims in Germany must organise themselves in accordance with the applicable laws if they are to contribute fully to society. The German Islam Conference helps them to do so by working out solutions, for example for Islamic religious instruction or Islamic burials.
Whether in the German Islam Conference or in our daily dealings with one another, we should all work toward building a good relationship between the religions and their followers. Then religious diversity can be allowed not only to enrich our lives, but also to strengthen social cohesion in our country.
© Stuttgarter Nachrichten / Qantara.de 2009
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor