Time and again we have seen at events how the topic of Islam triggers so many insinuations, causing emotions to quickly boil over. In this kind of atmosphere, how can there ever be a dialogue between equals?
Tamer: I have experienced this myself several times. This contentious mood is what makes our work all the more important. Because spreading knowledge about Islam helps significantly to break down prejudices and alleviate fears. But there are of course reasons for this prevailing atmosphere.
Islam is relatively new to Germany. When the Muslim community became more visibly established here, tensions and questions arose on both sides, and the majority society felt that it was being challenged. In the wake of several terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam, fear and even aversion against Muslims in general has spread. The streams of refugees have admittedly also contributed to aggravating the situation. With our project, we aim to defuse the agitators on all sides.
Do you think there is a danger that the dialogue could be misused for the wrong ends?
Tamer: Were we to take an ideological approach or make use of such encounters to build new walls, the danger of manipulation would certainly be a problem. In that case we would not be seeking a rapprochement and mutual understanding, but trying to show how far apart the religions really are from each other. Scholarship can make a constructive contribution here. We are conducting basic research in order to call things by their name, beyond any ideology or political interests.
Isn't interreligious dialogue losing its importance in our secular society?
Tamer: The secular societies of Europe are still fed by Christian values, translated into a secular language. Even humanism has its origins in monotheistic ideas. So interreligious dialogue is not dwindling in importance. By contributing to establishing peaceful coexistence among religious communities, we are carrying forward the project of enlightenment.
In what way?
Tamer: The truth of a religion is a matter of faith, but we need to have knowledge about the historical development of key religious concepts throughout history. These key concepts help us to arrive not at tolerance, but at a mutual recognition of religious values. Knowledge creates trust and self-confidence, even in a secular society. Interreligious understanding is central to resolving conflicts.
Then it is also important to know your own tradition.
Tamer: Precisely. Another reason why our project is so necessary. The integration of a large number of immigrants, most of them of the Muslim faith, is a major challenge for society as a whole. Many of them come to Germany with prejudices against Jews and Christians. These prejudices have historical reasons. Therefore, conveying important insights about the other religions is a major responsibility of society, which we are taking up in our project as a way of promoting the integration of immigrants.
Interview conducted by Claudia Mende
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor
Key Concepts in Interreligious Discourses: Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a project of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in co-operation with the Catholic University of Eichstätt and the Sheikh Nahyan Center for Arabic Studies & Intercultural Dialogue at Balamand University in Lebanon.