Circumcision is so important that a ban would threaten the existence of the Jewish community in Germany?

De Boor: Yes, that’s how I see it. And that’s how it is: if Jewish parents are forbidden from having their sons circumcised, then they also lose the freedom to decide against it themselves. I know a few Jewish parents who thought long and hard about whether they should have that done to their baby. Those individual decisions would be impossible were it to be banned.

So religious traditions are really being questioned in your community. Do you see a need for reform in your communities?

Mohseni: For young Muslims, uniting tradition and modernity is a big thing. Our parents often have a very traditional background, but we grew up here and we know another life. Of course there are conflicts because of that, and it isn’t easy. But I have a problem with the concept of reform in a Muslim context.

The last Islamic reform was the Wahabism that is practiced in Saudi Arabia, a movement that from a modern, Western point of view has to be regarded as one of the most regressive and inhumane in Islam. On the other hand, an inner pluralism has always been part of the Islamic tradition. When there are calls for a reform of Islam in the West today, we should make that clear.

De Boor: Within Judaism in Germany, there are a lot of discussions and different movements. But unfortunately, you then very quickly get a label put on you by the rest of society – on the one hand, "orthodox" and on the other "liberal", whatever that might mean.

There are a lot of stereotypes that come with those labels, including when you see pictures of Jews. It’s often men wearing kippahs, or even a hat and beard. And they fulfil the general cliche of what a "proper Jew" is. But the boundaries are fluid: you can be thoroughly orthodox and yet very open, and even so-called "reform Jews" can be really narrow-minded.

Mohseni: "Liberal" is the public’s code-word for good Muslims; the conservatives are the bad ones. And then within the Muslim community, it’s often reflexively the other way around: the conservatives are seen as the ones who are getting it right, and the liberals are watering everything down.

In other words: devout Jews deserve respect, and devout Muslims are suspicious?

De Boor: Yes, people want properly stereotypical Jews, so that they can say they live here again – but they don’t at all. You can’t even slaughter animals the kosher way in Germany.

Mohseni: And Muslims are regarded as something more foreign, because people still uphold the image of the "Christian-Jewish tradition".

De Boor: For me, it’s like a punch in the gut to hear that. Today the "Christian West" wants to invoke its Jewish roots, but it has always been against Judaism. Plus, this always involves opposing Muslims. As a Jew, I don’t want to be used for that.

And in your two communities – is there any kind of resentment there against the other?

De Boor: It does exist, and that’s another important topic in the dialogue programme. People argue about it within the Jewish community, as well. For example, in the context of the Israel debate, there is the phenomenon of fear of "the Arabs". But we discuss this, of course, because it comes from the same negative stereotyping as the fear of "the Jews" or "Jewish world domination".

From your point of view, what needs to change in the relationship between Jews and Muslims?

Mohseni: The first thing that has to change is the relationship of mainstream society in Germany to our communities. Rachel has said it several times: one group is used to stir up feeling against the other. The fact that "imported anti-Semitism" is so often presented to the general public as a huge problem – which isn’t true statistically – makes dialogue a lot harder.

But I would also like to see more encounters between Muslims and Jews at a more general level. The events that are held are often for students or academics. It needs to be broader than that.

Interview conducted by Ursula Russmann

© 2019

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

More on this topic