One Table

Encounters between Christians and Muslims take place in many German towns and cities. A report from Duisburg .

Of the 520.000 people who live in Duisburg, around 60,000 are of Turkish descent, and most of these are Muslims. The city's 40 mosques are located close to the major industrial centres. All of the main Turkish Islamic associations are represented here, including the Alevite minority, as well as various independent and Arabic communities.

In the mid-1980s, the Protestant church began to enter into dialogue with the Muslim community. Contact was initiated by ministers and teachers, who now visit mosques on a monthly basis, and who regularly exchange information on religious topics. Festivals and organisational work are as much a part of their daily routine as statements on contentious issues in the life of the city. They have provided advice on a variety of topics to both secular and religious authorities. In addition, the district church's Committee for Islamic Work organises a range of activities in cooperation with the Evangelical Family Education Workshop and the Institute for Inter-Religious Learning at the University of Duisburg. Projects include lectures, events, information stands, and the annual communal banquet, "Am Tisch" ("One Table"). Apart from its standard range of educational programmes, the Evangelical Family Education Workshop also organises special projects, such as the Christian-Islamic Family Day. Some protestant congregations enjoy strong contact to their local Islamic communities, and mutual invitations are now common. These contacts have grown in importance over the years. People now visit each other and exchange greetings on Holy Days and Feast Days (such as "Erntedankfest", the German Thanksgiving), while street festivals and Round Table meetings play an important role in improving the climate of tolerance in the city. Christian-Islamic school parties are now quite usual, because of the high number of schoolchildren from non-Christian backgrounds. In some primary schools, up to 60% of the pupils are children of immigrants.

By 1996, a great deal had been worked for and accomplished. That year, however, a heated dispute broke out in Duisburg; and as it carried on into the following year, the affair received a great deal of media attention. The Islamic community's controversial desire to broadcast an amplified call to prayer showed that the dialogue between the religions would have to be broadened and deepened. Since then, communication has focused more strongly on the social aspects of a multi-faith society. Central questions include the following: "How can Christians and Muslims best use the strength of their respective religious convictions to cooperate in fostering peaceful co-existence in their shared communities? How can we extend our communication to broader social groupings and involve people at all levels of society?" In order to answer these questions, the Protestant and Catholic churches, the mosque communities, the Alevite cultural associations and the International Center of the City of Duisburg have launched a joint project at a high local level. Its motto is "Aufeinander zugehen, miteinander leben" - "Come together, live together". In 1999, as part of this initiative, Nigar Yardim and Hauke Faust published a detailed analysis of the process of inter-religious dialogue in Duisburg. A year later, the city of Herne's Third World Information Center organised an exhibition of headscarves: when shown at Duisburg's Museum of Municipal and Cultural History, this exhibition attracted 10,000 visitors in three months - a model of successful networking on a large scale.

In our experience, a city can promote peaceful co-existence in a number of ways: at a local level through simple good-neighborliness, and on a municipal scale by means of wide-ranging cooperation.

Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan

Source: Erste Schritte wagen - A guideline for the encounter between christian and muslim congregations, published by the Protestant Churches of Northrhine-Westphalia

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