Article Note: Douglas Pratt and Barbara Göb, “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Germany: Recent Developments and Continuing Issues”

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 4, December 2011

Article Note: Douglas Pratt and Barbara Göb, “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Germany: Recent Developments and Continuing Issues,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 18 no. 1 (January 2007): 43-65.

By Heath A. Spencer, Seattle University

Pratt and Göb argue that Christian-Muslim relations in Germany are basically sound, but “a growing sense of unease keeps public interest closely attentive to any conflicts between Muslim habits and secular laws and customs” (44). Such fears have had an impact on inter-religious dialogue, where the focus has shifted from “theological rapprochement” to “questions of acceptance of democratic and liberal values” (53). The notion that Islam might be incompatible with the modern, secular state mirrors suspicions about German Catholics during the Kulturkampf of the 1870s.

The authors describe a wide range of organizations involved in dialogue activities within Germany, including the Intercultural Council, the Round Table of World Religions, Abrahamic Forums, the Christian-Islamic Society, the World Council for Religion and Peace, and the Coordination Council of Associations of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in Germany. The challenges of this work are significant. Christian theologians are often more theologically liberal than the Islamic laypersons they encounter in interfaith conversations. Nominal Muslims and Christians are less hung up on theological differences but have little interest in interreligious dialogue as such. The prevalence of hostile media images of Islam is also a barrier to productive discussion, as are some misguided attempts to use dialogue as a way to pressure Muslims to make symbolic, public affirmations of “Western values”.

The authors see Catholic theologian Heiner Bielefeldt’s recommendations as a more promising approach. Bielefeldt, director of the German Institute for Human Rights from 2003 to 2009 and UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief since 2010, argues that the best defense of the secular, constitutional state is to guarantee religious freedom. For Muslims, this includes Islamic religious education in state schools (comparable to what is already offered for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish students), the right to build mosques without undue hindrances, and legal accommodations to Islamic burial practices. In the end, the authors caution that there is no simple answer to current controversies, but careful and sustained work aimed at mutual understanding will be more productive than sensationalism and stereotyping.