The Eight General Conference:Islam And The Future Dialogue Between
Solving contemporary Problems through Cooperation Between Islam and Christianity
Solving contemporary Problems through Cooperation
Between Islam and Christianity
Dr. Murad WIfried Hofmann
1. ON COOPERATION WITH CHRISTIANITY
(1) It seems to be a truism that Islam and Christianity should cooperate given the historical role of The Christian faith and civilization in shaping The Occident. Indeed, many tend to equate The West with Christianity. Therefore there seems to be no alternative to a dialogue between the two major monotheistic religions if a clash between The North and The South. The Occident and The Orient, is to be avoided be it in cultural or other terms.
(2) And yet, against the following background some problems of these truisms is in order:
Ever since the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century with its ensuing Project of Modernity Christianity has been in almost steady decline in Europe. The intellectual fathers of this development - from Descartes and Hume to Kant. Voltaire and Goethe-originally used reason and rationality as instruments for the emancipation from the stifling domination of The Christian churches only. However, the thrust of their approach was such that they and their followers- from Feuerbach, Marx. Darwin, Freud and Nietzsche to Sartre and Wittgenstein discredited any commitment to religion and treated any belief in revealed knowledge as obscurantism superstition. In other words: The age of reason, in the long run, emancipated man from any domination whatsoever except from his own instincts, volition, and autonomous reasoning.
The radical challenge of enlightened critics to systems of religious authority in the end eroded the very pillars on which Christianity was based (1). This led to today's situation where former Christian believers desert their churches massively- not in order to change their denomination but in order to join the ever growing camp of atheism, agnosticism, and vulgar materialism (2). Churches nowadays tend to be virtually empty except for high mass on late Sunday morning, and young people when polled place "religion" at the very bottom of their concerns (3). Indeed, some observers fear that the churches are in danger of retreating into a "cultural ghetto" or to become a mere further social service organization (4).
(3) Since the 19th century most prominently, however, in our time- this trend has been re- enforced at the level of theology, both Protestant and Catholic. Ever since Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) launched his historic critique of the sources of Christianity and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) began to de-mythologize The New Testament, research into The Jewish and Hellenistic- Gnostic origins of today's Christendom led to ever more frequent, devastating discoveries. It now is general knowledge (or rather: it should be) that all but 7 of the 27 components of Evangile are unauthentic, and that the few authentic pieces, all letters by St. Paul, were written by a man who had never met Jesus. Since then, there is hardly any aspect of Christian dogma, which has not been dismantled by professors of theology, from the divine nature of Christ-incarnation and Trinity to his death on the cross and his resurrection, Some learned writers even doubt the historicity of both Jesus and St. Paul (5). Granted that it takes a considerable time before the results of such research filter down to the rank and file, and that against the opposition of the lower clergy. The more surprising is that even German magazines little known for religious concern, like Der SPIEGEL, have recently devoted entire issues to inform the public of the demise of Christian dogma (6). Consequently, more and more people who still call themselves Christians no longer believe that Jesus was con-substantial with God, equating him rather with a social worker so beneficial that one should invent him (as "Cosmological Jesus") in case that he had not existed.
(4) This is not to say that Christianity is about to appear. Firstly, there is a remarkable return of leading natural scientists to the belief in God-from Max Planck and Albert Einstein to de Broglie, Schrodinger, Eceles, and Swinburn (7). Indeed, among true scientists it is no longer as "chique" as 100 years ago to be an agnostic. Today advanced scientists admit that all science, not just religion is based on unverifiable assumptions. They have more problems with proving the existence of matter than with proving the phenomenon of spirit. Secondly, the decline of the official churches in The West is accompanied by some resurgence in the form of charismatic and romantic youth sects (which tend to worry the churches) (8). Thirdly, it is a known phenomenon that religions in terms of civilization may linger on for centuries after their decline as a viable faith. Christianity will therefore continue to provide important values from its hellenistic, humanistic and Christian past- whether the churches are full or empty. Even a dechristianized world is therefore likely to remain a champion of human rights, the emancipation of women, and democracy. And this makes "Christianity" after all a potent partner for dialogue with Islam.
(5) The same cannot be said for the atheist / agnostic / materialist camp, which by now forms the majority among Western peoples: the real children of the positivist 19th century, totally imbued with its pervasive anti-metaphysical ideology and fully convinced of the superiority of the Western or American way of life. Given some of the failures of the "Project of Modernity" such an a-historical attitude may be considered absurd. It is nevertheless real. That the "age of reason" produced colonialism and imperialism, including slave trading; two world wars, together with the employment of nuclear weapons; fascism, Stalinism and Nazism with its Holocaust; Maoism, Zionism, chauvinism (with its practice of "ethnic cleansing"); and massive ecological destruction; all this and more should have raised doubts in The Western mind about the reliability of human rationality. And yet, Western man remains more committed than ever to the implementation of his purely secular "modernity"- now at a global level. That Western society is sick in many ways-given its level of crime, drug addiction, child abuse, pornography, homosexually, and the breakdown of the family- that, too does not deter Western man from peddling his civilization as an obligatory model for mankind. Secularized people are so thoroughly alien to any form of transcendentalism that they cannot dialogue with religious people whom their needs consider to be intellectually inferior- people given to magic, obscurantism, irrationality and superstition.
(6) It may be argued that The Occident had effectively moved into the era of post- modernism with its relativist rediscovery of pluralism and its delight, in minority issues (women, black people, and homosexuals). Some post-modernist writers have, after all, rediscovered the power and plausibility of some "irrational" approaches, including religions, sophisticated or not (9). Thus, it may be argued that post- modern Europeans and Americans were also well suited for dialogue with Islam.
Alas. this is an illusion. Post-modern man reacts allergic to all normative discourse and to all universalistic solutions- both features of Islam. As Zygmunt Bauman from Leeds University once wrote: "Today, everything seems `O line up against long-term aims, life- long projects, eternal alliances, unchangeable identities (10). In other words, Islam cannot profit from the post-modern affectation with exotic minorities nor from its tolerance vis-- vis religion as such. Because post-modern man and modern man have at least one thing in common: their cult of the individual in its quest for unhampered self-determination (11). With such people as well dialogue with Islam is likely to turn into a still-born exercise un dialogue des sourds.
(7) The proper conclusion therefore is that a cooperation between Islam and The Christian churches, in relative terms is the least difficult and the most promising. I should add: provided that it is conducted between people who feel that they are sitting in the same boat, a modern ark of Noah which gives shelter to the few of those who believe in God, and who travel through an immense, rough sea, the reservoir of all the many who no longer believe in God or who act as if He did not exist. In this sense, The Muslims represent a religion, which (still) is a minority (in The West). The Christian participants representing a religion which is fast becoming a minority (not only in The West).
Such cooperation between Christianity and Islam must be, and will be, one not only based on tolerance but on acceptance, in accordance with an observation which Goethe once made when saying that "mere toleration amounts to an insult (12). II.
ON THE PROBLEMS TO BE SOLVED BETWEEN ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
(1) Issues of Direct Interest for Both Sides: a) Joint defense of common moral values: Both Christians and Muslims currently face a degradation of mores, which is disturbing to both of them. What "new morals" there are-morals without morality- lacks credibility since they are not based on a firm distinction of what is right and what is wrong (al-furqan). In short, as Heinz-Joachim Fischer put it: "One cannot build a new moral order on clean North Sea water and nuclear-free South-Sea islands (13).
Here are some of the moral issues facing the revealed religions:
- Homosexuals openly propagate their way of life and seek recognition in marital relationships;
- Abortion without any restrictions is advocated not only by feminist organizations but by large segments of the public and somehow tolerated even in Catholic countries.
- Pornography and child abuse going hand in hand are now even entering The INTERNET.
- The false ideal of one-parent "families" threatens to produce a whole generation of emotionally handicapped children. Even in the United States now one out of three children is born out of wedlock.
- Drugs have invaded Western and some Eastern civilizations to such an extent that it is justified to speak of an occidental "drug culture" with devastating consequences for over all attitudes and public health.
- Gene-engineering approaches situations where human beings are tampering with creation. If it might be doubtful whether the painting of pictures of human beings is a form of shirk: such a judgment is much less doubtful in case of gene-manipulation. As similar situation exists with regard to surrogate motherhood.
Against this background Muslims and Christians are called upon to resist this and other moral decay through joint action including.
- Joint press releases.
- Joint extra-parliamentary pressure groups.
- Coordinated pursuit of moral issues inside Christian political parties within the public education system. b) Joint Efforts for Safeguarding Peace (i) On the communal level: Both Christianity and Islam should excel in tolerance versus ethnic or religious minorities. Both religious communities have in fact a major responsibility for maintaining communal peace considering the fact that peace can be endangered from both pulpit and minbar. This has been demonstrated in the negative sense in the Bosnian context: Serbian chauvinism, leading to mass massacres of Muslims and Catholics alike, had been nourished for centuries by the revengist teachings of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
A similarly vicious trend now exists within Western democracies where in the name of liberalism and "political correctness" anti-liberal attacks can nowadays be made against personalities seen to be sympathizing with Islam, (In 1995, a prominent victim of this trend was the famous German Orientalist and specialist on sufism. Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, seen to be too critical of Salman Rushdy. In Muslim countries, every Khatib has a particular responsibility to avoid the eruption of communal strife concerning Copts or Alevi or Shutes or Bahai or any other minority.
This policy would suggest e.g. close collaboration between Christian and Muslim Scouts and any other youth organization of either side: In this spirit, the majority religion-be it Islam or Christianity-should make it its own concern that the rights and symbols of the minority religion will be respected. Thus, Muslim and Christian representatives, following the example of The Vatican, should congratulate each other on the occasion of religious holidays like Christmas or the id al adha.
This attitude can be exemplified by two recent events in Germany: For 1996 The Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) published an illustrated calendar honouring Christian. Muslim and Jewish religious festivals and dates, including the beginning and end of Ramadan, Muharram. The Muslim New Year and the Birthday of The Prophet (s). Equally encouraging was a recent boycott of Christian churches in a German Catholic mining town in favour of their Muslim co-citizens, mostly Turks: The priests and pastors once refused to ring the church bells because The Muslims were prevented from calling to prayer from the minaret.
Thus in case of blasphemies like the Satanic Verses Muslims and Christians should join hands because blasphemy if tolerated against one religion exposes all religions to the same danger.
Equally, it should be a common concern that children of both the majority and the minority religions will receive ample religious instruction in school. They should resist that this education is replaced by mere classes in non-committal "ethics" (as has recently been the case in the German Land of Brandenburg.)
(ii) On the International level: We are living in an era in which a North- South "clash" in cultural - or even military terms - is anticipated (if not predicted or even desired) within both academic and military circles, including NATO Headquarters. This situation is often associated with names, like Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes or Samuel Huntington. (15) It is, however, a reality in the hearts and minds of many on both shores of the Mediterranean since collective memories of the infamous Crusades and the equally infamous Ottoman campaigns against central Europe are still awake.
In view of the obvious dangers of this alarmism, demonization of Islam, and aggressive cultural imperialism: it is of the utmost importance that responsible actors within Islam and Christianity cooperate in the defusion of what otherwise might turn out to be a time-bomb.
There are many ways of doing this, but none is probably more effective than personal encounters of opinion leaders from both sides. A successful model for such encounters are The Muslim-Christian dialogues conducted by the Al-Bait Foundation of the Kingdom of Jordan in Amman (16).
2) Issues of Particular Interest for Muslims in the West: It is difficult to see how Christian-Muslim cooperation could be effective in solving other major global problems like unemployment, destruction of the environment, mega- cities, poverty, over-endebtment, and underdevelopment in general. Because these problems concern all of mankind and therefore demand global inter-governmental cooperation.
One major issue is, however, relevant for joint Christian/Muslim action: the problems associated with mass migration from The Muslim south to The Christian north, resulting from overpopulation and underdevelopment. This created a Muslim presence even in relatively remote places, as in Sweden, where Islam within less than 20 years has become the second religion: a phenomenon provoking fear of submersion among the local populations and grave alienation symptoms among The Muslim immigrants. The result can be racial discrimination through which anti-Turkish or anti-Arab gut feelings may be projected on to Islam as such.
In this situation, it is essential that the expatriate Muslims receive all the help they need in order to maintain their identity as Muslims while integrating in other respects (like language, food, working habits, and clothing). Such help may be volunteered by enlightened governments and city fathers, but more often than non- Muslims in Europe face an up-hill battle when claiming their rights to:
- be recognized as a religious community equivalent to the major churches - construct mosques even in city centers
- call to prayer from the minaret
- participate in religious instruction in the State school system
- slaughter animals in halal fashion
- bury in the Islamic way
- have Imams within the armed forces
- dress in an Islamic way (i.e. covering the hair, arms and legs of women).
It must be admitted that The Muslims mostly- while not everywhere- obtain their rights, many times, however, only after a drawn-out legal battle. City councils are likely to resist the construction of a mosque on aesthetic or historical grounds, with considerations of public safety and public order, and pleading traffic congestion or noise pollution. In this situation nobody can be as helpful as Christian churches, using their moral authority in coming to the aid of their Muslim fellow believers. Such efforts on their part are not fully altruistic because a lack of tolerance against any one religion can backfire one day against all other religions.
Even though the Christian churches are in general decline they still offer the best chance for a fruitful cooperation with Islam both at the local and the International level. (17) There are many varied areas for such cooperation whose aim should be to secure communal and International peace, the promotion of common values, and a joint defense of the rights of the believers vis-?-vis the secular, laicistic State and atheist/ agnostic/ materialist/ consumerist activists, particularly within the media and education systems.
1 - R. Joseph Hoffmann in his Forword to Ibn Waqqas, Why I am not a Muslim. Amherst.
2 - According to a survey by Der SPIEGEL (Nr. 25 of 15 June 1992) only 56% of Germans
still believed in the existence of God. (In East Germany. it was only 27%). Only 50%
believed in some form of life after death, and only 29% still thought that Jesus was divine.
3 - The Neue Zrcher Zeitung, polling The Swiss, more recently came to the following
results (9 February 1994, p. 27): While only 4.4% declared themselves atheists, among the
16-35 years generation only 43% believed that Jesus was God: only 28% of the Catholics
and 11% of the Protestants participated in weekly church Services.
4 - Robert Leuenberger, Mehr Wandel als Abbau von Religion, NZZ Nr. 32. 09-02-1994.
5 - See Weddig Fricke, Standrechtlich gekreuzigt, Frankfurt- Buchschlag, 1986: Roger
Thiede. Der falsehe Paulus, in: Focus 5/1995; Gerd Ldemann. Die Auferstehung Jesus,
G?ttingen 1994: Gerd Ldemann. Ketzer, die andere Seite des frhen Christentums.
6 - See Der Spiegel of 03 June 1996.
7 - Richard Swinburne. On God, Oxford 1979; Karl Popper and John C. Eccles, The Self
and its Brain, London, New York 1977; Hans-Peter Drr, edit., Physik und Transzendenz.
8 - The biggest one among them probably is the Italian Fokolare movement with some
9 - See Henri Atlan, A tort et raison- Intereritique de la science et du mythe. Paris 1986.
10 - Sddeutsche Zeitung, Mnchen, 16/17. November 1993.
11 - Bryan S. Turner. Orientalism, Postmodernism and Islam, London 1994.
12 - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen Nr, 121.
13 - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 16 November 1995.
14 - It all started with her interview for Der Spiegel 21/1995 pp. 214-216.
15 - See Daniel Pipes, "The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!" National
Review, 19 November 1990; Bernard Lewis, The Roots of Muslim Rage. The Atlantic
Monthly, September 1990; Samuel Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign
Affairs, no 3/1993.
16 - The last of these encounters took place 13 - 15 November, 1995, with the German
Evangelical Church (EKD) at Loccum Academy near Hannover.
17 - A positive example of such cooperation was The International Christian-Muslim
Conference in Vienna (30 March- 2nd April. 1993).