What is the most liberal Islamic country
"The truth! If I can hear that! "
There is a jealous God in every religion. It is good that the Imamin Seyran Ateş and the theologian Christoph Markschies are not rulers.
chrismon: Ms. Ateş, since when have you had the feeling that your liberal mosque community will be a success?
Seyran Ateş: Since 2009, when the idea was born.
How, eight years before the church was founded?
Ateş: Yes, back then I was in the German Islam Conference. The Federal Minister of the Interior at the time, Wolfgang Schäuble, kept asking: Where are the liberal Muslims, why are they not doing anything? As a left activist and women's rights activist, I've always done something. And that's why I founded a liberal congregation, am the managing director of the non-profit GmbH and accepted by the congregation as an imam - despite strong criticism from the Muslim associations.
Is this a good time for the religions to coexist peacefully, Mr. Markschies?
Christoph Markschies: In this mosque: yes! If we realize that an evangelical parish is granting hospitality to a beleaguered mosque, then this is a good time. However, if we look at disputes in this country and in other countries, we have to say that, in addition to positive developments, there are also religiously charged civil wars, religiously based oppression, flight and displacement.
They fight for tolerance. Where has the limit for you personally been reached?
Ateş: I have an infinitely big, wide heart, a mild, compassionate heart. But I don't give up my political mind because of that. I fight for religious freedom, for women's rights and the rights of freedom as they are in the Basic Law. With us women are prayer leaders, and women are not separated from men in prayer. This enrags conservative Muslims.
They receive death threats - obviously from Islamists - and are surrounded by bodyguards.
Ateş: Currently, such a liberal mosque can only be openly practiced in the so-called Western world, where the governments are ready to ensure security for it. I am infinitely grateful that Germany is protecting me so that I can do this work. Salman Rushdie did not experience that, and all activists in Islamic countries are more likely to end up in prison or in exile. With their criticism, the vast majority of conservative Muslims contribute to the need for personal protection. They claim religious freedom for themselves and have to explain why they do not accept it for our liberal community and call us unbelievers. They do not see the plurality within their own religious community.
Is there such a thing as a birth defect in Judaism, Christianity and Islam - that tolerance is not sufficiently at home there? Human rights were also often fought for against the churches!
Markschies: I see it differently: The modern liberties were fought for in Europe, sometimes with the churches, sometimes against them: The French declaration of human rights was directed against the Catholic Church, but it contains many Christian elements. The three religions mentioned have the potential for violence in their traditions, but also the potential for peace. The containment of the potential for violence in modern times is unfortunately not irreversible, hopefully it is at least in our European societies. I would therefore not speak of a birth defect in the three religions, but of application errors in dealing with their traditions.
Are truth and tolerance compatible?
Markschies: Of course. Otherwise it would not be tolerance, just something like: “Do what you want!” Tolerant is someone who allows something else to apply for the sake of the truth of his own principles - for the sake of the freedom that Christ has brought us .
Ateş: The truth! I hear this word almost every day. We as liberal Muslims are thrown at us again and again: Your Islam is not the real Islam. The prophet wants it differently, God wants it differently. This criticism is often supplemented by the confession “There is no God but God!” Many understand this as a call to intolerance. It is correct: there is a jealous God in all three religions.
Markschies: The good thing is that each of these religions also has elements in their theology that limit their own claims to truth. The Bible clearly differentiates between the truth of God and what people can know about it. Jesus of Nazareth resolutely rejects self-appointed rulers. In multi-religious societies, people with different truths must be able to live with one another, and the Bible offers starting points for an appropriate attitude.
Ateş: It must be possible to search by faith. However, some Muslims consider many questions to be resolved: A woman must not be an imamine. It is prayed five, not three, times a day. The reason given is the following: My aunt, my uncle, my father and my imam taught me that. How do the critics know that a woman cannot be an imamine? Even in Muhammad's day, women were prayer leaders in the church. In our church we never say: what we do is right, what others are doing is wrong.
You have been fighting against the headscarf for many years. Aren't you intolerant of that too?
Ateş: When I fight for women's rights, I like to be intolerant if someone wants to call my position intolerant.
Markschies: What kind of tolerance would that be that had no limits? If other people's freedom rights are overridden by invoking “tolerance”, then that is not tolerance. Tolerance means, for good reasons, to allow other perceptions and behaviors to apply - and to advocate that they can apply. Those who are tolerant of extremists will ruin their society.
Again - the headscarf!
Ateş: I never said I was against the headscarf. I fight against certain officials wearing headscarves, teachers, judges and policewomen. I also fight vehemently - and I'm so intolerant of that - against the headscarf on the heads of children. For me this is child abuse.
So doesn't a liberal society have to allow everything?
Ateş: Freedom always means restriction. There are women who forcibly marry their daughters, mothers who hold their daughters for genital mutilation. Imams on Turkish television advocate female circumcision. I am annoyed: When we talk about the headscarf, it immediately comes down to the issue of religious freedom. What is also important is what it stands for politically and socially.
Markschies: The headscarf not only symbolizes a personal attitude. In 1923, Huda Scha’arawi, the first chairwoman of the Egyptian Women's Association, took off her veil and demonstratively threw it into a harbor basin in Alexandria. A spectacular act of liberation. Today women in Egypt, incidentally also Coptic Christians, are increasingly being urged to wear a headscarf.
Ateş: We mustn't shorten the headscarf debate to Germany or Europe. In Iran, a woman has just been sentenced to 20 years in prison for taking off her headscarf. I find it strange that feminists who fight for women's rights in this country defend wearing the headscarf in Iran as a symbol of religious freedom. Just why? Do they do it because they want to be tolerant or out of fear of being accused of racism?
Is there intolerance in the name of good?
Markschies: A defensive democracy is not intolerant. For example, democracy must act against terrorists who want to destroy democracy. But prohibition, the alcohol ban in the USA from 1920, was intolerance in the name of good. Adults have to learn to make decisions about their own alcohol consumption. Do we often confuse religion and customs?
Markschies: Yes. In this country, women and men still sat separately in village churches in the early 20th century. Married and unmarried people had to dress differently. That has little to do with religion, but more to do with social customs. When people sit next to each other today, that is of course to be welcomed from a Christian point of view. It makes clear the equality of people before God. But the distinction between religion and customs remains a challenge for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Ateş: I notice that many Muslims do not even ask about the meaning and purpose of rules, but rather try to fulfill them formally. It is the same with fasting. If a six-year-old elementary school child has to fast and therefore collapses, or if this child is supposed to wear a headscarf, then that must be clearly criticized.
So is it not a good time for religious tolerance?
Ateş: Look at what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco or Egypt, and increasingly also in Turkey. Ten years ago we met open, modernly dressed women, and now many are under the burqa. There is a rollback, even in Indonesia, which has always been seen as an example of a liberal Islamic country. There is now even an Islamic moral police there. Large groups of women in headscarves and men in Ottoman clothing and children in headscarves appear in parades on Istanbul's streets. That was unimaginable ten years ago. When I was a child you would have said: What kind of backward village idiots are they?
Markschies: Rollback is not a problem only for Islamic societies. In America, but also, for example, in Hungary, Poland or here in Germany, one can observe different forms of rollbacks after the great political and cultural emancipation movements of the twentieth century. Unfortunately also in Western Christianity: think of all those in the Catholic Church who want to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and for whom rapprochement with Judaism and the churches of the Reformation is a thorn in the side.
Or the conservative Protestants who call themselves biblical, evangelical!
Markschies: You have to differentiate very precisely now: there are politically more right-wing and left-wing evangelicals and very different varieties of their orientation towards the Bible. In Islam, Judaism and the Catholic Church, too, the movements that want to go back to values of the past want very different things.
Should the churches work more for a liberal Islam and contradict the conservative Islamic associations more often?
Ateş: The churches are often very fearful of the associations. Church representatives also often lump the cross, kippah and headscarf together. That irritates me a lot. There is no symbolism in Islam, especially not a single symbol for the entire Islamic community. While the cross and the kippah stand for a statement of faith, the headscarf symbolizes custom and morality. The churches simply take over the narrative of the Muslim associations that it is a question of faith.
Markschies: There is no bad intent behind this. In many cases, the associations are the only tangible interlocutors, even if they only represent a part of Muslims in Germany that is difficult to define. You cannot simply construct dialogue partners yourself. The fact that the headscarf, cross and kippah are lumped together as religious symbols often has to do with a lack of knowledge. So: listen, explain and learn!
Ateş: But every church man knows that there are different currents in Islam, for example Sunnis and Shiites. If the associations then say that there can be no reform in Islam, politicians and the churches should also see that this is not true.
Markschies: There is definitely a lot of catching up to do. But sensitivity has grown and criticism of the Ditib mosque association, which is dependent on the Turkish government, is now widespread. The Protestant Church is itself so plural that it can also perceive plurality in Islam. This also applies to Judaism. We also talk to Orthodox and liberals, expressing what connects us and what sets us apart.
Should the state determine how Islam is organized?
Ateş: First of all, you have to find out how many Muslims there are in Germany. So far, statisticians have estimated the number simply by looking at the names in the phone book. Polls would be much better. If you had the number, you could develop a democratic Islamic council out of it and include the Muslims who are actually there in all their plurality.
A democratic council? So far only hierarchical structures of the churches are known in Germany.
Can they be transferred?
Ateş: Islam does not have such fixed structures as the churches. There is no top teaching authority, no permanent imams. Being an imam is only a part. Faith is something only between me and my God. There is a lot of individualism in Islam. Therefore one has to think about a new concept for dealing with Islam.
Markschies: Forced alignment with the structures of Christian churches is not a good idea at all. It took a long time for today's state-to-church relationship in Germany to develop in the way that it shapes our country today.
What is your personal strategy for dealing with opinions that go against your grain?
Ateş: I was politicized in Germany in the 1980s. In other words, I have experienced the strength and effectiveness of citizens' movements and learned to love civil disobedience.
Markschies: I have learned in the past few years that not everything has to be discussed. For example, the fact that women stand at the altar in the Protestant Church is a consensus that we in the Protestant Church please no longer question. It has also become more important to me to understand why people take a certain position. It becomes more and more clear to me how much uncertainty and fear there is. That cannot be combated with arguments alone.
If we meet again in ten years, what has changed in the religious landscape?
Markschies: I hope that historically critical editions of the Koran can then also be read in Saudi Arabia. I trust the enlightenment power of science and I think we will know a lot more about each other. After all, Europe's religious landscape will be much more colorful, and entirely new coalitions will likely emerge.
Ateş: Until then, there will certainly be churches in Vienna, Paris, London and in many other European cities like mine here and theological university institutes for a liberal Islam.
Moderation: Claudia Keller and Eduard Kopp
Seyran Ateş, Born in Istanbul in 1963, has lived in Germany since 1969. At the age of 21 she was shot and critically injured while helping a young Turkish woman. She later became a lawyer and fought for women's rights. In 2017 she founded her liberal Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque on the premises of a Protestant congregation in Berlin-Moabit. Here she is also an imamine. This exposes her to severe criticism from fundamentalist Muslims.
Christoph Markschies, Born in Berlin in 1962, teaches Ancient Christianity at the Humboldt University in Berlin. From 2006 to 2010 he was president of this university. He heads the Institute for Church and Judaism and is chairman of the Chamber for Theology of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which prepares theological explanations.
Copyright: chrismon 9/2018
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