| Cambridge University Press

Christian-Muslim Relations in Germany : Dictionary of Christian-Muslim Relations

Germany – a country of immigration? While the media and political parties struggled and fiercely debated the question for decades, fourth-generation immigrants were already living in Germany, most of them Turkish Muslims. From the beginning of interreligious and intercultural coexistence in Germany, integration and dialogue have been keywords in German society and remain a challenge not only for politics and civil society, but also for Christian-Muslim relations.

Christians in Germany

Today 63,4 % (ca. 52 Mio) of the population in Germany (ca. 82 Mio) identify themselves as themselves Christians (date: 31.12.2008). The Roman-Catholic Church has slightly more members (31,0 %) than the Protestant Church in Germany (30,2 %). The most important recent development is the increase of religiously non-affiliated persons, who are leaving the Churches or never have been members of the Church. The religiously non-affiliated citizens constitute 75,4 % in the so-called “new federal states” (former DDR) and 30% in the “old federal states” (former BRD). Hence, reunited Germany has become from 1990 onwards not more Protestant but rather less marked by Church membership. The majority of the East-German population proves relatively resistant to (all Churches, even to Christianity in general. Leaving the Church normally does not lead to joining another institutionally-formed religion but rather entering the “land” of religious non-commitment. The majority of the population retains church membership, remaining however largely outside the scope of religious norms of faith and ritual practice.

Muslims in Germany

Within the last 50 years Islam has been established in Germany as the second largest religion after Christianity.  According to the first nationwide representative study „Muslim Life in Germany“, commissioned by the German Conference on Islam and conducted by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (2009) the number of Muslims living in Germany is  between 3.8 and 4.3 million (between 4,6 % and 5,2 %). The Majority has Turkish roots (approx. 63%), followed by Muslim immigrants from southeastern Europe (approx. 14 %), Middle East (approx. 8 %), North Africa (approx. 7 %) and Central Asia/CIS, Iran, South/Southeast Asia and other parts of Africa (approx. 8 % in total). The biggest denominational groups are Sunnis (74 %), Alevis (13 %) and Shiites (7 %). The majority of Muslims is religious. Overall, 36 % would describe themselves as very religious; a further 50 % claim to be rather religious. Religiosity is particularly evident among Muslims of Turkish descent and Muslims of African origin.

Since the beginning of the large-scale immigration of workers into Germany in the 1960s, the Christian Churches in Germany have focused attention and efforts on neighborly relations with the country’s new Muslim residents. At that time the Churches understood their initiatives primarily as social outreach. Numerous individuals, congregations, and task groups within the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany have had long and intensive experience in social and religious communication, cooperation and communion. The trust that has grown out of this collaboration is crucial for the maintenance and further development of interreligious relationships. Christian-Muslim encounter and dialogue are not only relevant for the faithful and their communities, but also have a political and social benefit as “collateral profit” for society, which adopted the model of interreligious dialogue on a societal level.

A structural asymmetry in Christian-Muslim coexistence had to be considered, as the first generation of Muslim working immigrants with limited language ability evidently did not have similar funds, resources and infrastructure as the fellow Christian citizens did. The Muslim population in Germany has grown for about five decades. That fact obviously had a strong impact on Muslim identity.  

Christians-Muslim Relationship

The normally good relations  between Christians and Muslims often receive too little attention or appreciation, such as mutual greetings and invitations extended at holidays, meetings of Christian-Muslim working groups, adult education projects, national and regional events, along with cooperation in schools and preschools, hospitals and care homes, families and neighborhoods. But differences in culture, religion, tradition, language and mentality claim for a long run effort of knowing und understanding. While in Germany religion was more and more considered as a private matter, Muslims declare religion to be a public affair. Symbols of Islam such as architecturally prominent mosques, the call to prayer by loudspeaker or women wearing head scarves provoke public reactions and challenge intercultural and interreligious discussion on identity and relationship.

Regarding the Catholic Church, Vatican II created its distinguished documents Lumen Gentium (1964) and Nostra Aetate (1965),  treating freedom of religion  as  a “Copernican revolution in Christian-Islamic Relations” (Louis Massignons). In 1978 the Catholic Africa missionaries („White Fathers“) working among Muslims in Northern Africa, founded a Christian-Islamic Center for meeting and documentation (CIBEDO) in Cologne (now in Frankfurt a.M.). Since 1997 it has been a supporting agency of the German Catholic Bishops Conference (DBK) supporting interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam and promoting the social interaction of Christians and Muslims. In 1982 the Catholic bishops published a first document, “Muslims in Germany”, followed by pastoral and theological brochures: “Christians and Muslims in Germany” (1993 and 2003), offering a general view of Islam in Germany from a historical, theological and political prospective. A second main topic addressed frequently asked questions crucial for pastoral care, mutual understanding and flourishing cooperation in state and society. Since 2004 the Center for Christian-Islamic Meeting is part of the biannual national Catholic Church Gatherings (Katholikentage), which gives an overview of the cutting edge of Catholic-Muslim dialogue, as the Protestant Gatherings do as well.

The Pope’s speech in Regensburg also caused a loss of credibility for Catholics in interfaith dialogue in Germany. It was also a starting point for many official, scientific and public Christian-Muslim conferences, events and dialogues in various German Catholic academies, dioceses and parishes.

In 2000, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) published a brochure “Living together with Muslims in Germany. Defining Christian encounters with Muslims”, and extended in 2006, guidelines (“Clarity and Good Neighbourly Relations: Christians and Muslims in Germany”; EKD text 86) encouraging encounters with Muslims “in order to achieve good neighbourly relations and a mutually enriching coexistence”. The document does not ignore difficulties and conflicts such as an atmosphere of competition, but challenges Christians and Muslims to discuss difficulties in clear terms and to resolve misunderstandings to the greatest possible extent.

The culture and mentality of German society have been molded largely by Christian values. But at the same time, society now encompasses a plurality of religions and worldviews that challenge Christians and their churches to redefine their place in the social order. That describes the spirit of interfaith dialogue: “The Church accepts that it does not have a monopoly on representing fundamental values and convictions, neither in our political culture nor in relation to the state. The Church, however, reflecting a love for one’s neighbour that is derived from a faith in God, is a great advocate of respect for all people, as equal and responsible members of society.” (ibid., introduction)

Dialogue Organizations

Since 1976 the Islamic-Christian study group (ICA), has existed as a first umbrella organization. Members are different Islamic organizations and the Roman-Catholic, Protestant and Greek-Orthodox Churches. They hold joint meetings, host conferences, exchange technical questions and advise on interreligious projects.

In 1982 the Christian-Islamic Society (CIG) was founded (“Chrislages”) as an instrument of encounter for Christians and Muslims, which proclaims the fidelity to the proper identity and challenges the willingness of mutual understanding and acceptance of religion, culture and mentality.  The dialogue organization highlights common truth and values and describes the differences in a non-divisive or offensive way. The CIG defends the minority rights of Muslims in Germany and the Christian minorities in Islamic countries as well.

The different Christian-Muslim dialogue organizations confederated in 2003 a council of coordination, which represents more than 160 digitally mapped dialogue initiatives (PRODRIA 2007). The Christian-Muslim dialogue comprehends movies, books, features, expositions, interviews etc. For example one research project analyses frequent false prejudices on Christian and Islam in schoolbooks. The German government sponsors different projects of Christian-Islamic dialogue, such as seminars on dialogue with imams or a Muslim academic center.

Catholic and Protestant academies regularly and increasingly organize lectures, conferences, encounters and summer schools relating to Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. For this purpose some of them have appointed a person specially qualified for understanding and promoting Christian-Muslim relations as member of the team. The same holds true for some of the major Catholic apostolic and charitable “works” (CaritasMisereor etc.).Furthermore, the German Bishops Conference has instituted a sub-commission for Interreligious Dialogue including two academic scholars of Islam and a specialist in the field of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in Germany. Within the central committee of German Catholics (ZdK) a group of Christians and Muslims, active and knowledgeable in Christian-Muslim relations, meets at regular intervals to discuss and find solutions to issues of common interest to Muslims and Christians in contemporary German society. Comparable structures exist in the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD). In the central offices of the EKD a specialist heads the department “Islam and World Religions”. Some Evangelical Churches (Landeskirchen) have appointed regional consultants for Islam. The Evangelical Central Institute for Religious and Ideological Questions in Berlin has a special section dealing with issues pertaining to interreligious dialogue, not least Christian-Muslim dialogue. The Orthodox Church in Germany, too, has a specially appointed Islam consultant.

Practical experience in interreligious relationship

Interreligious dialogue can assume many shapes, such as quotidian talks, conferences of religious leaders or scholars, guided tours in churches and mosques, interreligious groups and prayers, common social activities, cooperation in interreligious organizations. In pastoral care there are also common topics under discussion. Muslim and Christian experts convey urgent ethical questions, especially on education, human rights protection of life, of family and traditional values as well as questions of bioethics. Numerous cooperative initiatives benefit refugees, marginalized, handicapped and sick persons, as well as schools, hospitals and prisons.  

In daily life there are many points of contact in families and society, politics and culture, at school and working places, in trading and economy, when tradition and values of faith convene. Birthday parties with neighbors or colleagues, congratulations or participation at religious feasts are opportunities to value the different tradition and religion. A significant field of respect and valorization is the formation in Kindergarten or school.  About 800.000 Muslim children in Germany attend Catholic kindergartens, because parents want them to be educated in religious values.

There are plenty of initiatives in parishes and interfaith cooperation on educational and social programs, but also a vast common commitment to justice and peace, to freedom and human rights.

In general among Christians and Muslims in the past conscience und comprehension of the other religion has grown and the disposition of encounter and dialogue is quite normal. At the same time also as new fears have to be addressed: fear of lack of identity and self-organization on behalf of Muslims, increased by the experience of xenophobia, and people's smoldering anxiety concerning foreign influence on behalf of German society. Christians and Muslims are challenged to fend off these tendencies and collaborate for an improved climate of mutual respect and sincere fraternity.  Common activities and events promote good neighborly relations such as the invitation to visit the mosques in the neighborhood and get in contact with the Muslim community especially on October 3rd, the German national holiday. Events such as the “week of fraternity” or “week of the foreign citizen” are good opportunities for mutual knowledge and building up fraternal relationships.  

Christian-Muslim relations are proceeding well, though once in a while different past concepts of dialogue continue to have an effect. Interreligious “dialogue“ is still considered  as removing misunderstandings of the proper religion and  paving the way for better understanding. Christians and Muslims have a huge common ground of faith and religious values. It is still a common challenge to enter into a sincere dialogue with all people of good will on basic values in such fields as family, bioethics, preservation of creation, social justice… Muslims and Christians indeed are asked to defend and promote these values effectively in common, in responsibility to God, to humankind and to the whole of creation.