Impulsbeitrag zur Konferenz “One year after the Arab Spring” der Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

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The Relationship between Muslims and Christians – When it comes to the relationship between Islam and Christianity, Islam and Europe, Islam and the West too many people are polarized and tempted to think only of conflicts. Since the idea of the clash of civilizations became popular, narratives of Muslim-Christian confrontation have noticeably intensified. Certainly, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is in a sense characterized by theological differences, similar to the Christian and […]


Jewish dispute. However, the source of existing or upcoming tensions between these religions probably does not lie within their fundamental distinction, but on the contrary in a wide range of similarities. This may be one of the main reasons why it seems that there is a greater competition between Christians and Muslims, than, let’s say, between Muslims and Buddhists.On the other hand, both religions also agree in principle, that of course God himself will clear up the difference in opinions and clarify who is right, on the Day of Judgment. So why do mortals, the majority observant and rational individuals, still too often deliver harsh and dividing judgments on questions that can never be answered absolutely by any human being, but, by God only? Allow me, very quickly and in brief, two explanations of why I think people still judge: One is the extremist understanding of religion. For years, many scholars predicted and taught us that the role of religion will decrease with the rise of modernity. In actual fact, the importance of religion has grown in our world and scholars have had to admit that they were mistaken. Religious movements were and are surgeing within a world full of uncertainty and moral confusion. Surprisingly, many people are attracted by religion. At the same time, they are suffering from the lack of profound religious instruction. As a result, some turn their attention to fundamentalist orientations, which again tend to provide them with very simple answers to complex questions. This type of increase is unhealthy in some crucial points that I leave for later discussion.

However, we must remember that this is not confined to one faith, and to analyze not only the types of extremism committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but also right wing populism and terror in the fashion of Anders Behring Breivik and even acts of violence committed by Israeli settlers. This is all needed to better understand what incites individuals who consider themselves religious to harm each other. If we take a look at the deeper reasons behind extremism, we will find more than just a misunderstanding of religious codes, values and teachings, we will rather quickly come across dissatisfying social and political conditions which push individuals to extremes.

My second explanation focuses on the instrumentalisation and misuse of religion for power-political interests as it happened and still happens far too often, although we do not live in a bipolar or monolithic world. Consequentially, we have to focus on the political, social and economic context whenever we analyze tensions and/or conflicts between the two largest religions of our time. So, my main thesis is that confrontation does not evolve from religion but from other differences. The vast spread of Islam in its first centuries was not only caused by its attractiveness regarding its contents. Many people supported the early Muslims for political reasons. We know of records concerning Jews and Visigoths who were the first who called the Muslims to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. During the time of al-Andalus, coalition contracts were agreed between Muslim and Christian allies in opposition to other Muslims or Christians. The crusades were predominantly not proclaimed for purely religious interests. Even at the time of the crusades, alliances as described before existed. Another telling example is the relationship we know of between Charlemagne and Harun ar-Rashid – both shared common interests and exchanged presents. Similarly relevant is the amicable contact between Frederik II, the Holy Roman Emperor and al-Malik al-Kamil, the Successor of Saladin. Even the Ottoman Empire was not merely THE Muslim arch-enemy of the Christian world but also, just like any other, one of the main players in the geo-strategic landscape that could be a rival or an ally from time to time.
Nevertheless, the view of Christians on Muslims and vice versa is sustainably affected by the conflicts in history. Their contacts, even the violent ones, helped both sides to develop a better understanding of one another. But all in all, the images held and certain stereotypes could never free themselves from the, too often, negative projections.

Today, however, a new constellation on the world scene is challenging our traditional views. The so called Arab Spring is serving as a fresh and mould-breaking background for our estimation of the relationship between Muslims and Christians. Never, before the theory of the clash of civilizations, were we blessed with so many dialogue-initiatives as we are today.  And in the course of the Arab Spring the Relationship between Muslims and Christians became one of its major themes
Touching the projections: One widely spread bias on the Arab-Islamic world has already been shattered i.e. the idea of the incapability of Islam and democracy. Further positive meaningful events will occur and serve as positive narratives in the future, as with the news of Christians in Egypt protecting praying Muslims during their collective demonstrations. We remember, this was spread all over the world and touched many hearts. It is hard to predict how the Arab Spring will really affect the Arab-Islamic world in the longer term. Our time is marked by globalization. The regions of the world are interconnected as they never were before, so its impact will probably also radiate to the rest of the world. Yes, our conference wouldn’t be here today without that historic incident. If one assumes a cyclical understanding of history – and since Ibn Khaldun, the great philosopher of the 15th century – this is a common historical understanding in the Muslim world, a new period will follow this kind of spring.

But summer must not follow spring. The causality of the change of seasons we know cannot be easily transferred. The sole certainty we have is that nothing will be the same again. It is also likely that an unwelcome interference from outside will not be tolerated as it had before many times in history. It is believed that a positive development will depend not only on a good relationship between Muslims and Christians, but that this truly is a decisive factor. To contribute to smooth and expedient progress, a mutual understanding between the two largest religions in the world is essential. Making this our aim, I will mention some suggestions: The historical legacy, we are embedded in, should be recognized and  overcome. We do not live in the past. We are called upon to shape our present out of the current terms towards a better, common future. Cultural-combative attitudes are reactions of a search of identity and not of any real spirituality. The inner unity of a nation or a religious community must not be created by means of a concept of an outward enemy or bogeyman. This is weak and useless in our times. In mentioning this, I do not wish to suppress the reality of theological differences but emphasize that we should welcome differences and not fear them. The goal is a prosperous coexistence in an increasingly pluralistic world. It is precisely this sensibility for pluralism which shakes the fundamentalist world views.

Both, the Muslim majority society of Arabia and the Christian majority societies can embrace the chance and are capable of learning to improve their treatment of their respective minorities: that is to say, the constitutional protection of their rights and socio-cultural integration of individuals in everyday life.
Muslims and Christians should focus more on common interests, on what unites them in the nucleus, as the maintaining ethical and moral consciousness or belief in God, or even common human interests, such as wealth or environmental issues. Culture should not be equated with religion. Cultural exchange should be regarded as a gain for everybody.

Recalling my thesis let me sum up by saying that we know many fruitful ties between Christians and Muslims that show and teach us much: it is not that our respective religions divide people but people divide religions.

von Bacem Dziri, vor einem Arbeitskreis der Konferenz “One year after the Arab Spring”

weitere Informationen und Zusammenfasungen der Arbeit dieser Konferenz unter : http://www.kas.de/wf/en/33.30826

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