Helpful Texts

Link zum Mandala von Bruder Klaus
Stefan Orth {*}

University: Where is the Islamic theology heading?


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 2/2014, P. 63-65
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    The Islamic umbrella organizations have denounced the cooperation with Mouhanad Khorchide, head of the Islamic Centre at the University of Münster. Meanwhile, there is also an opinion on his approach, which, however, also met with criticism.


The move did not come out of the blue. Already at the beginning of last year, there had been allegations against Mouhanad Khorchide, Professor of Islamic Religious Education and Director of the Centre for Islamic Theology (CIT) at the University of Münster, that the theology taught by him would not comply with Islam. At that time, among the initiators who demanded "repentance" from Khorchide were members of the Milli Görüs movement. A short time later, after a talk, representatives of DITIB who had endorsed the criticism revoked it as premature.

Already at that time, the reason was the publication of the popular scientific book "Islam ist Barmherzigkeit. Grundzüge einer modernen Religion" [Islam is mercy. Essentials of a modern religion.] (Freiburg, 2012). In it Khorchide presents the principles of his theological beliefs (see, most recently his contribution in "Glauben lehren? Zur Zukunft des Religionsunterrichts", Herder Korrespondenz Spezial 2-2013, 56ff.) Khorchide studied Islamic theology in Beirut, and in Vienna sociology. He worked as a teacher of religious education and Imam and is since 2010 Professor of Islamic Religious Education. Since 2012 he is head of the new CIT.


Support by the Federal President

Last November, the in the Coordination Council of Muslims (KRM) represented major Islamic umbrella organizations then revoked the collaboration with Khorchide, because of the positions held by him. The relationship of trust was "deeply broken and irreparably damaged," it said. Khorchide worked like an orientalist and not as an Islamic theologian, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Aiman Mazyek criticized.

For the time being, this has admittedly no immediate consequences, because only the Advisory Board of KMR is able to request a dismissal by the university administration. This advisory board, however, has not yet been established. It belongs to the background of the controversy that one for a long time did not succeed in filling all positions. The Federal Ministry of Education, which financially promotes the development of the Centre, has already rejected two proposed candidates, by pointing out that they are observed by the intelligence service. With a Berlin woman teacher of Islamic religious instruction, there is meanwhile at least another universally accepted member. But the advisory board is only then able to work if an eighth member is found. Khorchide's critics have probably rather been provoked by his statement in an interview with "Die Zeit" in autumn. There he said that he could dispense with the advisory council, and that a voluntary commitment of teachers instead of an Islamic teaching license (Idschaza) would suffice.

Conversely, not only the Rector of the University of Münster, Ursula Nelles, the Alevi community in Germany and the Liberal Islamic Federation have backed Khorchide up. And at the end of November President Joachim Gauck took advantage of a visit to the Islamic Centre to appreciate the establishment of an Islamic theology in Germany as "important chapter of contemporary German history." Also the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo was represented by one of his advisers, who promised the support of this institution of the Islamic world for this Centre in Münster.


Skepticism in view of historical-critical methods

In mid-December the associations have now presented a more than 70-page opinion where four authors from different perspectives analyze Khorchide's theology, in concreto his work "Islam ist Barmherzigkeit."



The tenor of the opinion of the Coordinating Council is that Khorchide in a methodically inaccurate manner, as e.g. by translating only faultily the Koran into German and quoting out of context. All this is done in order to substantiate his position.

Ultimately, Khorchide's aim was to curry favor with a Christian audience. It would be a reading of the Scripture which feels obliged to the "spirit of the times," it says in the part which has been written by Mohammad Khallouk, who is working on his habilitation thesis at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich. However, it would not be possible "offhandedly" to apply the usual historical-critical methods, both of Islamic Studies and modern Christian theologies, to Islamic theology. The Koran had been "fully and exclusively imparted by the Archangel Gabriel to the last Prophet and Messenger Muhammad."

Erol Pürül, who has already been twice Speaker of the KRM for the Association of Islamic Cultural Centres, accused Khorchide of adopting "the external view of the non-Muslim majority society on the term Sharia, which is charged with ressentiments" (see also Khorchide's recent monograph "Scharia - der missverstandene Gott. Der Weg zu einer modernen islamischen Ethik" [Sharia - the Misunderstood God. The Path to Modern Islamic Ethics], Freiburg, 2013). He is also irked by the parallels to Christian theology and its terminology in the work of Khorchide.


Vulnerable Coordinating Council?

However, in the opinion - all its authors are not holders of a chair or at least renowned scientists - differences in the diction are definitely noticeable. The second, extensive section of the opinion, for instance, includes a comparatively favorable assessment. Seyda Can, too, admittedly criticizes that Khorchide would differ from the classical doctrine in some issues. However, she also points out that it is, in the ultimate analysis, about a defensible minority position in Islam. But reproaching Islamic scholars for dealing too little with the mercy of God is "demonstrably incorrect".

She criticizes rather that Khorchide's approach was not as original as he pretended. Here and there he would repeat ideas which were already known and accepted in the Islamic tradition and present them as his own. Her conclusion reads, "All in all, in view of the actually held theses and their derivation, Khorchide's claim to conduct a critical analysis of the prevailing Islamic theology and at the same time to establish a 'theology of mercy' in Islam as an alternative to the dominant discourse appears to be unduly high." In addition to it, she states explicitly that Khorchide "despite his undifferentiated and partially unobjective statements works undoubtedly within the context of Islamic teachings." His remarks about the articles of faith left no doubt that he believed in God and honored the Prophet.

In a comment on a discussion of the Islamic associations with Khorchide and other Islamic theologians at the beginning of December, Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Islamic Religious Education at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, noted that the opinion would develop its argument on the basis of the initially formulated sweeping statements. Such an approach, however, subjects the experts to the suspicion that they are reasoning one-sidedly and selectively. It would have been better if they had published the opinion as a "contribution to the debate," it says in the 22-page letter. Behr argues in favor of a variety of Islamic theology in Germany, without that Muslim theologians allow to be mandatorily tied down to a "denomination" (Sunni, Shia, etc. with their respective sub-forms). It is indispensable especially for the training of teachers of religion to deal with plurality and the respective theological debates.


The Case is Explosive

In a similarly detailed commentary on the opinion, the Freiburg religious scholar Bernhard Uhde accused it with technical defects ("let alone the lack of scientific competence"). In Khorchide's popular science book it is not about the description of the Islamic doctrine - professionally substantiated up to the smallest detail. Completely in line with theological research at German universities - he rather wants to point out "possibilities of thought." Although it must be admitted that the criticism in the KRM-opinion is correct in some places, especially with regard to inaccurate translations of the Koran and that Khorchide held the view of a minority. This would only be problematic if he were the only exponent in the German university scene - but this is not the case. There are currently four Islamic Centres. Uhde's conclusion therefore is: It can precisely not be learned from the submitted opinion that Khorchide does not satisfy scientific claims and betrays the self-commitment to a denominational Islamic theology.



The opinion would rather undermine the approach proposed by KRM. KRM had thus done itself no favor but made itself vulnerable.

With the fate of Khorchide, a lot is at stake for building up an Islamic theology in Germany. The case is not least explosive because in Munster, as is well known, once before a professor of "religion of Islam" had to leave: the already in 2004 appointed (Muhammad) Sven Kalisch, who had pushed himself out into the cold by denying the historicity of the Prophet Muhammad.

Khorchide, who is his immediate successor, is one of the most prominent representatives of the young academic discipline, which must still establish itself. Even if he may maintain his professorship at the Islamic Centre, it would remain problematic if the graduates as religious teachers, imams and in other tasks would be rejected by the Muslim communities which are represented by the umbrella organizations. That's why there are unrest and partly also critical voices among the approximately 400 students at the Münster Islamic Centre. In the winter semester 2013/2014 alone, there were about 1000 applicants for the approximately 260 new places at the CIT.

Whether there may be in the long-term an Islamic theology in Germany, which is on par with the Christian theologies and finds recognition as an academic discipline in the concert of science, will also be decided by the fate of Khorchide.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'