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Peter Hünseler

Dialogue at a Snail's Pace

German Version


From: Neue Stadt, Dezember 2005, S. 4-6
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    According to Peter Hünseler's assessment integration is up to now for the majority of Muslims an unknown conception. The expert for the living together of Christians and Muslims is convinced that Western societies have nevertheless to call upon their fellow-citizens of Muslim origin to integrate into their new homeland.

    Peter Hünseler (born in 1948) is theologian and scientist of Islam. Since November 2005 he's been leading CIBEDO, the office for Christian-Muslim encounter and documentation in Frankfurt/Main, an institution of the German Bishops' Conference. Among other things he worked for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung from 1985 to 1996 in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel and Morocco.


NEUE STADT: Mister Hünseler, are Christians and Muslims already living together in German speaking countries?
Hünseler: I am afraid that they are living at cross-purposes.

But is there not a lot of dialogue between the two religions?
There is a lively dialogue at the level of churches, institutions and scholars - that is true. Many things happen also at the spontaneous level. There are for instance in almost every larger town the so called Christian-Muslim societies. With great engagement and without service in return people keep there going that dialogue, by the way, with scarcely any frustration.
But the dialogue with the mass of people is missing. At that we have to work! For if we want that these people integrate, we have to take care that they can live their religion here.

But do Muslims want to integrate at all?
We expect of them that they integrate. Our democratic togetherness demands everybody's contribution and does not function when individual small groups are living at cross purposes.
For Muslims however integration is an absolute novelty. Up to now they had two possibilities in their history: Either Islam ruled in the country - then it was simple for them. Or when they were in the minority they made a protective agreement with the state, in order to be able to practise their religion in peace. They admittedly lived there but had little to do with the majority of the population.

Now Muslims are here already in the third generation. Is that generation open-minded or does it rather differentiate itself?
I see three trends: First there are those who have adapted here and make their contribution - also in the cultural area.
The second and probably largest group is struggling along after a fashion in the tension between the Arab or Turk and the Central European identity. There are many of them who try to live their faith with all its instructions.
But a third group did not overcome the cultural-religious conflict. These young people wanted to take over the West European identity - but it did not work. Then they wanted to get the identity of their countries of origin - without success. So they obtain a new identity by relating to the 'Umma', the Islamic community as a whole. A few of them join the fight of radical Dschihad groups against globalisation. They are no longer interested in their parents' homeland but in the big Muslim scenes, such as Tschetschenia or Afghanistan.

In order to find their identity?
Yes. Somebody said once: Forty years ago the same people would have joined the Red Army Fraction. Today they take part in Dschihad groups, because these belong to the last global groups of resistance.

Let us look at the majority: Do not they too seal themselves off in ghettos where Germans, Austrians or Swiss have no business.
In our society there must not be places from which any group of the population is excluded on principle! But we should not think so small-mindedly that there had not to be allowed Arab or Turk stomping grounds. We think it also harmless when Germans in Mallorca remain rather among themselves.

But what is when in those ghettos special laws prevail? Think of the murder of the Dutch critic of Islam Theo van Gogh one year ago.
There must not be any areas where the Basic Law, respectively the Constitution is not involved! They are the largest common platform for all citizens. In Islamic countries are many ways of behaviour that are incompatible with it. They must not be imported.

What kind of behaviour?
Murder from religious motives, revenge, compulsory marriages, prohibition of class excursions and sport training for girls. I think the headscarf is only problematic in educational institutions, because it reminds in our society of the suppression of women. I personally think that also slaughter according to Jewish rites is a critical matter.

What has the sport training to do with the Basic Law?
There is a right to education, and the compulsory school attendance!

Do we not use force with a young Muslima, when we oblige her to sport lessons? For her it almost amounts to denudation to put on the popular sport dress.
Who does here use force against whom? These people must decide where they want to live! If I as Christian want to live in Saudi Arabia, I know that I am not allowed to take part in a Mass there. If I nevertheless want it, I must not go there.

You have just said we should enable Muslims to live their religion here. Now you demand indirectly that those who want consequently to live Islam should emigrate!
That depends on what the Muslim concerned regards as absolute religious order and what as folkloristic tradition which he can give up. We cannot decide that for Muslims. For those who insist on the mentioned customs it is really better to live in a Muslim country.

Some people say that the dialogue with Muslims was naively held. Muslims were more dangerous as you supposed ...
There is often referred to 'takia', the right to pretence. That term has developed in times when Muslims were persecuted. But to think that every Muslim who is living here is dishonest is a scandalous insinuation! They do not need it, for they can live their faith here. Of course, there are a few representatives with that attitude. They for instance quite legally apply for the allowance to give training in Islamic religion. At the same time they spread in their writings values that contradict our basic values.
On the other hand there are people among us who naively hold a supposed dialogue with Muslims but who, owing to an odd multi-culti-enthusiasm, give up their own religious and constitutional principles.

Do you see progress in the living together?
We are approaching each other at a snail's pace. There are small steps, for instance where Muslims accept that they have to observe certain standards in our society. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany {1} for example published a Charta on it. Muslims increasingly disassociate themselves also publicly from terrorism, but only slowly, because they are not accustomed to that kind of publicity.

The problem is then not their attitude, but that they do not show it publicly?
Yes. And that leads to a problem of understanding. There it was a huge progress when last year 20.000 Turks demonstrated against terrorism in Cologne.

Will there be once a Western European Islam or will Europe slowly become Arab?
I am for a free development of the mind, also in religious matters; by it other religions will come to no harm. But in many Islamic states religion is kept in leading-strings. And many countries of origin try to influence Islamic communities here. But Europe could be an area where Islam is able to slip off the fetters of state patronizing and develop freely.
And a second huge problem of the Islamic world could be solved by this open European area, namely the decreed mental stagnation.

I beg your pardon?
Since the eleventh/twelfth century the door - to say it quite simplified - of the individual interpretation of the Koran has been closed. At that time one proceeded on the assumption that in the world further developments were impossible, for everything had already been settled by the lawyers of Islam. So today Islam does not know a teaching authority and no synodal structures. None of the innumerable Islamic centres sees itself authorized to speak in the name of Islam. In addition, there is not - as with the Bible - any critical exegesis of the Koran that takes into account the contemporary circumstances. The problem is: The world is developing and that massively! That's why a religion too has constantly to develop.

Why do you see the Western European freedom of thought as solution for it?
Imagine Islam would be freely taught and discussed at the universities of the EU! Muslims would be looking for Islam's answers to today's challenges! Of course, the conservatives too might get a hearing, - if they take on the argument. This could be a step to something like a European Islam.

Are there Muslims who would take advantage of it?
Oh, yes! Today many Muslims already work philosophically and theologically.

What is your advice for the social intercourse with Muslims in everyday life?
Place into the foreground the dignity of the individual person! Muslims are much more responsive to it than we are. And be ready to learn from them! Think only what they can teach us in the matter of hospitality! It would be good for our society.

Many thanks for this conservation.

Ernst Ulz


{1} The 'Islamic Charta' can be get for 3 Euro from the Central Council of the Muslims in Germany. P.O.B. 1224, 52232 Eschweiler, Fax: 03403 702076, e-mail:, or can be downloaded from

As office of the German Bishops' Conference CIBEDO, the Chistian-Islamic meeting and documentation place, has the task to further the dialogue between Christianity and Islam and the living together of Christians and Muslims.
Contact: Balduinstr. 62
60599 Frankfurt am Main
Tel. + 49 (69) 726491


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