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Ecumenical statement given at an Anti-Kargida protest, organised by the Christian-Muslim Society in Karlsruhe.

By Isa Breitmaier

In Karlsruhe we have a reception camp for refugees, which was enlarged in 2015 when many refugees arrived in Germany and also in Karlsruhe. Since last spring we have had weekly “Pegida” demonstrations in the city, calling themselves “Kargida” (Karlsruhe against the Islamisation of Germany). Since last spring we also have a “Netzwerk Karlsruhe gegen Rechts” ( “network against the right”, in which different groups participate, including churches and the Christian–Muslim Society. The following statement was given on invitation of this society in April 2016.

Dear fellow campaigners for social peace!

I thank you very much for the invitation to talk in the context of this rally, initiated by the Christian-Islamic Society. The ecumenical council in Karlsruhe (ACK Karlsruhe), which I have the honour to represent today, is a community of different Christian churches. We are united on the basis of our common belief that confesses „the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This common basis makes us capable of acting despite of the occasionally divisive differences between our confessions. Such a common basis does also exist between the Christian Churches and the Islamic communities.

Since February 2015 Kargida has been gathering in Karlsruhe. They call themselves „Karlsruhe against the Islamisation of the Occident“. They clain that Karlsruhe, Germany but also Europe have to be protected from alien and strange influences for example from Muslims. They lament the welcoming culture for the refugees. They fear, like Sarrazin has been since 2010, that Germany is going to eliminate or at least overburden itself. They tell us that Germany has lost its patriotism and that the Occident has to stay Christian. They claim that there is a kind of healthy racism, which is useful to protect Europe. And they talk of the “Hausschweinisierung” [ed.: “domestication of pigs”], as if we, the citizens, were putting up with everything, domesticated and lulled in by consumption like hogs.

To all of this we say no!

Because, firstly, people of Muslim faith are no strangers in our country! They have lived with us since the 17th century. First, they were prisoners of war, settling in Germany, later, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I recruited Turkish soldiers and built them a prayer room in Potsdam. In 1762, a Bosnian corps of 1000 men was formed and the oldest burial ground for Muslims was built in 1863 in Berlin and called “Turkish cemetery”. Since the fifties of the 20th century people of Muslim faith have helped us to reconstruct the country and have made their own impression on our culture. They enrich the gastronomy (how would we survive without “Döner” [ed.: “kebab”]), they are doctors, teachers, workers, craftsmen, employees, politicians, therapists of every kind, policemen and women and they pay taxes. They enrich our people and our culture in many different ways. We should not deceive ourselves: If there were a German core culture, people of Muslim faith would doubtlessly be part of it!

Do different religious affiliations have to repel each other? Can’t people of different religions live and work together? Sure they can! From a theologian’s point of view all men are created equal by God, whether they are Jews, Christians, Muslims or people of different faiths, and the Koran tells us the same. Therefore, everybody has their dignity stemming from his or her creation. The belief in creation relates each of us in an indelible way with God and demands respect for all the rest of creation and especially for our fellow human beings. On this common ground we can live together and we experience that every day at work, when we go shopping, where we live…

This respect doesn’t mean however, that that we have to draw the curtains over the religious differences between us. It may even be beneficial to engage with different religious opinions and to thereby start to understand one’s own belief more clearly. Especially in the regional ecumenical movement we see that very clearly. As long as we place emphasis on what we have in common it becomes clear that every religious practice has human character and we cannot attain the absolute without believing ourselves godlike. We all are seekers in our religious perceptions, living our faith loyally but also modestly and leaving others to live their faiths.

Christians and Muslims have, as we all know very well, much in common. We have a rather large common foundation for dialogue. In addition to the belief in the creation, the notion of tolerance is, for example, an ancient heritage from the times of the Roman Empire, which was shaped by Islam in the Qur’an and in many other writings as well as by Christianity – by each in its own way. Another area of agreement is the spirit of charity, which is a basic pillar of all three monotheistic religions. The fact that about 90% of Syrian refugees have so far found shelter in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt is a great sign of charity in the name of Islam.

But there are certainly also significant differences. From my experience as religious educator I can say that Muslim religious belief encourages Christians to rediscover our very own religious thinking and remember our core beliefs. The dialogue may serve as an incentive to rethink Christian ideas and represent them and live them on a daily basis. At the very moment when we are convinced of our own and truly live peace, hospitality and charity, we let our religious beliefs shine! Jesus himself had a attentive relationship with people of different faiths. He had eye-opening conversations with the Roman captain and a woman of Canaan, full of respect and at eye-level. The basic principle therefore is: People who want to conserve our religion and the so-called “Christian Occident” should not be guided by hostility towards Muslims but by an interest in their own religion and faith. This might lead to a mutually very beneficial form of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, which does not try to proselytise but helps re-discover and more attentively represent one’s own faith through the respectful conversation with the other religion. In such a dialogue we will improve our understanding of our own religion and our spirituality.

There is something else we have in common with Islam and, by the way, also with all other religions. It is a difficult commonality: In all religions there are those believers, who represent their convictions in a fanatical way. To that I want to say: Those, who exclude others on the basis of faith or even employ violence against people of different thinking, make themselves into gods. This transgression is seen as a lapse in every religion, as the most serious sin. And those, who seduce believers into violence under the guise of faith, abuse religion. Believers are led terribly astray to serve human power. We experienced this in the history of Christianity, with the Crusades and the burning of supposed witches and heretics or in the 17th century, the century of the religious wars among Christians all over Europe, or even in the German Christians’ loyalty towards Hitler and their readiness to use violence during the era of National Socialism in Germany. What the militants of IS are doing is just one more incidence of this dark commonality of all religions and faiths. A danger inherent in religion, which in the ‘West’ wasn’t even overcome through Enlightenment. A dark side of religion, which, however, very well can be overcome through information and education.

Most of the victims of IS militants are, by the way, differently minded Muslims. Why then should the IS be an argument in favour of equating Islam with violence?

I want to respond to one last point of the Pegida and Kargida movement: They refuse the culture that welcomes refugees. They claim that also criminals are being welcomed in Europe indiscriminately. The sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and the attacks in Paris and Brussels fuel this thinking. And indeed: To bring the criminals of this world into our countries would be absurd! But Chancellor Merkel and us, the supposed domesticated hog-citizens of our country know: Refugees are not per se criminals! Not even single men and Muslims! If one is threatened at home, leaves everything behind and accepts the risk of an open-ended flight, if one travels for several months on dangerous routes, through Africa the Near East or the Mediterranean region, they don’t do it to commit crimes. Which means that most of the people arriving here are people like you and me, no matter which religion they belong to! They want to lead a safe, unharmed, and free life. They want to be able to seize their opportunities to pursue a career, earn money, and grow old in peace. Explaining our culture, which was done during Carnival this year, can prevent crimes.

However, those who commit crimes have to be put in front of a judge and get what they deserve. We don’t tolerate criminal networks and assaults on women, in the same way that we don’t tolerate attacks on the accommodations of asylum seekers or on people of different skin colour. But so far our system and security forces have been doing a good job. The perpetrators of the New Year’s Eve events are standing trial now and we hope that also those, who have been attacking the accommodations of asylum seekers, will be arrested. But this is no reason to refuse Muslims, who are people like you and me.

Let me come to an end. To be religious, Muslim as well as Christian, means to live in a good relationship with God, fellow human beings, and nature. And those who are firmly anchored in their religion are happy to offer hospitality and dialogue without fear. We all are only pilgrims on this earth, on our way to the Kingdom of God, which already starts on this earth. With this in mind, let us welcome people who are in need, let us show compassion, spend our time with them, and eventually come together to make our contribution to peace and unity in diversity!