Can a Christian read the Koran?

Should Christians Read the Koran?

For Dr. Thomas Lemmen is the place of conversation on familiar territory: he teaches religious studies at the Steyler University in Sankt Augustin. In the interreligious dialogue he sees the Steyls as groundbreaking: The missionaries not only work together in and with other cultures, in Sankt Augustin there are also all institutes that deal with other cultures.

City of God: Dr. Lemmen, you are a consultant for Islam issues at the Archdiocese of Cologne and managing director of the Christian-Islamic Society. You have now received the German Dialogue Prize in the Interreligious Dialogue category. At what level do Christians and Muslims meet?
Dr. Lemming: Mainly in the dialogue of life: at school, at work, in kindergarten. This is where Christians and Muslims meet and exchange ideas on issues relating to everyday life.

Sure, when Christian and Muslim mothers meet in kindergarten, they talk about whooping cough and head lice. Why should they talk about their beliefs?
To stick with kindergarten: We celebrate Saint Martin or Nicholas - how can we celebrate festivals with members of other religions without giving up or mixing up content? My Answer: The sharing of Saint Martin is a deeply Christian attitude that is necessary in our society, and with it Martin becomes an image of social solidarity.

Giving, sharing, giving alms - that is also one of the five pillars of Islam.
That's the way it is. Caring for one's neighbor, especially towards every human being, is a fundamental Islamic attitude. There are points of contact in everyday life that you can talk about and discuss basic issues of society.

So Martin is also a metaphor, an image that stands for values ​​that are also important to Muslims?
Yes, even if they do not recognize Jesus Christ in their neighbor. But there is a tradition in Islam that is familiar to Christians: “Didn't you find out that my servant so-and-so was sick and you didn't visit him? Didn't you know that if you had visited him, you would have found Me with him. ”Encountering God in one's neighbor is something that also exists in Islam.

If there are parallels - should Christians read the Koran?
Unlike the Old and New Testaments, the texts of the Koran are not sorted chronologically, but lengthwise. It is very difficult to understand. My advice is not to pick up the Koran straight away, but a book about Islam. Otherwise there are more questions than answers.

Already in the second sura one encounters a verse that is disturbing. When it says: "And kill them wherever you meet them, and drive them away from where they have driven you, because persecution is worse than killing!" give pictures to the Gospels? In Matthew, for example, it says: “But those for whom the kingdom was destined will be cast out into utter darkness; there they will howl and grind their teeth. "
Every scriptural religion knows the problem of taking texts out of context and setting them absolutely. That is a wrong reading. The Koran, like the Bible, wants to be understood in context. It is one of the principles of the Koran interpretation to ask about so-called revelation occasions, i.e. the context of the text. Fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, do not and take up this verse to use it for their own purposes. Some against, the other for Islam. But the verse wants to be understood in context. It was a time of struggle. Mohammed was at odds with his opponents, the pagans of Mecca, who refused to accept his message; He went to Medina, they followed him, and a fight broke out. In this situation, the Muslims say, this verse is revealed to legitimize the defense against this aggression. If you read the text further, it says: "If they stop, God is forgiving and merciful."

Does that mean that this text relates to a very specific historical situation and is not to be understood as generalizing?
Exactly. The Koran has to be interpreted: what significance do these texts have for other situations? Scholars - as well as Christian theologians - are still discussing this today.

Then jihad, the holy war, could also be understood not as a fight against a supposed threat from outside, but as a fight that I fight against my internal enemy.
The term jihad has several meanings. The great jihad is the struggle that takes place within myself, the daily struggle with my bad habits and drives, the struggle to become a good person, a good Muslim. Little jihad means armed struggle - and that is important now! - in defense! There is abuse when one declares a state of defense in order to actually wage a war of aggression. But this does not only happen with Muslims; the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was also legitimized as a case of defense.

Are you allowed to do politics with the Bible and the Koran? Or to put it another way: Can religion be apolitical? The new council chairman of the Evangelical Church, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, calls for more political commitment from Christians. He himself will make clear statements on political issues.
Holy scriptures are political insofar as they refer to concrete societal and social conditions and encourage people to behave accordingly. Jesus did not declare himself the political Messiah, but his message is political because it has social consequences. Mohammed proclaimed a religious message that also transformed Arab society. It was about confessing to the one God and turning away from the many gods and idols. This also had economic, social and thus political consequences. In this respect, the Holy Scriptures always have a political relevance. Nevertheless, it should not be formulated into a political program out of context. Of course there is this temptation in the Islamic world to construct the ideal Islamic state. But these are reconstructions of an idealized past.

What the Salafists are currently trying to do. What is it that fascinates young people about joining them? Is it the uncompromisingly fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran? Or rather the search for ideals?
I think the phenomenon of Salafism is also a problem of second and third generation migrants' search for identity. The writer Max Frisch said: “… workers have been called in and people come.” That means: When the so-called guest workers immigrated, they did not think of the culture and religions of these people. In addition, they were not intellectuals, but simple workers who were supposed to work in the factories. They lived their religion here as they learned it at home. They passed these ideas on to their children. Now the children notice that these thought patterns are no longer applicable in our society, and they are looking for answers. They do not get this from their parents, nor from the imams who have come from home, but from eloquent young Salafists who can give them these answers very easily and plausibly.

As in the sura quoted at the beginning.
Just like that. But just as we talk about Salafism, we also have to talk about right-wing and left-wing extremist groups, because all of these groups offer answers and structures that young people can connect to with their needs. The Salafists are looking for such young people, they go into their social worlds and practice methods of outreach social work.

Can the religious representatives give answers to the young people who are looking for meaning? Or is that more a task for politics?
It is a task for everyone in our society. Politics has an eminently important task, namely the establishment of Islamic religious instruction as a standard offer in public schools. That is the best remedy against fundamentalist groups. It has been talked about for many years, and politicians have now recognized the need for such an offer. It will take some time before the goal will be achieved. It is also a task for the religious communities. The Catholic Church is challenged because it looks after countless youth facilities that are attended not only by Christians but also by Muslims. Such potentials must be counteracted in these institutions. This means that the topic of dialogue belongs to youth work. Dialogue and understanding are effective preventive measures against any form of radicalization. The Muslim communities also have this responsibility. You must not allow the Salafists to interpret Islam.

Her doctoral thesis is entitled “Muslims in Germany. A challenge for church and society. ”Where do you see the challenge?
When I got into the subject, I just came from Africa and was thrilled to see how Christianity is lived there. Because I wanted to continue working with Africans, I went to the Catholic University Community in Bonn. There I mainly met Arab, Afghan and Iranian students and through them I found access to Islam. It dawned on me that being a Christian in the modern age necessarily means being a Christian in the face of the other. Our society has become multi-religious; People of different (or no) beliefs live together. When I speak of being a Christian today, it is often in the face of someone who does not share this belief. This challenges me to become aware of my faith and to be able to provide information about what I believe in. Talking to the other person can help me to be able to speak about religious questions. The multi-religious society thus offers the chance to meet others, to exchange ideas and to deepen one's own faith.