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Difficult Dialogue

March 14, 2008

The teaching of Islam is to be added to Germany's school curricula, but Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble admits the country's 16 states as well as the Muslim community have yet to agree on the plan's finer points.


It's hard to imagine Saudi Arabia's interior minister inviting representatives from the country's immigrant Christian community to a "Christianity Conference" to discuss social values and the Constitution. And then, moreover, taking the opportunity to promote better integration of Saudi Arabia's Christian minority, ignoring public prejudices and protests against the building of new, strange-looking churches in their neighborhoods to emphasize the principle of religious freedom and call for Christianity classes in Saudi schools.

It's a wholly unlikely scenario. And not just in Saudi Arabia, where Christian immigrants from Asia suffer extreme religious discrimination, but also in more liberal Muslim countries such as Turkey.

It therefore seems fair to say that the Islam Conference initiated by the German interior minister 18 months ago could serve as an inspiration to a number of countries, and not just western ones.

The project's goals are politically highly relevant. Wolfgang Schaeuble hopes that improved dialogue between representatives of the state and the Muslim community will help advance the integration of Germany's 3 million Muslims, which has been neglected for decades.

He is pinning his hopes on recognition of their religion, combined with the belief that the practice of this religion needs to take place within the framework of the German Constitution and system of values.

Schaeuble should be given due respect for concentrating his contribution to this very difficult dialogue on the basics -- and what's actually possible. The real problems are tied up with social integration and are the hardest to solve.

Teaching Islam in German is widely seen as a necessity. But the various Germans states have yet to agree on what form it might take -- and so do Muslims. There is still so much that has yet to be agreed on, as becomes apparent again and again. The process of dialogue kick-started by the Islam Conference is important. But this process will require reserves of patience from everyone involved.

Rainer Sollich heads DW-RADIO's Arabic service (jp)

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