In order to retain the values of the Koran, one must go beyond the literal meaning of the text, says British Islam scholar Dilwar Hussein. Instead, Muslims should try to interpret the dynamic of change of early Islam and apply that to modern times and conditions. An interview by Jan Kuhlmann
With your project “New Horizons” you want to promote reform and new ideas within Islam. With what aim?
Dilwar Hussain: We feel that not enough is happening in terms of promoting ideas that are more open and more progressive, ideas that speak to the reality of Muslim life in Europe. One of the most obvious examples is gender equality. Over the last 10 or 15 years, the Muslim discourse has claimed that when you go back to the foundations of Islam you can find references that are emancipatory of women.
Taking that point of view, some Muslims have argued that Islam has always had a positive approach towards gender equality, that it’s all about tradition and culture. And once we’re able to move away from traditional Muslim cultures we can find a European practice of Islam that will be egalitarian and equal. I think that is okay at one level, but it is not enough.
The Shiite scholar Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari is regarded as one of the Iran’s most influential Muslim reformist thinkers. In an interview with Jan Kuhlmann, he explains why there is no inconsistency between Islam and democracy.
You have stated that Islam is a religion and not a political programme. Many other Islamic scholars, however, say that it is not possible to separate religion and the state or, alternatively, religion and politics. Do you thing these spiritual leaders are mistaken?
Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari: You cannot expect politics to adhere to the sort of ethical principles found in religion. And conversely, you cannot expect religion to follow a political programme with the aim of achieving certain social objectives. As I understand it, religion is the relationship between man and God, in which man speaks to his God, his God listens, resulting in inner emancipation. This is why I hold the view that religion, and also Islam in particular, cannot be equated with a political programme.
The interviews and speeches given by Germany’s new president, Joachim Gauck, show that he is putting a clear distance between himself and Islam. But as German president, his job is not to polarise, but to differentiate. In this essay, Jan Kuhlmann argues that he should reach out more to conservative Muslims in particular
Muslims are divided in their views on the new German president, Joachim Gauck. Many are concerned about his evident understanding for the views of Thilo Sarrazin on Muslims in Germany. Jan Kuhlmann reports
It was a broad coalition in the Federal Assembly which elected Joachim Gauck to the German presidency last Sunday. Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens all supported the 72-year-old candidate. The media also took a positive view, describing him as a “President of the People” – a judgement which is confirmed by the opinion polls. According to one major poll, 67 percent think he was a good choice. So is Joachim Gauck “everybody’s president”?
That doesn’t seem to be true: in spite of the fact that so many political parties supported him, 108 members of the assembly abstained. Muslims in Germany are especially critical. Some – like Mehmet Kilic, Turkish-born spokesman on integration for the Green Party group in the German parliament – see Gauck as the completely wrong man for the job. He objects particularly to Gauck’s evident understanding for the views of Thilo Sarrazin, a former central banker whose book “Germany does away with itself” (“Deutschland schafft sich ab”) was highly controversial because of its view that the immigration of people who are genetically disadvantaged is causing problems for Germany.