Has monotheism come before polytheism

Basics of a contemporary interpretation of Islam (part 3)Islam as perpetual reform

Rüdiger Achenbach is part of the discussion Mouhanad Khorchide (Head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster), Serdar Güneş (Institute for Studies of the Culture and Religion of Islam at the University of Frankfurt am Main), Abdul Ahmad Rashid (Islamic scholar and editor at ZDF) and Abderrahmane Ammar (Sociologist and Islamic scholar from Morocco).

Rüdiger Achenbach: The aim of the Prophet Mohammed is to break with the traditional tribal traditions and above all with polytheism. The Koran certainly ties in with well-known monotheistic ideas. Mr. Güneş.

Serdar Güneş: The Koranic text is a text that was revealed for the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century and the addressees were for the most part polytheists. It was about constituting the unity of God, his uniqueness, that is, his monotheism. In this respect, Islam is a radical monotheism. But he did not clean the table, but Islam, or the Koran in particular, refers to previous traditions: Christianity and Judaism as well. That is also in the Koran. So it ties in with a tradition that was already there. According to his self-image, he also corrects a few things. He wants to be measured as a corrective. Islam is actually perpetual reform. And this impulse has come to a standstill somewhere over time, because Islam has institutionalized itself and has developed structures.

This is a universal law, if I develop structures somewhere, everything will ossify at some point. You know that from the administration, I guess. It is no different with Islam. In this respect one would have to transport the universal intentions of the Koran text or the moral ideas into our present day and update them. There are efforts, approaches to reform, many Muslim reformers who have emerged in the last 200 years. But that's not a modern phenomenon in that sense. Classical Islam also knows mechanisms for updating itself. It is wrong - and this is my opinion - to explain a certain historical period over time and to bring it into the present day, so to speak. That is the mistake that many Salafists make, but also many traditional ones. You have to differentiate between traditionalists and Salafists because these terms are often used synonymously. But we have to see that Islam is updated again as a reform impulse that it has always had. One could see the Koran as a clue. You'd have to look in the direction he's pointing, not your finger. Problem is, most people look at the finger instead of the direction it's pointing.

Achenbach: Mr. Ammar.

Abderrahmane Ammar: So Muslims are not in agreement on this either and they have never been in agreement. And the Koran has never been the only source on how Muslims can organize their everyday lives. In addition to the Koran, there are also prophetic traditions, i.e. Sunnah, there is also the church and there are other sources as well. If we say that the Koran is complete and is the only source and that what is after Mohammed is not recognized, then that is wrong, because Mohammed as the last prophet means that we should concern ourselves with getting our lives in order bring. That is, there are many things that the Koran can no longer solve. Then other sources would have to join. The Koran also points to reason - it is literally in the Koran: Ask those who know if you do not know what you are doing.

That means the reason that you also think along. And there is a prophetic saying: if you try to find a solution yourself without going to an imam, or to a theologian or scholar. You will be rewarded twice if you achieve a positive result. If you get a negative result, you will still be rewarded for trying, because the intention is to be a good person, i.e. to create order with others. Hence, to speak of the Koran as the only source, that has never been valid in the history of Islam and it never will be.

Achenbach: But that means, if I have understood correctly, that the Koran has already laid a foundation that calls for reform theology to be practiced, Mr. Khorchide.

Mouhanad Khorchide: For example, when the Koran criticizes Judaism, it does not criticize Judaism itself, but elements in Judaism - precisely these elements that have made Judaism a religion of the law. The Koran says that these are shackles from which the Koran wants to free Islam, these too many prohibitions, for example. He sees himself as a reform movement of other traditions. And at the same time continuing in the same tradition. So Mohammed never said: I came to found a new religion here, but he always saw himself in this tradition. And in order to continue Islam, one would have to keep this spirit of reform in Islam itself and continually update Islam by questioning how one can translate Islam today - certainly differently in Germany than in Saudi Arabia, differently than in Australia. Every context needs special features.

Achenbach: You have just mentioned the relationship with the Jews and the relationship with the Christians is mentioned. The relationship to the scriptural religions is particularly emphasized, Mr. Güneş.

Güneş: Christianity and Judaism are not treated as abstract quantities in the Koran per se. There is always criticism of found Jews and Christians. The Koran never criticizes a certain size, always only certain conditions. And it can be very good, for example, to do historical research, when you know what the conditions in Arabia were like in the 7th century - for example. What Christians, what Jews lived there. Furthermore, one can also say that Christianity in Islam cannot be criticized because at the time the Koran was first written there were competing christologies. So that was not yet like it is today, as we know it, but that was a Christianity that was itself in a certain phase of development. When the Koran criticizes directly, it means certain tendencies.

Achenbach: Tendencies of a Christianity, as it was probably also to be found on the Arabian Peninsula.

Güneş: Naturally. It may be that there was, for example, a very excessive veneration of Mary on the Arabian Peninsula. They were Christians who had just fled the West.

Achenbach: Mr. Khorchide.

Khorchide: And it is interesting when the Koran speaks of Jews and Christians in a general, theological sense - not related to a specific situation - then we have an example like in 2 Sura verse 62, where they are even promised salvation, where it is said Muslims , Jews, Christians who believe in God, do good and also believe in the hereafter, they get their wages from God and they have nothing to fear. As a theological statement.

Achenbach: Mr. Ammar.

Ammar: When Jews or Christians are criticized in the Koran, it does not mean the Jews or Christians of today. There are many people who read this passage when it comes to criticizing Jews, for example to criticize Israel or to criticize Jews in their homeland and, and, and. Sometimes these passages are exploited - especially among the Islamists, to sometimes spread hatred against members of other religions.

Achenbach: Mr. Rashid, how do you rate it - this situation?

Rashid: I have to say, I've listened to it that way now, and that's all nice talk and everything is also very harmonious. But I think that's a bit of a reality. Mr. Ammar has now also said that in the last sentence. That is being exploited. I mean, all of this - this hermeneutical interpretation - that might be done in scholarly offices. This approach is not new. You have to say yes. It's already old, but what did it lead to? Because you see the reality of the Islamic world is different. There is now no clergyman standing in the pulpit - neither here in Europe nor in the Islamic countries - saying: Well, dear people, this verse, it came into being in a certain time and you have to understand it in one way or another and therefore are allowed to you don't behave like this. No. These verses, and especially the verses that emphasize violence, are used to do violence to Muslims and other believers. Well, I think that what I have just heard is moving in a very nice room, but it doesn’t really do anything.

Achenbach: Mr. Khochide?

Khorchide: Yes, for a reason. Because we didn't include the political dimension. If we speak of Jews in Islam today, then the Middle East conflict is very decisive for the relationship between Islam and Judaism. It was totally different in Spain a few hundred years ago. When the Jews fled Europe, they found refuge with Muslims. There was no tension at all like we have today. Therefore, when we talk about theology, we should always be aware of what theology says and where are the political implications in everyday life. When we speak of Jews, we must not only think of the Middle East and the Middle East crisis and the conflicts there, but rather it is about a religion and there it is about political disputes. It is also important to make this differentiation so that we do not talk past reality and say that is all well and good.

Rashid: But Professor Khorchide, sorry, you and I might make that, but many thousands of Muslims do not make this distinction. There's no point in always talking about it, so theoretically, yes, we have to differentiate, we have to differentiate. De facto, however, this differentiation does not take place on site. So, I ask myself what is the point of this hermeneutical interpretation if it does not reach people at all.

Khorchide: For example, if we train imams so that they don't stand in the sermon and then say, may God curse all Jews or this or that because of what is happening now in Palestine or wherever. If we train reflective imams who differentiate precisely and say in the pulpit that Judaism is a recognized religion of Islam and the Koran and that what happens there is something political that has nothing to do with religious affiliation, then the imams could too play an enlightening role, in order to meet exactly what you say, also to meet this demand that we bring about change from below on the basis.

Achenbach: But isn't there also a claim in this context that Islam is the original religion? So that means that if you don't belong to Islam you basically apostate. I'll take the Jews and the Christians now. They have fallen away from the true religion, gone astray with their writings. It is also known that some of them are said to have forged their writings - this is also stated in the Koran - and that one has to return to the original religion. That means, it is actually a task that you can give yourself as a Muslim, I work to ensure that all people find their way back to the original religion. Mr. Khorchide.

Khorchide: That is important what you address, because many Muslims also refer to a Koranic verse that reads: the religion that is valid because God is Islam. However: what does this verse mean, what does Islam mean in the Koran? The term Islam in the Koran is not used as we use Islam today - in the sense of this religion, which was founded by Mohammed in the 7th century, but Moses is referred to as a Muslim, Noah is referred to as a Muslim, Abraham is referred to as a Muslim in the Koran . Even the followers of Jesus are referred to as Muslims in the Koran. This means that the term Islam and Muslim in the Koran does not refer to a specific religion, but ...

Achenbach: ... on the supporters of monotheism.

Khorchide: Exactly, exactly that is it. So everyone who directs his life towards God is a Muslim. This is what the Koran means by it. And so, according to the Koran, we have a very broad basis for accepting many people and saying that the Koran accepts all these people, the monotheists.

Rashid The good Goethe already grasped this when he said that when Islam means devoted to God, in Islam we all live and die.

Güneş: I can only agree. As it is understood there, it is not the name of a religious community, but a certain moral attitude that is centered on God. Seen in this way, the earlier prophets were Muslims in the sense and not as we know it today as an organized religion.

Achenbach: So a life in accordance - I would understand now - with what we have called theologically as general principles that belong, so to speak, to the pursuit of perfection.

Khorchide: Definitely.

Güneş: You could paraphrase that.

Ammar: In Islam, being a Muslim is more important than being a believer. Because there are a lot of people who would say I believe in God, the prophets, the old books, and I believe in angels too. But when you see his behavior, that contradicts itself.

Achenbach: So reduced to creeds.

Ammar: Exactly. If you lie, if you cheat, if you pay for corruption, if you rule a country dictatorially, if you even harm nature and if you harm insects and animals and do not respect them, that is a contradiction. Everyone could be a believer, but not everyone can prove to be a good person. And there are also atheists - they do not believe in God - but they can behave correctly and well, with whom one can sometimes say that the believers are like these atheists, that is, because they have ethics and morals.

Rashid: That is what Mouhanad Khorchide has worked out in his book "Islam is Mercy" in a chapter that he says, not only Muslims, but Jews, Christians and non-believers too can partake of God's mercy because they are also Muslims are. And that sparked a big discussion in the Muslim community here in Germany. It went so far that he was asked by some association representatives to repent, which is also very doubtful whether this can be demanded. Because Muslims find it difficult to call non-believers and non-believers as Muslims.

Achenbach: For example, if you assume that there are people who do not have the information - that is, who do not even know what Islam is, who do not know the Koran, and then you find that there is a correspondence in their attitude to life . That's roughly what you meant, Mr Khorchide.

Khorchide: Especially according to the Islamic conception, everyone is born a Muslim, in the sense of everyone is predisposed to direct their life towards God until they consciously oppose it and say that I am opposed to it out of conviction. But what about the millions and millions of people here in Germany, for example, who have just perceived nothing of Islam or even a distorted image of Islam, but in their action, in their way of life, their life is based on the good, on the absolutely loving, aimed at the Absolutely Merciful? In other words, if you had then told them about this merciful, dear God, as God imagined himself in the Koran, they would probably not have objected - we have just heard what Goethe said about it - had no objection to themselves as See Muslims.

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