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Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic religions, both founded in the Middle East, both believe in one God and his prophet. However, the list of battles, conflicts and wars between them is long. An example: Eight million Copts live in Egypt; they make up ten per cent of the Egyptian population. Still, they suffer from political discrimination: Copts in Egypt are rarely allowed to build churches; higher job positions are inaccessible; bloody conflicts accompany their ordinary life. The Arab Spring was a chance to improve that situation. But unfortunately, the situation became even worse. Now the new potentates, Salafists and Muslim Brothers acquiesced by the Military Council, openly attack the Copts.
Anba Damian, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany: "In Egypt, Copts are persons of second category. But we want to be treated equally, we want to enjoy the same rights and not be discriminated because of our religion. We have problems with the teachings of the ideological Islam, but not with the human beings behind Islam."
This is just one example of the topics discussed among the participants in the second workshop called "The Relationship between Muslims and Christians one year after the Arab Spring". For the European-Arab Youth Congress, participants from various countries tried to answer the game-winning questions: Why are their relations so bad? How can the situation be improved? Before the actual discussion started, the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation had invited four experts to give an input. Besides Bishop Damian, there was Barbara Bishay, Mayadin al-Tahrir, Berlin: "One year after Arab Spring, I think the major problem is that the revolution turned to religious questions. Now you are in or out, for or against. We gained new freedom, but we are not allowed to talk about certain topics. We will see how a Muslim democracy will be established, but we cannot foresee what it will look like. However, for me, religion has to be private."
Bacem Dziri, Islamic Studies, University of Osnabrück, and President of the Council of Islamic Students and Academics in Germany: "For years, many scholars predicted and taught us that the role of religion will decrease with the rise of modernity. In actual fact, the importance of religion has grown in our world and scholars have had to admit that they were mistaken. Religious movements were and are surging within a world full of uncertainty and moral confusion. Surprisingly, many people are attracted by religion. At the same time, they are suffering from the lack of profound religious instruction. As a result, some turn their attention to fundamentalist orientations, which again tend to provide them with very simple answers to complex questions."
Honey Deihimi, Head of the Department "Social Integration", Federal Chancellery: "What Germany and all other countries need, is an action plan on how to enhance the dialogue concerning these three pillars: First, the dialogue between religions; second, the perception of people; and last but not least the state's treatment of religions."
The three pillars mentioned by Deiheimi provided the base for the second part of the workshop, in which the participants tried to develop an action plan Deihimi had called for. Concerning the duties of religious communities, the group agreed that every step had to build on the similarities between Muslims and Christians. In order to lose the mutual fear and bewilderment, the religious communities should cooperate for example with invitations, projects, common testimony within the religions, and with mutual protection. For the second pillar – "people's duties and role of the media" - the participants decided that the most important advice is to be open-minded, curious, and spontaneous. Moreover, the group asserted parents to be responsible for their children’s cultural open-mindedness. People should respect each other and their habits. But they ought to interact to get to know each other. The media need to become conscious of their status of a role model. Last, but not least, the group discussed the government's duties to improve relations between religions. They agreed on two aspects: First, every state of the world should grant freedom of religion equally. Second, states should be a role model in order to promote tolerance and dialogue between religions, for example by creating urban spaces in which religions meet or by strengthening civil society activities more intensively.
All in all, the workshop offered an extraordinary opportunity to all participants from Arab and European countries to talk in an open and direct way about religious issues. This made for a very interesting discussion with contrasting arguments from a very multicultural perspective. An interesting experiment, which ought to be continued.
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