Dialogue of Cultures:

The Future of Relations between Western and Islamic Societies

International Conference at Bellevue Palace, 22-23 April 1999 in Berlin

Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt


1. A political matter of concern

The crisis scenario that Samuel Huntington described as a "clash of civilizations" is by no means inevitable. Following from intercultural ignorance, indifference and mutual misunderstandings, however, it could well become reality. What is therefore required is united efforts in the area of intercultural conflict prevention. This was the key point in the message of greeting with which the Head of the Presidential Office, State Secretary Wilhelm Staudacher, opened the conference on "Dialogue of Cultures" at Bellevue Palace, a conference which had been initiated by Roman Herzog, Federal President of Germany(1). Staudacher added that the conference was not just of academic interest but of immediate political significance too. The idea was to develop an "early warning system" for intercultural conflict by which tensions could be reduced and open escalations of conflict be avoided. The high political status accorded to the conference was reflected in the fact that eleven heads of state - those of Austria, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway and Spain - had taken over the patronage.

Responsibility for the organisation of the conference was assumed by the German Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg under the directorship of Udo Steinbach. In his introduction Steinbach also underlined the political character of the event. He made it clear that the conference had no intention of setting up an exclusive "club" made up of those institutes that had participated thus far, but was open as well for other contributors. As important as he considered the dialogue to be, Steinbach appealed for a pragmatic modesty in the setting of goals. The aim was not to design a comprehensive world ethic but rather to take first steps towards the development of a forum for intercultural dialogue. To that end a further conference was already being planned.

The programme of the conference was compact and consisted of five major themes, about which twenty papers were presented. The central topics were:

1 Common values and progressive currents of thought: conceptual dimensions in the relationship between Muslim and Western societies,

2 Practical implementation of intercultural dialogue: the role of education and science,

3 The role of the media in intercultural relations,

4 Conditions of tolerance in Muslim and Western societies: minority situations and intercultural dialogue, . 

5 Common struggle for a just and viable world order: social economy, sustainable development and concern for the environment.

The conference closed with the adoption of the "Berlin Declaration - Agenda for Future Action"(2) (see infra), in which some concrete aims of intercultural dialogue - arranged around the main thematic points of the conference - were documented. The aims include among others: Improvements in intercultural education, intercultural exchange programmes for scholars and journalists, the introduction of an observatory for media reporting, the promotion of respect for religious and cultural minorities, common scientific projects in different disciplines.

The following summary is not arranged chronologically but attempts to reflect the multiplicity of positions In their main lines of thought, as they were presented at the confèrence, and to organise them according to some systematic aspects. I do not claim that the summary is exhaustive. The author alone is responsible for the systematisation of the contents. It is self-evident that this systematisation reflects personal interpretation and emphasis.

2. Between normative demands and reality: structural conditions for dialogue

Intercultural dialogue is a complicated business. It is not only burdened by the kind of reservations, stereotypes and historical experiences out of which mutual mistrust often grows. Perhaps even more difficult than these are the numerous structural asymmetries which, despite the best intentions of the participants, cannot easily be removed and which may endanger the objectives of the dialogue in general. It is therefore necessary to reflect and discuss the normative and structural conditions of dialogue. What are the normative premises of dialogue? Who defines these premises? Are there any rules concerning the procedures that can be agreed upon? What should happen if normative demands and social reality diverge extremely?

Peter Graf, Professor for Intercultural Education at the University of Osnabrück, began with a description of the framework for a successful dialogue. Referring to Martin ßuber's philosophy of dialogue he emphasised the importance of the readiness to listen which itself presupposes the ability to remain silent. Graf stressed that dialogue is a "way", i.e. a process of learning, that requires the willingness for change of all involved. In religions and cultures the idea of such a "way" exists. In Islamic areas it is called "tariqa". Graf quoted an Asian saying: "If the winds of change are blowing, some build up walls, whilst others set up windmills."

The theologian and Professor for Religious Pedagogy Reijo E. Heinonen (University of Joensuu in Finland) made a list of normative principles for interreligious and - analogous to this - intercultural dialogue. He included among these principles the renunciation of abstract generalisations about other religions, sensitivity for interreligious pluralism on all sides as well as fairness in interreligious comparisons in which diferent levels of comparison, especially normative and empirical aspects, should be clearly kept apart conceptually. The most important aim of the dialogue, according to Heinonen, is a deepening of the consciousness of the common elements of the different religions.

By contrast, Thierry Fabre from the Maison Méditeranéenne des Sciences de I'Homme in Aix-en-Provence gave more room for open conflict. He pleaded for a concept of "intercultural interaction" based on the principles of equality and reciprocity. Such a concept, he argued, could help to overcome tendencies of cultural essentialism by which "cultural identities" are fixed and reified in a problematic way. To illuminate the open structure of intercultural dialogue, Fabre invoked the metaphor of a "polyphony" in which the pitch and volume of the individual voices must be negotiated by the participants themselves. That such an open polyphony cannot always proceed harmoniously is indeed obvious.

Although there seemed to be a broad consensus about the normative preconditions of dialogue, a longer controversy developed as to whether intercultural dialogue makes sense given the economic and political inequality between the West and most of the Islamic countries. This debate was set in motion by lsmail bin Haji Ibrahim, Director General of the Institute of Islamic Understanding in Kuala Lumpur, who, with reference to the current financial crisis in South-East Asia, complained about the one-sided dependency of Islamic countries on the over mighty West. He insisted that it was not possible to enter into a serious intercultural dialogue before the problem of economic inequality and dependency had been discussed. Other speakers also repeatedly referred to tile enormous economic and political inequalities in power between Western and Islamic countries and how they burden and endanger the dialogue, or even make it impossible.

Ahmad Ramzi, scientific director of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco, pointed out that the so-called process of globalisation was nothing more than another name for dominance by the U.S.A. whose overwhelming power threatens cultural pluralism thus undermining the very precondition of an intercultural dialogue. Peter Graf added that situations of inequality, e.g. those that result from the precarious legal status of Muslim immigrants living in Europe, constitute serious obstacles to a fruitful intercultural dialogue within the individual states too. These problems were not disputed by anyone. Different views, however, came to the fore about how to deal with the problems stemming from inequality.

Mohammed Arkoun, Professor emeritus for the History of Islamic Thought at the Sorbonne in Paris, appealed to his fellow Muslims to break out of the fruitless "discourse of victimization". Instead of making the overcoming of one-sided economic and political dependency a condition for intercultural discourse, he said, it was more important to discover the emancipating powers of culture and to use them effectively in concrete political criticism. Ahmed Ramzi, in turn, expressed fears that intercultural dialogue without discussion of the inequality in power would only lead to a reinforcement of the tendency, already to be seen in Islamic countries, of blindly copying the Western model.

3. Questions concerning tire concept of Western-Islamic cultural dialogue

The title of the conference was at the same time the agenda: "Dialogue of Cultures". This title, however, gave rise to a number of conceptual questions and challenges: Who represents the cultures? How can the internal pluralism within the cultures be given due consideration? Is there sufficient room for minorities, dissidents, borderliners and converts on all sides? Likewise the sub-title of the conference - "The Future of Relations between Western and Islamic Societies" - triggered critical questions. Not all of the participants agreed with the conceptual juxtaposition of "Western" and "Islamic" countries. Andrea Pacini, specialist in the History of Religions working at the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation in Turin, wondered whether one could legitimately compare the term "Western" - which is a geographical category that carries also a cultural meaning - with what is obviously a religious term, "Islamic". Pacini admitted, however, that this asymmetrical constellation cannot easily be avoided since it arises from the nature of the matter itself. Whereas Christian societies no longer develop their normative order and institutions directly out of religious sources, religion in Islamic countries apparently continues to determine the normative and institutional structures of the whole society to a much greater degree.

Taking up Pacini's argument, Samir Khalil Samir, lecturer in the History of Arab Culture at the University of Saint-Joseph in Beirut, complained that, as an Arab Christian from Egypt, he had serious problems with the title of the conference. Since he was neither Western nor Muslim he and others like him were not covered by the title.

Thierry Fabre intervened from a somewhat different angle. He criticised the "myth" of the West as well as the widespread perception of an antagonism between the Occident and the Orient. This stereotype, he complained, has torn apart the Mediterranean cultural area. Against abstract conceptions of "the West", Fabre also set great store in stating "I am French and not just, Western." In similar fashion Mohammed Arkoun said that he did not want to see Europe disappear into an anonymous and featureless "Western world".

Maribel Fierro, Professor for Arabic Studies at the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Madrid pointed out that it was not so long ago that there were doubts as to whether Spain belongs to the West. That Spain now without question is seen as a part of the West and that the Secretary General of the NATO is Spanish, she said, gives an example of how rapidly cultural classifications can change.

The critical questions raised by some participants about the concept of "Western-Islamic cultural dialogue" did not lead to positive alternatives. These would probably have also led to problems of conceptual integration and exclusion. For instance, if Fabre's concept of Mediterranean neighbourhood had been taken as the basis for intercultural dialogue, then participants from South-East Asia would have been excluded from the conference. It seems to be difficult therefore, to formulate a plausible alternative to the concept of "Western-Islamic" dialogue, even though one has to admit that it can give rise to serious misunderstandings.

At any rate, the debate showed once again how important it is to break open cultural essentialistic categorisations by which the participants of a discussion are either taken as representatives of predetermined cultural or religious orientation or are conceptually excluded from the discourse. In the words of Ziauddin Sardar, a cultural critic of Indian origin who lives in London: The main idea should be to free the "dialogue" from its conceptual bipolarity and to expand it to an open "polylogue", in which people are not, from the outset, perceived merely as representatives of some predefined cultures and religions but, instead, have the opportunity to challenge and change existing cultural patterns as well as to cross historical boundaries.

4. Exposing and overcoming stereotypes

One of the main concerns of the conference consisted in overcoming prejudice, stereotypes and images of the enemy which, if they remain unresolved, could lead to a "clash of civilizations". This is not an easy task, because complicated and important questions have to be clarified: Where is the borderline between a legitimate judgment and a problematic prejudice? Does such a division even exist? Is it not true that every judgment by necessity contains an aspect of generalisation, without which conceptualization would be from the outset impossible? How is it then possible to prevent unavoidable generalisations from hardening into stereotypes that are resistant to criticism and change? Moreover, concerning tile relationship between "Western" and "Islamic" societies, the following questions arise: What is the factual basis for the reservations expressed on both sides? For example, the anxiety of many Muslims about a collapse of morals and faith resulting from Western secularism, and the complementary anxiety in the West about Islamic authoritarianism and fundamentalism. Are these anxieties merely projections? Are they the result of particular (perhaps one-sided) experiences or a lack of any real experience? Are there enemy images that have been deliberately constructed for political purposes? What role does the media play in constructing and reinforcing or overcoming mutual stereotypes?

Mohammed Arkoun diagnosed one important cause of the problem as being the lack of sophisticated cultural studies. The mutual enrichment of the monotheistic religions in the Middle Ages, he said, has almost been completely forgotten and plays no real part in either academic debate or in general public consciousness today. In this context Thierry Fabre expressed a wish to overcome the one-sided apportioning of blame. In his view, not only is the contribution that Islam made to the development of European philosophy being ignored but on the Muslim side the influence of Greek philosophy on Islamic thinking has likewise often been denied. Maribel Fierro argued from a somewhat different standpoint. Without denying the importance of tile cultural studies in general, she warned that the impact of academic studies as a medium for political reconciliation should not be exaggerated. An example she cited the myth of "al-Andalus", currently popular in Spain, which has not prevented Spanish Christians and Muslims from viewing each other with a great deal of suspicion, since they fail to identify each other with the glorified era of Christian-Jewish-Islamic coexistence.

The ignorance with which people encounter (or rather do not encounter) each other today is certainly not less problematic as the neglect of the common cultural heritage. Pointing to the widespread cultural ignorance, Paolo Magri, Secretary General of' the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan, warned against a careless use of the tern multicultural society. "There are very few multicultural societies" was his pessimistic diagnosis. Nadhir al-Ansari of the Al al-Bayt University in Jordan expressed his regret that hardly any Western scholars find their.way to universities in Islamic countries whereas numerous Muslims study and work at European and American universities.

How hurtful it can be to experience ignorance was described by Ahmed Kamal Abulmagd, former Minister in the Egyptian cabinet and Professor emeritus for Legal Sciences at the University of Cairo. He has repeatedly experienced that he was allowed to speak at Western universities but without his statements ever being taken seriously. "You can read the faces of the people in the audience", he said. And then you often realize that those attending are only listening out of politeness but without any real interest. It was his impression. that this ignorance was the result of the power gap between Western and Muslim countries that other speakers had already mentioned several times. In the age of globalisation, he argued, this inequality in power was not being removed but rather intensified. Accordingly, Abulmagd was somewhat sceptical about ambitious dialogue projects. The first step, he said, would be to acknowledge the very fact that different cultures exist. Only then could file search for shared values and common projects take place.

Ahmed Ramzi's complaint about the negative image of Islam in the West was much harsher than that of Abulmagd. He blamed Western Orientalism and European colonialism for the misunderstandings. In addition, he saw the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in politics and in the Western media as being responsible. ' The freedom of the media, he said, was often abused in order to propagate stereotypes. Ramzi's diagnosis was countered by Khalil Samir who insisted that orientalists did not only cause misunderstandings but also contributed to intercultural understanding. Moreover he stressed that Arabic media too tend to portray Islam in a negative light. To some extent, he said, their reporting is even more drastic than anti-Islamic clichés in tile West.

The other side of the coin, i.e. the image of the West in Islamic countries, was discussed much less. Nevertheless, Ziauddin Sardar pointed out that stereotypes also play an important role in Islamic contexts. On the one hand, the West is seen as the source of general moral decadence, especially by Islamist theoretics and writers like Abul-A'la Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. This demonisation, on the other hand, is paradoxically complemented by the simultaneous existence of a completely uncritical admiration of the West, whose culture and lifestyle many Muslims want to adopt without any reservation.

The controversial subject of religious fundamentalism, which sometimes is taken nearly as synonymous for Islam in general, was hardly discussed at the conference. Several Muslim participants at the conference expressed their unease at the use of the term "fundamentalism", which by necessity must lead to misunderstandings, especially since this term has a positive connotation in Arabic language. Alwi Shihab of the University of Paramadina Mulya in Jakarta pleaded for the term "Islamic extremism" to be used instead of "fundamentalism". That such a, in part violent, extremism exists and that it has a very burdening effect on intercultural and interreligious dialogue was not questioned by anyone in the conference. According to the estimation of Oddbjorn Leirvik, lecturer at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo, Christian and Islamic "revivalism" has worsened the opportunities for interreligious dialogue in the last twenty years.

What is to be done? The need for self-criticism was repeatedly mentioned. "We need windows and mirrors", stressed Kamal Abulmagd more than once. Thierry Fabre promoted his concept of intercultural "neighbourhood" as the basis for a common culture of peaceful conflict and debate. Mohammed Arkoun, on the other hand, demanded an improved "intellectual equipment", especially in the field of cultural studies. Nadhir al-Ansari wished for more co-operation and exchange between universities. School books and other teaching materials were also named as being an important factor. Paolo Magri pleaded for projects of youth exchange between Western and Islamic countries analogous to the successful Erasmus Programme of the European Union. Finally, it was recognised that the media bear a large responsibility in overcoming the silence on both sides.

5. The role of the media.

The importance of the media is often mentioned at intercultural conferences. Comments often remain very generalised, however. The major influence that is ascribed to the media frequently turns into a general chiding of journalism or even a demonisation of the mass media, i.e. attacks which in turn can nourish the temptation to adopt authoritarian solutions. It is one of the merits of the Berlin Conference that it has specifically made the role of the media one of its central themes in order to gain a more differentiated estimation of the possibilities and limits of journalistic work within intercultural dialogue.

Kai Hafez from the German Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg presented the media not only as an instrument but also as an active participant in politics. It has particular influence in issues of foreign politics in which most people have hardly experience of their own. Hafez pointed out that freedom of the press, a precondition of accurate reporting, is also jeopardized in the West by economic and political dependency. Particularly in situations of war and crisis the truth is typically the first victim. Hafez called it a paradox that in the age of globalisation the number of foreign correspondents is decreasing while the dependency on a few news agencies is growing correspondingly. He closed his presentation with a number of concrete suggestions, such as, the introduction of exchange programmes for journalists of different cultural backgrounds.

Ziauddin Sardar, who himself has gained experience as a journalist in both Muslim and European countries, demanded greater participation of Muslims in the mass media, since it is the mass media which sets and defines the political agenda in modern societies. The fact that many Islamic countries, even after fifty years of independence, have failed to develop an independent media culture, he said, is shameful and should give rise to serious self-criticism among Muslims. Sardar further pointed out that Muslims are also massively underrepresented in the Western media. Several Muslim participants expressed their agreement with his critical diagnosis. Kaman Abulmagd appealed to the responsibility of Muslim scholars to publicly participate in efforts to overcome anti-Islamic stereotypes. Mahmoud Farghal of the Institute for Diplomatic Studies at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry took the opportunity to point once more to the economic disparity between Western and Islamic countries and to the way in which this inequality of power effects the mass media too.

Jacques Waardenburg, Professor emeritus for Religious Studies at the University of Lausanne, demanded a closer co-operation between scholars and journalists as this could only benefit both sides. That the technical training of a journalist can actually lead to an increase in quality was also confirmed by Thomas Hartmann, cultural manager at the "House of the World Cultures" in Berlin. In his estimation there has already been considerable progress made in background reporting in Islamic countries. It is the sensationalist short reports and "headlines" that have remained problematic.

6. Religion and Secularism

There is hardly any other term which suffers more contradictory interpretations than that of secularism. This is true of the inner-Western discourse and even more so within intercultural debates. Does secularism describe a "neutral" standpoint beyond differences in religion and world-view, or does it veil its own bias in claims of universal validity? Does the process of societal secularisation lead to a collapse in moral values, or does it simply amount to a transformation of moral values? Does the secularism of the state imply the privatisation and disempowerment of religion, or does it open up new opportunities for religious communities to participate actively in the public realm?

One important facet of secularism which came to the fore in the debate is the relationship between scientific reason and religious belief. Mohammed Arkoun pleaded for a new mediation between the two. He rejected both the uncritical religious orthodoxies and the presumptions of modern enlightenment in religious affairs. "Is it enlightenment", he asked rhetorically, "if religion is completely banned from French universities?" Arkoun stressed the need to study religion as a fundamental anthropological dimension which the sciences cannot simply ignore.

Khalijah Mohamad Salleh, Professor of Physics at the University of Kebangsaan in Malaysia, criticised the "abstractness" of Western scientific understanding, in which no room is accorded to moral and spiritual values. She pleaded for a "holistic" approach in which methods and insights of the sciences are consistently related to ethical and religious dimensions. While Ismail bin Ibrahim supported this initiative, Khalil Samir objected that different levels of scientific, normative and religious validity should be kept distinct. "We Arabs", he said, "tend to mix everything with everything". In his opinion, it is exactly this lack of differentiation that has caused the backwardness in many countries. Ziauddin Sardar in turn rejected Samir's view by declaring that the purportedly "neutral" and "universal" sciences actually always express particular (i.e., "Western") world views and ideologies whose dominance should be critically exposed.

Volker Nienhaus, Professor of Economics at the University of Bochum, explained that the social sciences too operate on the basis of normative premises. This, in principle, old insight, he said, has been largely forgotten, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, following Max Weber's postulate of a "value-free science". Since scientific ralionality, which as a procedure is transculturally valid, has nevertheless its intrinsic limits, space must be left for genuinely ethical, religious and ideological perspectives also within the social sciences. In the light of these general epistemological clarifications, Nienhaus assessed projects of "Islamic banking". In his view, Islamic banking has had some successes although it has not reached its self-declared high purposes. Economic studies, Nienhaus concluded, could also provide opportunities for intercultural dialogue.

The term secularism was most thoroughly discussed in the areas of politics, law and the state. Andrea Pacini demanded a clear differentiation between the general process of societal secularisation (which is understood to be a loss of public significance of religion) on the one hand and the specific political concept of an institutional separation between the religious communities and the state on the other. The two phenomena are not necessarily coupled with one another. There are examples where a strict secularism of the state has not led to religions losing their significance within society, e.g. in the U.S.A. In contrast, secularisation of society can be accelerated by state secularisation being rejected. One example of the latter possibility was given by Maribel Fierro, who pointed out that the political instrumentalisation of Catholic Christianity in the Franco era had released a strongly anti-clerical current in contemporary Spain.

Khalil Samir was very outspoken in supporting the secularisation of state and law. The stipulation included in nearly all Arabic constitutions that the Islamic Shari'a provides the basis for legislation implies, he stated, a discrimination against non-Islamic minorities. Moreover, whereas members of the non-Islamic monotheistic religions of revelation can at least count on tolerance, so-called "non-believers" do not enjoy any legal status and recognition in a Shari'a based constitution. Kamal Abulmagd opposed this interpretation. He saw the Shari'a clause in the Arabic constitutions as merely a general reference to the legal tradition, comparable to the role of common law as "the law of the land" in England. Abulmagd rejected conceptions ofan authoritarian "Theo-Democracy", as propagated by Mawdudi and other Islamists. Opposition to Samir was also voiced by Ziauddin Sardar. He accused Samir of propagating a political ideology by demanding a universal "conversion to secularism".

Heiner Bielefeldt of the University of Bielefeld, however, supported Samir by pointing out that secularism as a political concept (in contrast to the ideological secularism of Auguste Comte, for example) makes no claims to an all-inclusive worldview. He declared that political secularism is the necessary consequence of the universal human rights of religious liberty. According to Bielefeldt, the political secularism ofthe democratic constitutional states provides the basis for a critical rejection not only of theocratic dominance but also of political presumptions of an ideologicalized secularism.

The debate on the relationship of religion and state also considered the established religions of England and Norway. Ataullah Siddiqui from the Islamic Foundation in Leicester analysed the role of the Anglican church with the multireligious society of Great Britain without voicing a criticism of the established state church system. ln contrast the paper given by Oddbjorn Leirvik and Kari Vogt (both of the University of Oslo) clearly criticised the official identification of the Norwegian state with the Lutheran church. Leirvik and Vogt expressed their fear that the existing system could cause an unfortunate politicisation of religion and an exclusion or forced integration of minorities. They therefore strongly favoured a clear institutional separation of state and church in Norway, as was enacted in Sweden a few years ago.

The detailed discussions of the English and even more so the Norwegian systems of an established religion helped to overcome widespread clichés according to which religion and the state are always separated in Europe. Subsequently, it became also clear that the relationship between the state, law and religion in Islamic countries is likewise very complex and open for changes. According to Mohammed Arkoun, the widely held view that state and religion form an inseparable unity in Islam ("din wa dawla") is nothing other than a prejudice that needs to be corrected by critical examination.

7. The situation of religious minorities

That religious minorities have rights which must be respected and protected is an almost universally recognized normative postulate. Controversies arise, however, when it comes to spelling out these rights concretely. Should religious minorities have the right to run their own schools? Should they be entitled to provide for religious education within the public school system? If so, who is in charge of selecting and educating the teachers and deciding on the curricula? To what extent should minority languages be promoted by the state? To what degree can the state accept that religious minorities follow their owns laws? Other questions concern the normative basis of minority rights: Are these rights based in the universal ("secular") human right of religious liberty or do they follow from the tolerance postulate of a religious ruling?

With regard to religious minorities in Islamic countries a controversy developed concerning the significance of the traditional Islamic dhimma system. The protected religious groups in Islam (dhimmis), stressed Kamal Abulmagd, are accorded equal legal status as citizens. He quoted the Qur'anic verse: "There is no compulsion in religion" (Sura 2,256). Abulmagd admitted that inadequacies might exist here and there in the practical implementation of this postulate. In principle, however, he insisted there could be no talk of a discrimination against the dhimmis.

Once again, Khalil Samir made a very different assessment. As an Arabic Christian, he said, he would by no means be satisfied with a status awarded mercifully from above, even if that status were, hypothetically speaking, a privileged one. Instead of merely being "granted" a legal position within a given religious framework he demanded the recognition of the principle of equality already in the setting up of the legal system, which accordingly has to be secular. Samir acknowledged the Islamic dhimma system as a historical achievement (for which, incidentally, Islam could claim no monopoly) but rejected it as inadequate fur modern life.

Immediately after Samir's explanation Jacques Waardenhurg underlined the importance of universal citizenship which in his opinion is a "key concept" or modern integration. He cited the different legal regulations in the awarding of rights of citizenship to migrants in Europe and criticised Germany because of its restrictive naturalization policy. .

Tariq Ramadan, lecturer in Philosophy and Islamic studies at the University of Freiburg (Switzerland), expressed his optimism about the long-term opportunities of Islamic minorities in Europe. He admitted that Muslims still have to struggle for influence because of their origins as "guest workers". Moreover, they often suffer from what he called the "Afghanistan-Syndrome", i. a the negative effect of international politics on the general debates about Islam. Since the normative principles of European constitutions and the religious and ethical norms of Islam arc compatible with one another, however, Ramadan saw possibilities for a more active role of Muslim minorities in Europe. These opportunities should now be used and expanded. The Islamic Shari'a, he emphasized, is no obstacle to this since - if the central principles were maintained - they are open for a dynamic adaptation to their new cultural environment.

Andrea Pacini also argued that there is no inherent contradiction between compliance with the Shari'a and obedience to European laws - provided, however, the Shari'a is regarded analogous to Canon Law as an inner-communal legal system without coercive implementation. Just as catholics are free to follow the marriage regulations of Canon Law and thus to exclude any right of divorce, despite the possibility of divorce under state rules, so Muslims could likewise organise their families according to the norms of the Shari'a without this having consequences for the state system of law.

Ataullah Siddiqui focused in his presentation on the relationship between the Muslim minority and other religions in Great Britain. He noted that it was the Christian churches (and not the state) that had first taken care of Muslim immigrants. For that reason interreligious relations in Britain have developed in a positive way right from the beginning. In the meantime, he explained, an interreligious network has come about which even includes post-Islamic religions like the Baha'is. Siddiqui named the "Islamophobia Report", published in 1997, as a particular achievement of Muslims in Great Britain.

Very contradictory views were expressed about the topic of independent Islamic schools. Some participants, for example, Peter Graf and Ziauddin Sardar, expressed strong reluctance towards separate schools in which they saw an alarming symbol of disintegration or ghettoism. Anne Sofie Roald, specialist for the History of Religions at the University of Lund in Sweden, likewise admitted that she was sceptical. Being a Muslim herself, she claimed to know about the importance of an Islamic religious education for which there seems to be no place in the Swedish public education system. Her empirical field studies of Islamic schools, however, indicate that most of the schools that she had researched (not all of them) fail to adequately prepare their pupils for the needs and problems of Swedish society. Contrary to this critical evaluation Ataullah Siddiqui could provide positive results for Islamic education in Great Britain. Nowadays, he said, even some Christians attend these schools. Tariq Ramadan spoke in favour of Islamic schools as well. He argued that it was not acceptable that the state should neglect the ethical education of children and adolescents on the one hand and on the other put obstacles in the way of Muslims building their own religious and ethical educational institutions.

Just as the question of indepedent Islamic schools, the topic of Islamic education within the public school system, also prompted a controversy. While Peter Graf regarded every denominational separation of pupils as being problematic and pleaded for an integrated cross-denominational teaching, Ismail bin Ibrahim from Malaysia declared that it was absolutely impossible for Muslims and non-Muslims to be given religious education together. Oddbjorn Leirvik criticised the recently established obligatory general religious education in Norway which, he thinks, amounts to a discrimination against non-Christian minorities. Such suspicion finds evidence in the title of this education which is "Knowledge of Christianity and Information about other Religions and World Views". Constitutional objections, Leirvik explained, have been raised to this compulsory discipline in a remarkable co-operation of the Islamic minority, the Jewish minority, and the organisation of secular humanists in Norway.

Udo Steinbach mentioned that the question of religious education has recently become a controversial issue in Germany too. He cited the November 1998 decision of the Upper Administrative Court of Berlin which has given the Islamic Federation the right to teach Islamic religious instruction in Berlin schools. Steinbach expressed his fear that this court decision could give momentum to the spread of a Turkish form of Islamic fundamentalism in Germany.

8. The inevitability of intercultural co-operation

The last lecture of the conference appeared at first glance to fit only on the fringes of the real themes of the conference: Nadhir al-Ansari, water resources specialist from Jordan, reminded everyone of the dramatic ecological problems that, if they were not solved, would seriously threaten the very survival of humanity. Central to his talk were the problems of water shortage that were becoming a political crisis factor and probably not only in the Middle East. Al-Ansari also spoke about the impending climatic catastrophe that could lead to the melting of the polar ice and the flooding of many regions.

In the face of such a threat to humanity as a whole, any questions about whether or not intercultural dialogue could be meaningful could prove to be of a quite abstract academic nature. It seems indeed obvious that we cannot afford to refuse political co-operation across national and cultural boundaries and that hence there is no acceptable alternative to dialogue. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue, it became clear once again, may not just fulfil sell-serving academic purposes, but ought to face up to the problems that needed solving urgently. To quote a remark of Jacques Waardenburg: "Religion is not only sun and clouds; it is also earth and dust."


International Conference
Dialogue of Cultures - The Future of Relations between Western and Islamic Societies



Bellevue Palace, Berlin, 23 April 1999 

At the initiative of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Roman Herzog, and under the patronage of the Heads of State or of Government of Austria, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway and Spain we the undersigned representatives of research institutions of these and other countries have convened a conference on intercultural dialogue between Western and Islamic societies at Bellevue Palace on April 22 and 23, 1999. 

At the end of a wide-ranging, open and constructive discussion we have reached agreement on the following declaration:

  • Convinced that contact between different cultures has become as much a basic feature of modern societies throughout the world as the inter-weaving of nations;
  • aiming to establish a strategy of intercultural dialogue that encompasses education, research, communication and cultural expression as well as politics, economics and other fields relevant for the future of societies;
  • striving to develop a long-term concept for conflict prevention and management;
  • recalling values common to both Islamic and Western cultures;
  • emphasizing that the "Golden Rule: Do not do unto others what you would not like them to do unto you" which is part of a core of ethical values common to all great cultures and religions should inspire ways in which members of Western and Islamic societies behave towards each other;
  • we recommend that space for intercultural dialogue be created and that intercultural cooperation between the respective countries should be intensified in the following areas of application.

Education and Scholarly Research 

As the world moves closer together one of the most important techniques to be learnt will be the ability to deal positively with otherness. The aim is a global intercultural community of learning which offers cross-cultural education as a chance for future societies.

In order to achieve practical realization we recommend the following measures in 

1. Primary and secondary education:

  • Design of intercultural concepts c f curricula for schools;
  • Promotion of early bilingualism and possibilities for intercultural exchange between school children;
  • Transmission of a differentiated view of the other culture and elimination of stereotypes from school books: By referring to already gained experiences bilateral or multilateral model-projects in the monitoring of school books should be developed.
  • Initiation of comparative studies of models for interreligious and ethical education in public and private schools;

2. Higher education and scholarly cooperation:

  • Promotion of a thorough and differentiated teaching and research in those cultural and social sciences dealing with the respective societies which uses the latest forms of methodological innovation;
  • Establishment of an intercultural Masters foundation course of teacher training:The course aimed at teaching of a global ethic should be offered by universities of the participating countries in close cooperation with one another.
  • Introduction or expansion of problem related intercultural research or graduate colleges in universities or institutes of further education;
  • Promotion of bilaterally or multilaterally staffed committees of experts dealing with future technologies, e.g. environment, genetics, communication;
  • Establishment of a Foundation for Intercultural Studies, which shall specifically promote intercultural and interdisciplinary projects in academic fields, award scholarships, and arrange an international exchange of students. 
  • Introduction of regular platforms fir encounter and exchange for the younger academically educated generation of Muslim and Western countries;

Media .

In order to encourage the perception of the "foreigner" as a partner the free media should voluntarily initiate processes of intercultural understanding and introduce differentiation where up to now mass prejudice has dominated.

The media have the responsibility to encounter a differentiated reality with differentiated linguistic and terminological means.

To encourage a re-orientation of the media towards intercultural dialogue we recommend the following measures:

  • Design of an ethical code of conduct for journalists as a basis for international reporting (establishment of a working group comprised of journalists to prepare such a code);
  • Realization of multinational inter-media dialogues:
  • Establishment of multinationally organized media studies centres for research, documentation and professional training (one in Europe and one in the Islamic world);
  • Promotion of programmes on radio and television which creatively and in a differentiated way allow individual access to the "other";
  • Use of new, electronic media for multicultural communication, e.g. by setting-up websites and points of exchange between scholars participating in the network initiative.

Minorities and the conditions of tolerance

In urban and industrial centres throughout the world the encounter with "foreigners" is beginning to achieve a level of normality that increasingly imposes upon societies the responsibility to convey mutual respect and tolerance through learning processes and rules on how to treat minorities.

In order to encourage new forms of coexistence and tolerance in and between Europe and the Islamic world we propose to design a contractual Declaration on the treatment of cultural and ethnic minorities, which by referring to resolutions and agreements of the United Nations and the Council of Europe on minority affairs does not level out differences and controversies but encounters them rationally.

Market economy and concern for the environment

Muslim and Western economists will agree that a socially and ecologically responsable market economy can reconcile religious and ethical values with the need to efficiently utilize scarce resources.

There is a rich heritage of discussions on norms and values in economic science and policy in the West which has not received due attention by Muslim scholars. On the other hand, costs and benefit of specific designs of economic systems based on Islamic values have rarely been evaluated in a fair and unbiased manner by Western economists.

Since in a complex world it is no longer possible to put religious and moral values into practice in a straightforward manner, both sides can learn from each outer in a systematic, sustainable and critical dialogue.

It needs more than another isolated international conference to give momentum to the process of broad-based understanding and recognition and to reach a critical mass.

For this we suggest that

  • a Muslim and a Western institution each with a high academic standing and reputation in both worlds should jointly take the lead and develop the structure for academic conferences, expert workshops, meetings of business people and representatives of the public sector as well as joint research projects over a period of three to five years to assess the implementation and application of Islamic teachings in business and economic policy. 
  • Due weight should be given to social and ecological issues as well as energy problems and development strategies: As an institution for solving common problems in a joint action a European - Middle Eastern Institute for Environmental Studies with financial support from both Western and Muslim sources should be designed.

Aware that these recommendations cannot be put into practice at once, we suggest the following steps of implementation:

  • The conference in Berlin will be the point of departure for concrete strategies of cooperation and multilateral research in the above-mentioned fields of application. 
  • The responsible body for implementing the working programme and establishing structures of cooperation will be a steering committee consisting of at least four representatives of the participating institutes and including specialists for the different areas (education, media, minorities, economy). 
  • We nominate as a focal point for the coordination of future projects the German Institute for Middle East Studies, Hamburg. 
  • It is of particular importance to use and complement trans-governmental programmesa nd projects of cooperation such as of the UNESCO, the European Union and the Council of Europe. In addition, non-governmental organizations and networks should be tied in. 
  • Through the creation of the planned international network an early warning system against potential conflicts should emerge step-by-step, which can develop new forms of trust and intercultural cooperation in and between nations.

Apart from the implementation of the agenda and the establishment of the network a second conference scheduled for the year 2000 will be prepared.

The Undersigned:

Prof Ahmed Kamal Abulmagd, Cairo; Egypt
Prof Nadhir AI-Ansari, AI al-Bayt University, Mafraq, Jordan
Prof Mohammed Arkoun, Paris, France
Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Universität Bielefeld, Germany
Mr. Thierry Fabre, Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de I'Homme, Aix-en-Provence, France
Dr. Mahmoud Farghal, Institute of Diplomatic Studies, Cairo, Egypt
Mrs. Paz Fernandez, Centro Espanol de Relaciones Internationales, Madrid, Spain
Dr. Maribel Fierro, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid, Spain
Prof Peter Graf, Universität Osnabrück, Germany
Dr. Kai Hafez, Deutsches Orient- Institut, Hamburg, Germany
Prof. Reijo E. I Heinonen, University of Joensuu, Finland
Dr. Ismail bin I Haji Ibrahim, Institute of Islamic Understanding, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Mr. Oddbjørn Leirvik, University of Oslo, Norway
Dr. Paolo Magri, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, Milan, Italy
Prof. Volker Nienhaus, Universität Bochum, Germany
Dr. Andrea Pacini, Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, Turin, Italy
Dr. Jalaluddin Rahmat, Motahari Foundation, Bandung. Indonesia
Dr. Tariq Ramadan, University of Freiburg, Switzerland
Dr. Ahmad Ramzi, Académie du Royaume du Maroc, Rabat, Morocco
Dr. Anne Sofie Roald, University of Lund, Sweden
Dr. Ekkehard Rudolph, Deutsches Orient-Institut, Hamburg, Germany
Prof. Khalijah Mohd. Salleh, National University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Prof Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, Université St. Joseph, Beirut, Lebanon
Prof. Ziauddin Sardar, London, England
Prof. Alwi Shihab, University of Paramadina Mulya, Jakarta, Indonesia
Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui, The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, England
Prof. Udo Steinbach, Deutsches Orient- Institut, Hamburg, Germany
Prof. Kari Vogt, University of Oslo, Norway
Prof. Jacques Waardenburg, Lausanne, Switzerland

  1. See also: Roman HERZOG, Preventing the Clash of Civilizations. A Peace Strategy for the Twenty-First Century. With comments by Amitai Etzioni, Hans Küng, Bassam Tibi, and Masakazu Yamazaki. Edited by Henrik SCHMIEGELOW. St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999, 136 pp. 
This contribution was published earlier in: Orient, 40 (1999) 1, pp. 38-51.





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