Pope Benedict told German Muslims in Berlin on Friday they can expect cooperation and support from Roman Catholics as long as they respect Germany’s constitution and the limits it sets on pluralism. Meeting representatives of the country’s four million Muslims, he said the constitution drawn up in post-war West Germany was solid enough to adapt to a pluralistic society in a globalised world and make room for new religions as well.
It sounded like the Bavarian-born pontiff was making a veiled reference to a debate in Germany over the past year over Muslim integration in Germany and whether Muslims wanted sharia here, an issue discussed mostly on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Muslims last year that Islamic law had no place in Germany. “What applies here is the constitution, not sharia,” she declared. When he took office in March, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the idea that “Islam belongs to Germany” — first mentioned by President Christian Wulff last year — “is not substantiated by history at any point.” A recent book “Richter ohne Gesetz” (Judges without Law) argues that Muslims are setting up a “parallel legal system” that is undermining German justice.
Muslim leaders didn’t hear it that way. They praised the pope for confirming through the meeting that Islam was now a part of German society and pointing towards new and expanded cooperation between Catholics and Muslims. But they said their loyalty to the constitution, a main point in his speech, was never in question. “As Muslims in Germany, we have always said that we see the German constitution as a good basis for peaceful life together,” Bekir Alboga, head of interreligious dialogue for the Turkish mosque association DITIB, told Reuters after meeting the pope.
“He was stressing that the constitution guarantees religious freedom and this applies to all,” said Mouhanad Khorchide, professor of Islamic studies at Münster University. “The Muslims who say they want sharia here are a very small minority and nobody takes them seriously. That is not our concern. ”