What is the most misunderstood religion

The misunderstood God

Mouhanad Khorchide is an impatient intellectual. Within a year the theologian from Münster published two books in which he does nothing less than question the centuries-old Islamic tradition. In the first volume he turned against the image of a strict ruler. Khorchide does not see God as a dictator who expects obedience - but as a merciful person who is in a dialogical love relationship with people. In the new work, he thinks this image of God further - and asks what effects it has on Sharia, Islamic law:

"Does that mean that Sharia is understood as a collection of instructions, of laws? Or, if it (is) a dialogical relationship, then it is more about people. And here I try to - in quotation marks - 'anthropological turn' to justify and show in Islam: God is about people, not about himself. "

This approach has far-reaching consequences for Sharia law. Mostly it is understood as a legal system that prescribes the believers exactly what they have to do and what not to do. But Khorchide doesn't want to know anything about that. Nor does Khorchide want Muslims who blindly follow the instructions of legal scholars. Rather, the believers should develop a personal relationship with God free of tutelage. For Khorchide, Sharia is nothing other than the spiritual path to God. He reduces it to an Islamic doctrine of norms that provides the framework. The Sharia at Khorchide strives for two main goals: the purification of one's own heart and a just social order.

“The Qur'an says very little about the question of how to create that, a purified heart or a just social order. It doesn't make any recipes. It just says that everyone should reflect on themselves, work hard on what the prophet is supposed to do actual jihad. And on the other hand: Every society has to consider for itself how we can shape our just social order. "

Reality of life has great weight

In this understanding, the Sharia does not conflict with legal systems of European character. Khorchide also evaluates the sources of the Sharia differently than the Islamic tradition. According to the classical reading, in addition to the Koran, the hadiths, i.e. the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, are the most important basis. But Khorchide is extremely skeptical of the hadith - if only because it is unclear how authentic they are in many traditions.

Instead, the Münster-based theologian gives much greater weight to the reality of people's lives: For him, human interests are also normative as long as they do not contradict clear Islamic principles. Khorchide emphasizes human reason. For him, Sharia is not something rigid that has fallen from heaven - it is something very dynamic. Without being arbitrary, as he writes in the book:

"The dynamic of Sharia does not mean arbitrariness, because in addition to the unchanged form of religious rituals, Sharia stands for general principles, the validity of which must remain independent of context. These include principles of justice, the inviolability of human dignity, freedom, equality and social responsibility . All these religious rituals and principles lead to the highest, the actual goal: acceptance into the fellowship of God. "

When Khorchide's first volume "Islam is Mercy" was published a year ago, there was sharp criticism from conservative circles. From some of the reactions the accusation could be read that the theologian had fallen away from true Islam. Such attacks explain why Khorchide's new book is emotional in some parts - as if he had written it with anger. He devotes an entire chapter to the Salafists - those Muslims who have a backward-looking and strictly puritanical understanding of Islam. Khorchide now also recognizes such traits in more moderate circles:

"I am often very astonished and shocked when we find these ideas in normal Muslims. Above all, this tendency to quickly deny Muslims their beliefs if they disagree. I often miss the factual discussion of the idea in certain Muslim circles. That you don't try to argue with arguments and refute arguments with counter-arguments, but rather quickly (say): This is un-Islamic. Or this or that opinion, if you hold it, you have fallen away from Islam. "

Insult as "Guru of the Sect of Mercy"

The debate about the new book could hardly be more factual. Mocking comments are already circulating on internet social media. It is said that Khorchide's new book is "superficial" and "banal". Elsewhere the theologian is despised as the "guru of the sect of mercy".

Khorchide's approach of translating the Koran very freely in some passages and entirely in line with his own theology can certainly be discussed critically. Where other translators have translated the Arabic word "Wadschl" into German, for example with "fear" or "angst", Khorchide writes of "humility" - for him just an adaptation to today's times.

"The Koran uses a strong imagery for the people in the seventh century on the Arabian Peninsula. Terms that are abstract, such as conscience or human dignity, as we use them today, do not appear in the Koran. Which does not mean that the content, which are meant do not occur. I am trying to understand the Koran in today's terms, so not to translate literally, but to translate the meaning. In the sense of: Which terms would the Koran use today, would it be proclaimed today. "

This explanation is unlikely to appease his critics. There are other things to complain about in the book - some redundancies, for example. Or the sometimes pastoral tone. Nevertheless - the same applies to the new volume as to the first: It is a pointed and extremely important book. Because Khorchide designs a theology that takes nothing for granted, but questions many things according to the best critical tradition. The book is a contribution to the debate on the question of what an Islam that is shaped in and by Germany can look like.

Incidentally, some of the excitement about his theses is exaggerated simply because a lot is not that new. On the contrary: At Khorchide there are numerous thoughts that Muslim reform thinkers have already put forward over the past 150 years - thoughts that many Muslims in Germany should speak from the soul.


More on the subject:

Reforms in Islam
Five-part series: A religion wrestles with modernity
Dialogue between religions
A house of prayer and teaching for Christians, Jews and Muslims is to be built in Berlin
Islam as a subject at German universities
Islamic associations assess courses offered differently
Education about Islam
Rachid Benzine: "Islam and Modernity: The New Thinkers" and Mouhanad Khorchide: "Islam is Mercy: Basic Features of a Modern Religion"