How do we read the Koran with understanding

Islamic theologian Mouhanad Khorchide"Mohammed would not recognize Islam"

Mouhanad Khorchide has been a professor at the University of Münster for ten years. There he heads the Center for Islamic Theology. He was born in Beirut in 1971 and grew up in Saudi Arabia. He studied Islamic theology in Beirut and Vienna. He has written widely acclaimed books - for example on compassion in Islam. He says about his latest book that it is his most important to date.

Andreas Main: Mr. Khorchide, why is "God's False Lawyers: The Betrayal of Islam" your most important book to date?

Mouhanad Khorchide: My concern is clarification and more clarification and one more clarification. And education begins with self-criticism. And, if you look at Islamic theology, you see that a lot is constructed. From the very beginning, the political dimension has played an enormous role in how Islam was established and how it was shaped. That means that we have to free Islam today from these political instrumentalizations, from these political dimensions, in order to work out its spiritual and ethical potential as far as possible.

That's exactly my concern in the book. And where I show: where were the beginnings? Where are the influences, political influences? Where did they start? And what consequences did this have on our image of God, human image, God-human relationship, our understanding of the man-woman relationship, for example, or our understanding of the Koran and so on. And we have to reread all of this today. That is my concern.

"I inevitably sit between the chairs"

Main: I'm going even further now. It's not just your most important book to date. Subjectively, besides the books by Milad Karimi, it is the most important book that I have read about Islam, especially since it does not curry favor with anyone. So, convinced supporters of an authoritarian understood Islam or naive simple defenders, they should froth as well as the mean, bad-tempered and embittered Islam-hater. Do you like to sit between the chairs?

Khorchide: I don't like to sit between the chairs, but in order to initiate and establish the project, you inevitably sit between the chairs. You not only make friends, but also many enemies. But as you said, these theses justify why Islam, as we know it today, is largely politically manipulated.

I know the word manipulation sounds difficult to many ears now, but it is. And that's what I am proving in this book. And so I make it difficult for the enemy as well, for the other side as well. The foundations of political Islam in particular are deconstructed to a great extent in this book. And I expect a lot of resistance, especially from supporters of so-called political Islam.

Dictators as models of political Islam

Main: The term manipulation is strong stuff. You just hinted at it. Who are those who manipulate or have manipulated Islam? Name the horse and the rider.

Khorchide: It all started with political structures, as early as 661, i.e. with the first dynasty. So, as a reminder: The Prophet Mohammed died in 632. But about 30 years after his death, the first dynasty began, which was actually a kingdom. Today we would say: a restrictive dictatorship in the name of Islam. This is where the manipulation began because the caliphs began to see themselves as something like representatives of God on earth.

The new theses, which I also substantiate here, show how the influences from Greater Persia were in the 7th, 8th, 9th centuries, but also from the Eastern Roman Empire, i.e., where the emperor was also something like a kind of speaker God has seen. And that pleased the caliph, these theses. And they have claimed that for themselves: We are also the spokesmen of God. This is where the manipulation began because these caliphs, as spokesmen for God, were dependent not on the God image of a loving, merciful God, but of a restrictive God. And so the manipulation began.

And it continued from the political level, into the cultural level, into the religious level. Today I would say: Manipulated, but also manipulative structures of Islam are in the minds of many believers, many Muslims who have difficulties self-critically questioning some positions because these structures are so firmly established in their heads. We must not be free. We are not allowed to question anything. We are not allowed to take other positions.

That is exactly my concern, to deconstruct these structures in people's minds. It is not enough to act on a political level. Change begins when every believer changes himself and critically questions his own positions.

"Hagia Sophia is a prime example"

Main: Nevertheless, briefly the political level. To what extent does the behavior of the Turkish Prime Minister fit into your argumentation, who a week ago in a still secular state is now turning a museum that was once a church and then a mosque into a mosque again, the Hagia Sophia?

Khorchide: This transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a prime example of the instrumentalization of religion. On the outside, it seems like it is a pious act. But in reality it is a pure instrumentalization of religion to demonstrate power here, but also to show: I, in the name of Islam, can symbolically humiliate Christians and this division "we and the others", "Islam and." the enemy image of Christianity or the enemy of the West "to consolidate in the minds of the people.

(AP Photo / Emrah Gurel) Erdogan and the Hagia Sophia - a step towards the Islamization of public life
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticized for the planned conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The price for Erdogan's power game is high, comments Christiane Habermalz.

That is exactly what political Islam is all about. His claims to power, which he tries to legitimize in the name of the saint, but at the expense of the erosion of Islam from its spirituality, from its ethical dimensions.

"Erdogan is one of these splitters"

Main: How did you experience the reactions to this Hagia Sophia decision?

Khorchide: I've had different reactions over the past few days. I fully understand those who have been frustrated. Even the Pope, who was disappointed. So do the Muslims who said: Wait a minute, we don't need another mosque. On the contrary, we need gestures of recognition and appreciation from others.

I have no sympathy for those who said: That's a good thing. That is Islamization. This shows the power of Islam over the West or over Christianity. Well, I have absolutely no understanding for those who want to divide. Erdogan is one of these dividers.

But we should embrace the philanthropic interpretations of Islam - we have to strengthen them.

"Humiliate in the Name of Islam"

Main: So much for the overture. Mouhanad Khorchide, let's split our conversation in two, just like you split your book in two. On the one hand, there is part one. It is called: "The betrayal of Islam." And then part two: "On the way to liberation." In the second part you outline what a liberal, modern Islam looks like. Before we get to that: The word "dangerous" is to be read over and over again in connection with what you describe as a betrayal of Islam. Let's go over that. What is the danger for me, for me, a non-Muslim German?

Khorchide: For a non-Muslim there is the danger that if Islam is understood in such a way that it is politically instrumentalized, that the concern of this so-called political Islam is to rule you as a non-Muslim, to show power towards you or, even more pointedly, more aggressively perhaps expressed to humiliate you in the name of Islam. That is the claim of political Islam. He wants to rule in Europe. However, wrapped in the cloak of democracy, human rights.

That is the main difference between political Islam on the one hand and jihadism or Salafism on the other. Jihadism, Salafism are much more honest because they are more visible. You declare: We see you as enemies. We want to destroy you. Political Islam makes this much more subtle. And that is why it is much more dangerous, especially for you as a non-Muslim, especially for society as well.

"Dilemma for many young Muslims"

Main: And the danger to Muslims?

Khorchide: First, that Islam itself is losing its potential for liberation. That is, Muslims become objects of obedience and submission rather than objects of freedom. That's one thing. The other: It divides within Islam. Those who belong to us, to political Islam, are the true Muslims, these are the good guys. The others are the bad guys. These are the supporters of the West. These are the traitors.

(Imago) Psychologist Mansour on the Islamic debate - "The middle is silent"
The psychologist Ahmad Mansour accuses the democratic center in Germany of avoiding uncomfortable debates on Islam. That was dangerous for the culture of debate, said Mansour in the Dlf.

In addition, there is also the fact that Muslims who grew up here, for example, in Europe say: I want to live both as a Muslim and as a loyal citizen of Germany, for example, or Europe. But he is now given a choice: either, or. Make a decision! This dilemma is also a problem for many young Muslims who were born and raised here.

"Mohammed would not recognize his preaching today"

Main: Let's hear a sample from your book and then go into it more deeply. A passage read by Rainer Delventhal.

Islam, which can be instrumentalized to establish a submission mentality, is the antithesis of the Islam proclaimed by Mohammed. He is its manipulated version. This manipulated Islam sees itself as a religion of submission that wants to turn people into objects of obedience. He is reluctant to speak of the loving, merciful God. At its center is the punishing, restrictive God. He is reluctant to speak of the Koran as a revelation of the loving mercy of God. This manipulated Islam suggests to the believers that they are not in a position to take their religiosity into their own hands. Rather, they are dependent on scholars who explain Islam to them and tell them what they must and what they are not allowed to do.

Main: So much for the quote from your book. Mr. Khorchide, ultimately you raise the charge that a certain Islam, as it is widespread today, misuses revelation, the prophet, the Koran upside down, or even more, misuses it. Is what we experience as Islam then un-Islamic?

Khorchide: As a matter of fact. If the Prophet Mohammed were born today or would be resurrected and saw Islam, he would not recognize his preaching and would say: Wait a minute, I wanted human freedom. I wanted to free you. I wanted to spread all of the structures of that time - that were social structures, tribal structures of submission - I wanted equality, freedom for people. Where is all of this today in the name of Islam?

"Mohammed wanted human freedom," says Mouhanad Khorchide (picture-alliance / dpa - picture archive)

On the contrary: I see, he would say, all dictators in the Islamic countries, misuse of my preaching. Therefore, I would in fact mean much of what Muslims also practice today or think - a lot of it does not correspond to what Mohammed actually proclaimed at the time.

"How do we want to interpret Islam today?"

Main: I've already said how important I think your book is. But before anyone says I couldn't think of any critical questions, now comes one. You make the cut a few decades after Mohammed. You just said that too. Around 660, the abuse of your religion for the purpose of rule begins. So, a few years of true Islam and then 1,370 years of manipulated Islam. Isn't that very dualistic or black and white?

Khorchide: Well, I read everything in a historical context. For the people back then it was a gradual development. That means I am not judging the people of the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th centuries. I do not judge ourselves today if we have no historical awareness and believe that Islam, as it developed after the death of Muhammad, fell from heaven and we take it as a package, we untie it and we accept it as it is, just accept it - but that shouldn't be.

Rather: We have to reflect critically and question which political, but also social structures have played a massive role that Islam has developed in the centuries after the death of Muhammad, so that we think again today: which Islam we want for today interpret us? Or how do we want to interpret it today?

It is similar to the history of Christianity. In Christianity it took a long time before we understand Christianity today as we understand it. As an example, I only recall the historical-critical reading of the Bible. It is not 1,000 years old, not even 500 years, just 100 and a little years young. And Islam is the same. It did not fall from the sky, but it develops with the development of the people.

But if we are always looking backwards, so that we think that Islam of the 7th century is the ideal state and we want to bring it into the here and now, then we are making a cardinal error, we are also doing Islam a great deal of injustice. Instead of thinking that God has put the helm in our hands, we should also consider today: How do we want to interpret Islam for ourselves today? That is, I read Islam in its openness. It remains open and we always have to reinterpret it.

"Every worldview is prone to abuse"

Main: But if the manipulation of your religion can start so early, if it is so prone to political abuse, maybe that is at its core. Perhaps Islam is dangerous at its core.

Khorchide: Any worldview that claims to be truthful is susceptible to abuse. Christianity, Judaism is just like Islam, just like Buddhism. And that is why it is important that we free ourselves from these absoluteness claims and believe that religions are not there to divide people. To think that they are better if they have this religion, better than the others, because they have other religions.

Rather, religions are there to remind us all that we have something in common, and that is our humanity. And the better one is the one who practices more humane values ​​or who testifies to his faith through his righteous actions.

"God wants me to have freedom"

Main: The Islamic theologian Mouhanad Khorchide on Deutschlandfunk, on the program "Day by Day - From Religion and Society". Mr. Khorchide, after the betrayal of Islam, let us now take the second step - on the path to liberation. What attitude would you like Muslims to be, so that they can succeed in embarking on this path of liberation?

Khorchide: That Muslims perceive themselves as subjects of religion in the sense of: I am a free being. God wants me to have freedom, has given me the freedom to determine myself religiously. I can't just blindly accept something. I can't let anyone patronize me. Neither from a khorchide nor from any scholar or imam or hodja.

Rather, everyone is responsible for himself to interpret his religiosity in such a way, to practice it in such a way that one is convinced that it will preserve his freedom and his dignity. So, this aspect of freedom, aspect of self-criticism, that you also perceive yourself accordingly as a free, reasonable being, that is what I would like to be the key, the key to enlightenment, to liberation.

"It starts with upbringing"

Main: A quote from the second part of your book as a second sample, read by Rainer Delventhal.

We Muslims should be more open to new thoughts and finally free ourselves from the mentality of constant condemnation of everything new. We must finally break open the structures of bondage and discard all forms of religious fear rhetoric. Because where there is love, there is no longer any place for fear. God means sincerely to us. And so he wants us out of love, not out of fear.

Main: Mr. Khorchide, breaking up structures of bondage, becoming subject, self-determination - these are big words. Where should the 16-year-old, let's say Fatima, let's say, in Nuremberg or in Berlin-Charlottenburg - where should she start personally?

Khorchide: It starts with upbringing.So how is your religion taught? Is your religion taught, as many of my students tell me: In many mosques we are not even allowed to question. We can't even ask questions, we just have to passively accept what we're told.

But, if religious upbringing is designed to encourage people to quarrel, i.e. not just to ask questions but to quarrel, a 16-year-old can also begin with himself as a A free, mature being in a religious sense, also in a religious sense, perceives and learns to question, to want to understand, to shape one's relationship with God individually and in no way to delegate this to a third party.

"God relies on man"

Main: What do you say to 30-year-old Abdul from Hamburg, how he could draw strength from religion for a new, different Muslim self-confidence?

Khorchide: When the Muslim perceives his relationship with God as an individual relationship and, above all, sees himself as the "hand of God's love", "hand of mercy" here in the world, and because man is free and God is for man's freedom has guaranteed, God does not intervene directly in the world to bend or direct things, but God relies on people.

And that is the epitome of the word "caliph" in the Koran as it occurs. The human being as "caliph" means something like "image of God", thus something like the "hand of God". So, God intervenes through man when man makes himself available in freedom and says: Yes, I take the responsibility that peace happens in the world here, that love happens here, that suffering is reduced, that wars no longer occur take place and so on. That means that God created the world in such a way that he is "dependent" on humans, on human cooperation - in quotation marks. So, humans as partners of God.

(imago / Sven Simon) Political Islam in Germany - "We have a lot to defend"
The ethnologist Susanne Schröter calls for the constitution to be defended against political Islam. "We have to be careful that we do not lose our individual freedoms," said Schröter in the Dlf.

When man fails, God's intention for love does not remain fulfilled in the world. If the 30-year-old or whatever believer perceives himself accordingly: God relies on me when I fail, when I move God, I move love, I move mercy. If I don't love my neighbor, then I've moved God too.

If faith is understood as an action, as an event of love, then faith has something to do with all of us. Here and now he has to do with us. And so he gives us a lot of strength and a lot of meaning for our life, that we are the ones here who realize love, mercy, the constructive, the peaceful in the world. And, if we don't do that, it won't happen by itself.

"This is Islam light"

Main: Mr. Khorchide, your Islam is so open, free, pluralistic that it can be interesting not only for the young Fatima and the young Abdul, but also for the much older Andreas with Christian roots. So is your Islam something like Islam light, a humanistically watered-down version that approaches non-Muslims in such a way that you yourself have me hooked?

Khorchide: I mean exactly the other way around. Dogmatic and conservative or fundamentalist Islam, that is Islam light. Why? Because fundamentalism undermines Islam precisely from this act of love. Fundamentalism is not about love, not about charity, not about people. It's about dogmas. It's about abstract categories that have little to do with our everyday lives.

"IS has only caused mischief," says Mouhanad Khorchide (Militant website / AP)

And we see that at IS, for example, where the people there think they are very strict believers. But let's look at the reality. You have only made mischief. My vision of Islam invites everyone to come together, each based on their worldview. Well, I don't want to do missionary work, but everyone in his worldview should justify this humane, this humanity for himself.

This is not a relativization of the truth or the worldview, but elaboration, the essence of Islam or the essence of Christianity. It's about love, about mercy. It's about people themselves. And that is why it is a strict variant of the interpretation of religion, because here the human being is very much the focus as the being in which God himself also believes.

"Many want an alternative to political Islam"

Main: When it comes to medication, it always means: Read the package insert for risks and side effects and ask your doctor or pharmacist. With your book, I would say: Reading it, spiritual experiences are possible. Ask your bookseller about risks and side effects. But that wasn't intended now, was it?

Khorchide: In the second part of the book - and that is my concern in this part - I wanted to offer an alternative to political Islam. Because - and that is an experience that I have again and again, especially with young people who say: Okay, I understand that political Islam is not what Mohammed proclaimed. But it is not enough for me to say what went wrong or how I shouldn't understand Islam.

I ask: How should I understand Islam now? Many young people want an alternative to this political Islam. And I do that in the second part, where it is indeed very spiritual in some chapters, where perhaps only believers feel addressed now. But that is intended, in particular, to reach believers with an alternative understanding to political Islam.

Mouhanad Khorchide: "God's False Lawyers: The betrayal of Islam"
Verlag Herder, 1st edition 2020, 256 pages, 22 euros

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.