By Ulrich Schwerin, translated by TM Stapf, 05/05/2008
One year since the launch of the “Islamic Word” at the regional German radio station Suedwestrundfunk it has become quiet around the programme. Nothing remains of the protests that broke loose in January of last year when the SWR radio station announced its plans to introduce an Islamic faith programme. The then-SWR director Peter Voß defended the programme as a contribution to integration. Local conservative party chairman Stephan Mappus on the other hand understood the proposal as a violation of public radio’s lawful mandate. Other conservative critics declared a Muslim programme to be inconsistent with the European-Christian traditions and feared it could be abused as platform for hate-preaching. The simultaneous declaration by national TV station ZDF to introduce an online “Friday Forum”, even urged conservative party secretary Markus Soeder to see the public broadcaster on its way to becoming a mosque-programme.
By now already the twelfth article of the “Islamic Word” crowns the website of the news-channel SWR-Contra, but the programme seems all but forgotten – and not only by the politicians. “The debate that preceded the launch of the first broadcast created a lot of attention in the beginning” says Reinhard Baumgarten, the programme’s director. However, since the high number of online viewers and the large amount of mail reactions during the initial months, interest has subsided in the meantime. According to Baumgarten, one reason for the declining demand is that the “Islamic Word’s” homepage is rather difficult to locate from the central-SWR website. Another reason could lie in the low publishing frequency of new articles. After all, the “Islamic Word” is published only three times a month so far.
No fear of controversial topics
Baumgarten right out rejects all allegations that the four-member-strong author-team is avoiding contemporary topics in its contributions. The former Egypt-correspondent claims that “we don’t avoid controversial questions at all.” He cites the contribution of Aiman Mazyek, General Secretary of Germany’s Central Muslim Council, under the title “Islam and Violence”. In fact there are quite a few more such daring articles to be found. For example, the dialogue-officer of the religious association Ditib, Bekir Alboga, talks about force in faith, Hilal Sezgin, a publicist from Frankfurt, dedicated an article to the Islamic image of women, and religion teacher Emina Corbo-Mesic looks at the educational vision of Islam.
Common points of critique about Islam are often the starting points for the authors. In many cases selective interpretations of the Quran are used to contradict the criticism. In his article on violence Aiman Mazyek for instances, quotes only those Suras that command the protection of people of other faiths, call for tolerance and reject violence. Those lines in the Quran urging the struggle against the infidels however, are over-looked. For Mr. Baumgarten, this kind of selective interpretation of scripture is not only admissible but in fact necessary.
A religious programme from Muslims for Muslims
“We have to get to the point that the Quran is read in a similar manner in which the Bible is read today” says Baumgarten. After all, the Bible does not only call for tolerance and love-thy-neighbour. “Not only the Quran, but also the Bible is marked by a line of blood. The Old Testament is a single slaughter.” Those passages however, have no influence on contemporary perspectives on the Bible anymore. The director rejects the idea that such a contemporary interpretation of the Quran would be impossible in Islam because the Quran as the word of Allah is beyond interpretation. “Also Islam is seeing a debate on whether the Quran is to be understood as the direct or the transmitted word of Allah.” He could even imagine future broadcasts to take this topic up.
Asked about ZDF’s “Friday Forum”, Reinhard Baumgarten discards a direct comparison as unfitting. After all, the online weekly “Friday Forum” is a much more ambitious project and much more well-financed. Further differences are that the “Friday Forum” is more of a information programme about Islam, while the “Islamic Word” understands itself as a Muslim religious programme. Also the “Friday Forum” discusses religious questions like the understanding of marriage, the charity law or the Islamic educational vision. However, next to members of the Muslim community its invited authors include doctors, lectures and film-directors to debate about political and social topics like “Muslims and Health” or “Homosexuality in Islam”.
Change in the programme-idea not planned
Baumgarten could imagine such a broadening of the topics covered also for the “Islamic Word.” So far however, no plans exist to change the concept behind the programme – even though Baumgarten admits that the current feature marks only a first and temporary symbolic step. By what that could be followed he does not explain. One option would be to increase the programme’s frequency to increase its exposure and allow quicker reactions to current events and debates. Another possibility would be to introduce an online forum where the debate sparked by the articles could be continued. The current, very limited budget does not allow for such moves. Also, Baumgarten explains, if more articles are to be written to realise a higher publication frequency, additional Muslim authors have to be found, and that is actually not at all easy.
Publication with friendly permission of the Stuttgarter Zeitung. Originally published on 19th April 2008. All rights reserved.