Pray together, stay together

By Yin Lu in Berlin Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/13 22:18:39

Three religions to worship under same roof


(From left) Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci are holding bricks together and hoping to present the House of One project in Berlin as a good example to present Christianity, Judaism and Muslim as partners. Photo: Courtesy of House of One

(From left) Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Andreas Nachama and Imam Kadir Sanci are holding bricks together and hoping to present the House of One project in Berlin as a good example to present Christianity, Judaism and Muslim as partners. Photo: Courtesy of House of One

On the river Spree, in Petriplatz, where the city of Berlin first came into being and its first ever church stood, lies the groundbreaking project, House of One - a church, a mosque and a synagogue combined in one. 

Initiated by German Pastor Gregor Hohberg, and then joined by Israeli Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin and German-Turkish Imam Kadir Sanci, the project is slated to lay its foundation in 2019. The design features a brick building, which has three separate houses of worship of the same size but with different shapes and interior designs to cater to each religion's distinctive needs, as well as a shared space for the three communities.

"Now we live in a global village. This requires all of us to invent and create new forms of co-existence. And here is one. It's one concept for the future," Rabbi Andreas Nachama, who is on the board of directors at the organization, told the Global Times.

House of One is for the three Abrahamic religions, different denominations included, but eventually will be open to everybody, including non-religious people. In European history, different religions have used the same buildings across the continent, but not at the same time like this.

While some people are not convinced by the idea, the clergies are confident. They see it as the local Jewish, Protestant and Muslim communities' new attempt at inter-religious collaboration, as well as their answer to social issues such as the challenge of integration after immigration.

Past and present 

"We don't create a new religion. Each religion is in its own room, its own structures and traditions," Rabbi Nachama pointed out.

Imam Sanci agrees. "It's important that we don't try to change the others. We want to show that we can be together without mixing the religions. And it's a big challenge," he said.

He noted that once people get to know each other, it's going to be easy to show respect to people who think differently than themselves.

According to the clergies, the location of the project is significant.

Berlin is known as a city of diversified cultures and tolerance, with a rather turbulent history, especially with the erection and fall of the Berlin Wall, and the emancipation and then the persecution and expulsion of the Jews. 

Meanwhile, it was in Germany where Martin Luther (1483-1546) started the Protestant Reformation, which led to a split in the Church into Protestant and Catholic branches.

However, not only is the project a symbolic continuation of Germany's past endeavors, it can also be an answer to its present issues.

Germany is in the heart of Europe's refugee crisis. More than a million mostly Muslim refugees arrived in the country in 2015 alone.  

The clerks point out that the project helps with the refugee crisis, especially in the integration of the immigration population, by promoting mutual understanding.

"We want to give the refugees a future. We are helping the community here to understand the other people, their thinking," said Imam Sanci.

"We are not so much involved now in the actual help for refugees, but we are working to make people from three religions equally accepted as members of society," said Rabbi Nachama.

The total estimated cost of the construction is 43.5 million euros ($48.3 million), which will be financed with a mixture of bigger donations from patrons, governmental and institutional money, and a crowdfunding campaign. Through crowdfunding, people can donate 10 euros for each brick. So far the organization has received 4.35 million euros.

Inter-faith collaboration 

Unfortunately, not everybody supports the idea.

"I have received criticism from Muslims," said Imam Sanci. "Nowadays some Muslim groups are against dialogue, so they look for quotes in the Koran which legalizes their point of view. But it should be the other way around," he said.

"My task now is to show people that Islam in history was a religion which welcomes dialogue, and you can read in the Koran that dialogue is a good concept," he said.

The rising anti-Islam sentiment in the country also seems to pose a great challenge.

According to some pollsters and observers, there has been a dramatic change in the attitude of the general German population to Islam over the past year. A poll conducted by German newspaper Bild and research institute INSA shows that out of the whole population, those who think Islam has a place in Germany had dropped from January 2015's 37 percent to 22 percent, Russia Today reported in May.

Meanwhile, with multiple conflicts occurring in the Middle East, some believe that rather than inter-religious dialogue, reform is in need within Islam, to reject those aspects of the traditions that might be used by people who resort to oppression or war.

"It [Islam] has been reformed," Imam Sanci said. "The Muslims today, they have problems, very big problems. And they have to rediscover the real Islam again. That's my part of the job [to let people know] that we don't need a new Islam. We need the Islam which is very friendly and very wild and free." 

"From the Jewish point of view, Judaism has survived somehow 2,000 years without being a majority in society. So Jews can live very well in society with others, if the society is open, tolerant and flexible," Rabbi Nachma said.

Rabbi Nachama believes the project will provide an example that is needed to help with the global immigration challenge.

"Here we present us as partners. And Europe is a good example to present Jewish, Muslim and Christianity as partners," he said. 

Some interested partners have approached the organization, intending to start a similar project or take the name "House of One."



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