Andreas Feldtkeller: Die ‘Mutter der Kirchen’ im ‘Haus des Islam’

Eberhard Troeger

Andreas Feldtkeller: Die ‘Mutter der Kirchen’ im ‘Haus des Islam’. Gegenseitige Wahrnehmungen von arabischen Christen und Muslimen im West- und Ostjordanland, Missionswissenschaftliche Forschungen. NF/Bd. 6, Erlangen: Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Ökumene, 1998. 509 pp. 98.00 DM. This book ‘The M other of Churches’ in the ‘House of Islam’. M utual percep- tions of Arabic Christians and Muslims of the West and East Bank, Erlangen: Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Ökumene, 1998 (509 pages). 98.00 DM, is available in German only].

This comprehensive post-doctoral thesis by religion and missiological theologian A. Feldtkeller, who now chairs at Humboldt University of Berlin, examines the coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem and surrounding area from the time of the Arabic-Islamic conquest to the present. Because the church of Jerusalem, the mother church of world Christendom, had lived in the area under Islamic rule since the seventh century – interrupted only by the Crusades – and has also remained in close relationship to the Arabic-Islamic cultural region since 1918/1948, the author focuses on the Christian-Islamic relationship. He takes into account a wealth of old and new literature, also Arabic, and utilises the numerous interviews he was able to hold in the several years he spent researching in the area.

The complicated structure of the coexistence of dominating Muslims and dominated Christians (who were long in the majority, however) is for Feldtkeller an example for a somewhat successful convivance of people of different faiths and different cultural and ethnic origin (Aramaic-Greek for the Christians, Arabic-Turkish for the Muslims) in a process of mutual cultural penetration. At the same time, the author in particular uses concepts of hermeneutics (the study of understanding and mutual perception) and sociology as bases. Accordingly, he does not expound the material in historical, chronological order, but rather in cultural-sociological cross-sections. I find examples such as the relationships of threat and protection (chapter 2) and those of outside and inside (chapter 4) particularly noteworthy: Muslims who had come from the outside and those ruling the outside world granted the Christians outward protection as long as they restricted their lives to the inner areas of church and home – the way an Arab grants his wife protection as long as she restricts herself to the area of the home.

In my eyes, Feldtkeller sees this balance of the convivance too positively: one of the requisites for the Muslims’ tolerance of the Christians was that they should refrain from proclaiming the Gospel among the Muslims, i.e. from acknowledging a core concern of Christian existence. Feldtkeller limits himself too one-sidedly to sociological issues and is too extreme in suppressing the theological discussion of the problems of the Christians and Muslims’ living together. Thus the convivance seems – at whatever price – to be a value in and of itself. Nevertheless, the book offers a wealth of interesting and valuable insights and perspectives that are positively expanded by the comprehensive literature and keyword index.