Why I published an interview with a Muslim Imam in a Catholic newspaper in the week of the terror attacks in Paris

Imam Idriz showing me the Penzberg mosque

The timing could not have been worse: that was my first thought, and I am ashamed to admit it, but I caught myself thinking it when I read about the deadly attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris today. (Then I briefly prayed for the souls of those killed – and their murderers. God have mercy on them.)

Over the coming days, the readers of the Catholic weekly newspaper of which I am editor-in-chief will read, amongst other things, my interview with a local Muslim Imam, Benjamin Idriz of the Penzberg Mosque and the Munich Forum for Islam. As they will continue to receive news about how (three ?) terrorists, alledgedly shouting “Allah is great!”, killed my colleagues at a French paper in the name of Islam, they will read what I asked the local Imam about Islamophobia, the allure of Salafist/Islamist ideology and other issues – before the latest attack.

Many of my readers will react angrily. Several will no doubt write letters – some to me and the paper, others to the publisher or other important stakeholders. So be it. I had good reasons to interview the Imam; and today’s terrible bloodshed by members of his faith underlines the need to engage with Islam and its leaders.

No, it is not my job to protect Muslims from those members of their faith who threaten both me and them with their murderous ideological interpretation of Islam. Nor is it my job to point out that Islam has (probably inherent) political tendencies which – amongst other reasons – make it immune to effect the Enlightenment has had on Christianity, and prone to violence.

However, it is my job to publically engage and discuss problems, to help Christians not just talk about Muslims, but with them. One step down this road is to ask the questions I asked. Before you can discuss the differences between Christianity and Islam (and they are categorical on several crucial levels), you need to actually meet and establish some common ground on which to build everything else.

That was the reason why I undertook the interview – and that is why I thought that the timing could not have been worse. Those terrorists are trying to destroy everything that engenders dialogue, exchange and robust debate. They are cowards. And, for the record, they are guilty of “the most terrible form of blasphemy” – in the words of the very Imam I interviewed just before the attacks today. He, like many other Muslim leaders, quickly and very clearly condemned the vicious act of barbarity.

Perhaps the timing was not so bad after all. I just hope I can convince others – including many of my readers – to agree and also engage in this debate we so urgently need.