Luther can help relations with Islam, Christians told

By Stephen Brown
July 9, 2009

Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant Reformer, can help Christians today to accommodate Islam in western societies, a German constitutional expert told a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) consultation in Budapest recently.

Dr Gerhard Robbers, professor of public and constitutional law at the University of Trier, recalled how Luther, introducing a German translation of the Qur’an, said, “Read the Qur’an to understand Islam better, to understand Muslims better, and in the end, read the Qur’an to understand yourself better.”

For Robbers, this statement was a true, and early, “act of enlightenment” and a good example of trying “to understand the other,” something much needed in today’s Europe marked by increasing religious pluralism.

Twenty years after the fall of communism, the Budapest consultation gathered representatives of Lutheran churches in Europe and beyond on 26-29 June to discuss “Church and State in Societies in Transformation.”

Robbers said a major challenge in the transition in which Europe now finds itself is “attributing an adequate legal status to Islam and Muslims.” In his paper 'New forms of pluralism as challenging and transformative factors' he emphasised that Europeans need to remember how much Islam and Christendom have in common.

“Many in Europe have forgotten what their culture owes to Muslim thought,” he observed, pointing to the influence on medieval Europe of Islamic ideas in philosophy, medicine, mathematics, economics and diplomacy.

“Many key features of the laws of international diplomacy have origins [in] Muslim legal culture,” said Robbers. “And certainly religious tolerance, at least the tolerance for those religions which have the Book in common, comes from Muslim thinking.”

He suggested seeking parallels between Lutheran and Islamic thought in areas such as the role of Scripture - Luther’s concept of sola scriptura -, the place given to the realm of God and the understanding that clergy are not required as mediators between believers and God.

“In Lutheranism, there is no necessity to have clerics, no necessity to have hierarchical clergy,” noted Robbers. “It is very similar in Islam.”

Acknowledgments to LWI and ENI (

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