„We were very clear that we didn’t just want to talk about religion. We wanted to establish an interreligious body to promote dialogue with political representatives, civil society and society as a whole“, recalls Ilona Klemens, a protestant minister, when asked how the Frankfurt Council of Religions came to be established. The history of the Council tells us a lot about Germany as a land of migrants – and how those newcomers from different world religions enrich the development of an urban society through their involvement in new and equal partnerships, through their engagement in public debate on values and religion and through the clear positions they hold. It is no coincidence that the Council was established in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region is home to people from around 180 countries with different cultures and religions. Indeed, almost half of its 700,000 inhabitants have an immigrant background.
The Frankfurt Council of Religions was founded in 2009 with the goal of improving mutual understanding and coexistence by promoting dialogue and offering advice.
Our experience can also be helpful in other societies as a way of promoting value-oriented dialogue based on widespread participation. – Khushwant Singh, Council President and representative for the Sikh religion
With representatives from nine religious communities, each of which independently appoints its own volunteer delegates, it remains unique in terms of its composition. The organisation brings together members of Christian groups (represented by leading church figures), the Jewish commu¬nity, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu organisations, the Baha’i and the Sikh religion, the Ahmadiyya and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and is funded through membership subscriptions from the various reli¬gious groups. The Frankfurt Council of Religions is now an established name. It is a highly regarded and trusted institution that has inspired similar initiatives in other cities.
The Council is not afraid of engaging in debate on controversial subjects such as the Gaza conflict. In 2013, its position paper „For dialogue and diversity – Against extremism justified on the grounds of religion“ had a considerable impact in political circles and the media. Council President Khushwant Singh points out that the Council had managed to establish a fundamental consensus on extremism and issues such as pastoral care: „Our experience can also be helpful in other societies as a way of promoting value-oriented dialogue based on widespread participation.“
The Council is involved in a long list of activities. To date, these have included in-house familiarisation courses within local communities for each of the affiliated religious groups, and support for the establishment of new projects. One of these cooperates with the Jewish Anne Frank Educational Centre to raise awareness in schools of the various faiths and religions. As well as panel debates on issues such as discrimination and anti-Semitism, the Council has staged interfaith conferences and celebrations and helped to organise rallies, including one against an anti-Islamic initiative. Since 2014, the Council has been represented on the federal state of Hesse’s Advisory Committee on Integration and at the federal state Conference on Integration. In 2016, the council organised a multi-religious celebration in the historic St. Pauls Cathedral, and Singh addressed leading federal representatives and about one million people on public TV with a freedom greeting during the celebrations of the 25th Jubilee of German Unification.
We have to keep debating fundamental issues, renewing trust and reflecting on our mission in order to maintain that dialogue – Prof. Joachim Valentin, Vice-President of the Frankfurt Council of Religions
„Despite all our successes and the friendships that have developed between representatives of different religions, we still face a number of challenges. It is not easy to change attitudes in the various communities. At the same time, we have to keep debating fundamental issues, renewing trust and reflecting on our mission in order to maintain that dialogue,“ explains Vice-President Prof. Joachim Valentin.
Singh says that one of the most important lessons to be learned is that mistrust and prejudice can be broken down by engaging in respectful debate and critical reflection, and by showing patience. „As members of the Council, we believe that there is no viable and sustainable alternative to dialogue. Dialogue is the most important means of preserving peace in a society.“