Do you know if there’s a mosque in your neighborhood? Have you ever visited it? Are you interested?

Is Islam still relevant? Apparently, it is. Islam and Muslims here in Germany and throughout Europe attest to that fact. Instead of starting a scientific debate about the temperance of Islam, I’d like to posit a different thesis: We have a communication problem! Who is the expert on contemporary Islam if not the the person who practices the religion on a daily basis?

In the current debate on integration, people are speaking over one another and not to each other. We need more communication.

When was the last time you actually had a conversation with a Muslim? When was the last time you had a discussion on religion with a Muslim?

But we don’t talk about religion — religion is a private matter, we say. The government can promote cooperation through laws, research, and the allocating funds for inter-faith projects. However, it cannot force peace. It is the responsibility of individuals to communicate openly with one another, and to establish a sense of community.

In his theory of communicative action, Jürgen Habermas describes society as a room for communication, in which individuals are responsible for leading an open dialogue. A society that fails to engage in open mutual deliberation is facing a problem. Dialogue is the foundation of every peaceful society.

In his concept of toleration, philosopher Rainer Forst explained that tolerance involves three components: objection, acceptance, and rejection.

To reach tolerance, therefore, we must reassess our reasons for objection, reach acceptance and ultimately reject our initial positions.

Tolerance pushes us to approach others despite our initial reasons for distance. Tolerance also allows for the existence of different positions, even after the exchange of ideas.

Such diversity is essential for a pluralistic society.

Do you know if there’s a mosque in your neighborhood? Have you ever visited it? Are you interested?

Nowadays, Islam is a provocation. However, it is only a provocation because there is a lot of prejudice associated with the term “Islam.” Discussions revolve around these external prejudices. And no one gives their counterpart a chance to articulate their position. We believe that the woman wearing headscarves is suppressed and the bearded man is a terrorist.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be surprised? When was the last time you approached a stranger and asked: Who are you?

An acquaintance who wears a headscarf recently shared some anecdotes with me. A man on the street loudly claimed she was an Islamic State-follower, and a woman on the subway told her that she had “nothing against Muslims but...”

This is the core of our problem: It’s not only that we believe to know what Islam is — we also judge followers of the religion.

A sincere dialogue, in which the problems are enumerated and questioned, and positions are reassessed, has not been possible for a long time.

From personal experience with inter-religious dialogue, I can safely say that exchanging beliefs and values is a very enriching experience. You get to know fascinating people. But this requires one thing: Courage. Courage to change, and courage to engage with one another.

For myself and for my interlocutors, that often means that we have to explain and justify our beliefs. Such open dialogue inevitably leads us to question our own positions, which can be challenging. We are forced to ask: Are the same laws still relevant? Is the role of the Christian church still relevant? Do we have to grant Muslim communities similar privileges?

If an integration of Islam is to be successful, it requires an open dialogue about the problems that already exist, and an assessment of possible solutions. Reformation will only occur through open conversation.

This dialogue is already being held, but it is unfortunately only held among the elite. Why don’t you take the initiative to lead an open and curious dialogue? You might learn something new about someone else and about yourself. This is the real challenge.

Conversation is the best way to prevent extremism. There are activist groups, such as Ufuq.de, that lead discussions on Islam and Islamophobia in schools and other institutions. Such activities pose the question: How do we want to live?

I believe we should work towards cooperation, instead of passive coexistence. Try it. Seek out these conversations. Tolerance and openness does not equal an Islamization of the West.

On the contrary, a little openness on the subway, on the street, or on a sports field fosters trust. It doesn’t even have to be a discussion about religion.

You will notice that the majority of Muslims are not more or less extreme than the majority of society. Whether you are non-Muslim or Muslim, set this challenge for yourself.

Freedom of religion must not be understood as the elimination of religion from dialogue. On the contrary, we should be able to share our reasons for religious belief.