Centre for Co-existence – Islamic-Christian Study Centre (IKS) was established in May 1996 by a group of Christians and Muslims togther, has an equal number of Christian and Muslim board-members and is currently supported by a number of Christian and Muslim organisations and societies.
The overall purpose is through cooperation on equal footing – to build positive relations between citizens with Christian and Muslim background and to work for equal citizenship ? nationally and internationally.
IKS was started as a kind of refuge where Muslims and Christians were able to feel secure and respected, speak openly to each other and cooperate on various projects. During the first years there was a great need for education, information, advice and dialogue meetings on Islam, the relationship between Islam and Christianity and common ethical issues.
Today the centre works mainly with projects, practice-oriented education such as courses on counselling for pastors and imams, lectures and conferences, study groups and tours and publication of a journal twice a year. The centre has co-operation with a number of research and educational institutions, with Christian and Muslim organisations and other NGOs in relation to common challenges in Denmark and internationally.
The centre works mainly in three areas:
- Equal treatment ? anti-discrimination ? co-citizenship: IKS works with a number of NGOs on different projects for equal treatment and with organisations in six different EU-countries on a training-project called ?Religious Diversity & Anti-discrimination.? IKS is also working to create contacts of friendship between local churches and mosques in Copenhagen.
- Counselling in health and prison service system: Ethnic Resource Team (ERT) consists of more than 40 volunteers covering 16 languages, different religions and many nationalities. These have been trained in crisis psychology and counselling and are ready to be called upon by staff, patients and relatives in hospitals in Copenhagen area when patients need someone to talk to. The team also provides teaching and supervision of staff. Team members can also be called to prisons when inmates need someone to talk to. The project-leader functions also as imam in two hospitals. A comprehensive research project on youth with ethnic minority background has been completed in 2010 in the largest prison in Denmark by the director of the centre.
- Development projects in and study tours, mainly to Muslim countries. The centre is preparing an exchange programme with one or more partners in the Middle East in order to share experiences of counselling work. Another exchange programme on IT and education with universities in Islamabad has been planned.
Results and experiences
The centre has through 14 years succeeded in becoming a recognized partner for ethnic minorities and a number of Christian and Muslim organisations and congregations. Friendships and communities have developed across religious and cultural differences. Through face-to-face encounters in IKS, common studies and increased knowledge of each other many people have revised their prejudiced perceptions of the other and based them more on real knowledge.
Volunteers in IKS have contributed to dialogue work around the country ? meeting places, dialogue groups, interreligious councils, conferences and seminars etc. IKS has also been and still is a resource centre where organisations, institutions and individuals can benefit
from the human as well as material resources and experiences of the centre, the great network and confidence that IKS has built over the years.
Young Muslims have through equal cooperation and mutual respect gained more self-confidence and surplus of energy to be active in society and in the public debate. Cross-cultural and-religious and counselling has increasingly taken place, for instance in connection with family problems.
Involvement in international interfaith work, especially cooperation with Norwegian Christian and Muslim organisations, have provided the centre with inspiration and strength here in Denmark. Since IKS is the only centre of its kind in Europe it has made a considerable contribution to interfaith work internationally in many contexts.
The possibility of encounter
Denmark has been a rather homogeneous nation until 40 years ago when a number of immigrants, many of them with Muslim background, were invited as guest workers. Since the 1980s a number of refugees have become residents in Denmark.
We do not have violent conflicts in Denmark. The problems are more on a psychological and symbolic level. According to a recent analysis 50% of the Danes have never talked to an immigrant. This means that the information they have about Islam and Muslims comes from the media. When people do not meet each other they create myths and prejudices about each other. These myths live their own life in people?s fantasy if not corrected and adjusted to reality.
The image of Islam and Muslims in the media is very negative. Therefore it is important to create the possibility for encounter that can lead to friendship, fellowship and trust. In this way the perception of the other can be replaced by a more realistic one.
The presence of more than one religion, culture or ethnicity is not in itself a problem but is sometimes made a problem. The question is how we tackle the conflicts that are bound to be where people live together: do we use them negatively or positively? to widen the gap between people, which leads to destruction, hatred and revenge – or to create positive changes, renewal, reconciliation that can develop us as human beings? Do we exclude the others or include them?
The experience from our work is that inclusion of the other is the only way that we can solve the problems connected with our living together. Everyone must have a role to play and be treated as an equal citizen, with equal opportunity to participate in our society, have equal access to the political process. We must build this society together.
Another experience is that religion can play a positive role as a strong motivating force for ethical action. Religion makes an appeal to our conscience, to our heart and can be used positively to bring people together and promote harmonious co-existence.
We need different models of interaction between ethnic groups in different contexts. What unites all these models, however, is the purpose of building relationships of friendship. To relate means to connect, to restore, be on friendly terms.
This is our challenge – to build mutual relationships on equal terms: Both parts must own the dialogue, i.e. set the agenda and decide the premises. A common space must be created, where both parts can feel secure enough to be open and be one self. In this way we can build visions together and work together for the common good of our society.