Berlin, under the same roof: a mosque, a synagogue and a church

Dr. R. Battista, Librarian and Teacher at Facoltà Avventista Teologica, Firenze

Will a new religion be born?

The dream of a place of worship for the three monotheistic religions, the so-called ‘religions of the book’, is about to become reality. Gregor Hohberg is the pastor who started the project in the center of Berlin's Mitte district. The project design is by Kühen Malvezzi, winner of the International Prize "Wettbewerb", and presents an imposing cubic brick building (mustard colour, typical of Brandenburg) with a central courtyard from which rises the only tower (32 m.). The courtyard will be the neutral zone to meet and is equally accessible by all.

At the heart of the building there are three places of worship: a church, a mosque and a synagogue. Malvezzi said that it was not easy to reconcile all parties. In fairness, the surface of the three places of worship is the same, while the design has attempted to take into consideration the specific needs of the three communities. Ultimately, it has a single roof, but three different rooms. It's predictable and also very logical, after all...

For example: the mosque and the synagogue will be facing east and structured on two levels. The Muslims want a square space in which the faithful can pray lined up shoulder to shoulder, as well as an area for ablution of the feet. The Jews have asked for a space within the roof to erect a hut to celebrate 'Sukkot' (Feast of Tabernacles). The Christians did not require the second architectural level, placing the classic organ in the hall, without organ pipes.

Malvezzi is a little surprised that ultimately, the similarities in architecture were more than expected, "It's not necessary for instance, for a mosque to have a minaret - it's only an accessory and not essential. And a church doesn't need a tower. We are going back to the origins when these three faiths were close and had a lot in common, architecturally". However, what name to give this place of worship has provoked some debate, but eventually reached an agreement. It will be called "The House of One," Obvious allusion to monotheism shared by the three religions (although with distinctive concepts), but also with the intention of looking at the human family as a single entity. Approximately 19% of Berliners (3 ½ million) claim to be Protestant, 8% Muslim and 0.9% Jew. And here is a macroscopic data: 60% claim to be atheist. What will be the reaction of this majority regarding the new worship center, which is in a way, a “synthesis or combination of previous religions”? It will be interesting to see as things develop.

The work will begin in 2015 and the estimated cost is 43 million euros. There are many sponsors, but the appeal is to call upon every capable citizen, to symbolically purchase a brick for € 10.00. In our title we launched the idea of the dawning of a "fourth religion" that would emerge from these three religions of the book. What do we mean by this? We want to say that a large part of the population of Berlin claims to be atheist, this is the result of a-thousand-year journey influenced in various ways and proportions by the three religions of the book.

The intention behind the construction of the worship building is evidently that of peace between religions and between nations. It's also true, however, that not all expressions of the three religions involved, would identify with it, definitely not the fundamentalist groups. But it may also include other expressions less contentious, perhaps, and will remain a bit 'cold' towards the project. So, here's an idea that could be brilliant: we try to put everybody together, according to the lowest common denominator! We will keep separate rooms, but with a unique courtyard. What have we got to lose? Now there are more atheists than believers! Maybe after a couple of generations, the courtyard of the "House of 'One' could even… engulf all the other rooms, to form only one! This might be a science fiction theory, but perhaps lurking "between the lines"? We do not know. Looking at the facts, it is clear that the three religions want to put an end to the alliance between religion and violence, the "clash of civilizations". This is absolutely commendable, to want to create a more liveable city where suspicions and prejudice cease, and to exorcise the demon of intolerance.

The expression “The House of One”, however, explicitly minimizes the theological differences. In reality, the “One God” equally revealed himself in different points of history to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The religious traditions thus formed, with their sacred texts, actually have the same divine author. Simplistic, perhaps, not only for conservative people!

However, only the future will tell us whether this experiment based on the intent of peace and harmony, will lead to true tolerance. After all, the concept of 'tolerance' as expressed by western philosophy, would be just that: to see and admit that huge differences might exist, but to live in a broad framework of cohabitation and peaceful relations.

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