For centuries, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have been at odds. Ironically, in the first century CE, the debate amongst pre and proto-Christians was whether one could follow Jesus and not be a Jew, while in the second century CE, the debate was the reverse: whether one could follow Jesus and be Jewish.
For centuries quasi-Jewish, quasi-Christian communities flourished, particularly throughout the Middle East. With the advent of Islam, many of those communities assimilated into Islam. In the centuries that followed, Jewish and Muslim communities were at odds, while sects and sub-culture movements vied against the Caliphate. By the time the Crusades came around, Jews and Muslims found themselves at the scant mercy of the Church, who sought to Christianize the Holy Land in the Levant from these Abrahamic communities which the Church saw as “infidels”.
In the Medieval period, some of the most prominent Jewish leaders and dynasties were engaged in interfaith activity with their Muslim cousins. But reconciliation between Christians and these two communities is something that was still out of the question for the Church, which was still to carry out the brutal Inquisition, for many centuries still to come.
But now, Berlin is making religious history as Muslims, Jews and Christians join hands to build a center where all three plan to worship. It is being called “The House of One,” and will be a synagogue, a church and a mosque all under one roof.
An architecture competition has been held and the winner chosen. The striking design is for a brick building with a tall, square central tower. Off the courtyard below will be the houses of worship for the three faiths – the synagogue, the church and the mosque. It is to occupy a prominent site – Petriplatz – in the heart of Berlin.
The location is highly significant, according to one of the three religious leaders involved, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin. “From my Jewish point of view the city where Jewish suffering was planned is now the city where a centre is being built by the three monotheistic religions which shaped European culture,” he told the BBC.
The Muslim imam involved, Kadir Sanci, sees the center as “a sign, a signal to the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and not violent”. It’s also somewhere that they can all learn from one another.
Architect Wilfried Kuehn points out that each will have a worship center of the same size, but different shape, within the House of One.
“Each of the singular spaces is designed according to the religious needs, the particularities of each faith,” he explains. “There are for instance two levels in the mosque and the synagogue but there’s only one level in the church. There will be an organ in the church. There are places to wash feet in the mosque.”
“What’s interesting is that when you go back a long time, they share a lot of architectural typologies. They are not so different,” Kuehn continued. “It’s not necessary for instance for a mosque to have a minaret – it’s only a possibility and not a necessity. And a church doesn’t need a tower. This is about going back to the origins when these three faiths were close and shared a lot architecturally”.
Each faith will keep its distinctive ways within its own areas, Pastor Hohberg, who is associated with the project says.
“Under one roof: one synagogue, one mosque, one church. We want to use these rooms for our own traditions and prayers. And together we want to use the room in the middle for dialogue and discussion and also for people without faith.
“Berlin is a city where people come together from all over the world and we want to give a good example of togetherness.”
What do you think of this center? Will they be able to get along? Or will they be forced to push the “tough questions” to the side in order to maintain unity and peace?
(Article by M.B. David)