MILITANTS acting in the name of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are at loggerheads across the world. But in Berlin at least the great religions hope to settle their differences on the football field.
With just over a month to go before the World Cup, a team of imams will play a team of Christian priests. “It’s been difficult to find a rabbi who will referee on the Sabbath,” sighs the Rev Christopher Jage-Bowler, “but we are trusting in God.”
Switching the game from next Saturday to Friday has been ruled out by the Muslim side, since this is their day of prayer. The Christian clergy, meanwhile, have a problem with Sunday. The 44-year-old vicar, mastermind of the seven-a-side match, is confident that the problems will be resolved before kick-off.
The imams are ready to abandon their Kufi hats and the vicars will leave their cassocks in the vestry in favour of orthodox football kit.
The aim is to link the game with a workshop on racism in football sponsored by the British Government. Leading black players will gather in the British Embassy to discuss how to involve more Muslims.
Anyone hoping for a thumping victory for Christianity on Saturday should take note of a similar experiment held in Leicester, where imams and Christian clergy played a game to raise money for charity.
The imams had a clear lead at half-time and lent several Koran scholars to the Christian side to prevent a humiliating defeat for the vicars. In the end, Islam thrashed Christianity 6-0. The under-12s game was also won by the Islamic side after sudden-death penalties.
The choice of referee in Berlin remains a critical point — the Leicester game was refereed by a member of the local Hebrew congregation — since some tricky decisions may have to be made: should the yellow card be shown for blasphemy? The game is being staged at a highly sensitive moment in Christian-Muslim relations in Germany. The cartoonist of the newspaper Tagesspiegel had to go into hiding after he depicted the Iranian national team as potential suicide bombers.
Across the German Muslim community nerves have been frayed by new citizenship tests to check whether Muslims can conform to German cultural traditions. Aspiring Germans are asked to explain what is meant by the Holocaust. They are also tested on their attitudes to “honour killings” and arranged marriages.
Mr Jage-Bowler was struck by how few points of spontaneous contact there were between the Muslim and Christian communities in Berlin. Since the World Cup is being marketed in Germany as a cultural melting pot, the vicar — a colourful character in the Berlin expatriate community and a former Moët & Chandon tour guide — thought that football would break down barriers.
This inspired him to contact Imam Harun Bulat, of the Sehitlik Mosque, which has a large Turkish congregation. “I’m hoping it will become a regular event,” the vicar said. “It is, after all, a beautiful game.”