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26/02/2015 08:16 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 06:59 BST

Sermons: Why Language Matters

It is highly unlikely that any Germans would have heard of Sheikh Abdel Moez al-Eila, still less had the opportunity to see parts of his fiery speech translated into the language of Goethe. For that, we have to thank the placement of one of al-Eila's recent sermons on You Tube.

Al-Eila, a Saudi salafist imam given a platform to espouse liberally - yet with little liberalism - at a major mosque in Berlin late last month, certainly didn't intend German speakers to understand or pay any attention to his words. Indeed, his obscene rant on restricting women to their homes with a purpose in life based on providing unlimited and often unwanted and painful sexual accessability to their husbands, doesn't even translate well into modern German.

And it doesn't translate well into modern society either. More to the point, it is not meant to have relevance to a world of equality of the sexes, tolerance of the other, or any of the basic values which mark a free society. The Federal Republic of Germany uses German to express these values as the French republic does to express Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. In each case, both the form of language in these contexts and the choice of the words used are themselves intrinsically part of the message.

Language and context is not a new idea. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V understood it in his own unique manner. "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse," he said. We may choose to make different choices than this pan-European monarch, but we should admit he understood the value of language and context.

Preaching in a language which is not that of the local population has the effect of closing off the listener to the society around him in which he lives. It encourages ghettoisation and rejection of the other. It enforces a necessity to bring in speakers from outside that society who have no respect for, no training in, and who totally reject normative democratic values.

Such preaching is therefore by its very nature intolerant and divisive and tends towards extremism. It cuts off its listeners from society but it also cuts off the outside society, its laws and mores, from knowledge of its content. So, it freely spews out hatred and intolerance and society has no way in which to police it.

By the time some of the young listeners to these sermons have imbibed the words and messages of rejection of the societies around them, victimhood, misogyny and all too often, anti-Semitism, it is too late to catch up with them as they head off into the dangerous realms of jihadism - to return later armed with the newly-learned skills of terrorism.

Speaking, reading, listening in the local language is part and parcel of choosing to belong. It is why, in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, almost two hundred years ago, religious leaders of the Jewish tradition instituted the sermon into their Hebrew services. The Torah would still be read in the language in which it was written. Prayers would still be recited in their original form, God would still be addressed in the Divine language. But the lessons to be drawn from those writings and prayers for the citizens of Europe sitting in the pews of their synagogues in their new and not-so-new host countries, would be given in their own language. And this message of openess and willingness to integrate would be taken out for use in the wider society in their daily lives and workplaces.

Samson Rafael Hirsch, the great German rabbi and spiritual leader of communities in Oldenburg and Frankfurt-am-Main, bowed to no-one in his steadfast defence of traditional Judaism. Hirsch worried deeply about assimilation and strongly fought it, but proudly espoused cultural integration, societal contribution and citizenship. In a very real sense, he was a multiculturalist a century and a half before multiculturalism.

No-one, said Hirsch in his German sermons and his German writings, should be excluded from European society because of their faith or culture. And no-one should be allowed to abuse their own faith and culture to exclude their own flock from European society.

Hirsch placed this sine qua non of true multiculturalism into a maxim. He called this "Torah im Derech Eretz", literally, the "Bible and the Way of the Land", a natural fusion of freedom of personal religion and the necessity for responsible and contributive citizenship in a pluralist society.

He would have rejected foreign rantings of intolerance in places meant for religious worship but would have been appaled too by marches of hate in our cities targeting a religious group.

The message still rings true today.