Muslims’ own image is that they are peaceful tolerant human beings, while the non-Muslims are aggressors, imperialist-colonialist occupiers. Therefore, it is the role of Islam to retaliate and fight back against oppression and evil as a defensive policy.
This ethnocentric approach explains the Muslims self-image of being always the victim who takes only defensive measures, while the Kuffār are always the war-instigators.
This duality is a conspicuous characteristic of Arab-Islamic political culture. It means that Muslims can viciously attack at almost every situation possible and at the same time to cry out they are victims being under oppression and aggression. They can perpetuate obscene inhuman acts of violence, to terrorize and intimidate, while they accuse the other of colonialism, apartheid, racism, and Islamophobia.
Sheikh Muhammad al-Sha‘rawi, the al-Azhar Egyptian exegetes, explains in his book al-Jihād fil- Islām that Islam is in no way aggressive violent, that it does not live and expend on the sword, and that it does not coerce the infidels to convert to Islam or be killed by Jihad. Islam tolerates the non-Muslims and bases its approach only on peace, mutual security and cooperation, and not on war, killing and coercion. Jihad is defensive and intends to repulse hostility and to fight back oppression and aggression. The call of Islam is only through Da‘wah and good intentions.
This idea is so common among the Muslims that they wholeheartedly believe in it, and that is why Islamic propaganda, the Da‘wah, the political deceit of the Kuffār, the infidels, is so successful. It also explains how Islam is the most ethnocentric religion and political culture. It differentiates the world between Dār al-Islām against Dār al-Harb; between the good and righteous society and the bad and unclean society; it is the right against wrong; and it is the pious against the evil-doers; it is Paradise or Hell. There are no legitimacy, consensual recognition and acceptance of the other, unless he becomes Muslim or he is subdued to Islamic rule.
Moreover, everything in Islam is perfect, un-comparable and un-imitative: Allah is the one and only. Muhammad is the seal of all prophets, the perfect human and the most praised and blessed one; the man with Nûr Allâh (the light of Allah) and ‘Isma (immunity of error) who was sent as a mercy to the world, “the excellent example” for the believers to be entirely imitated, wholeheartedly admired, and totally followed without any doubt or question. The Qur’ān is the perfect replica of the mother book which exists eternally in heaven, a literary masterpiece ever written that no human can imitate. Islam is the perfect religious system, the only supreme ultimate true religion upon Earth; and the Muslim believers are the favored, the best of all peoples ever rose upon mankind, with three objectives commanded upon them: to seize power over the universe, to subjugate the world under the Sharī‘ah, and to establish a world Islamic Ummah.
That is where the doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ operates. Literally it means the total loyalty to Islam and the total disavowal and enmity to the other. It has become one of Islam’s main foundations and of paramount importance, directly representing Imān, and is second only to Tawhīd, the oneness of Allah. The total allegiance and love are only to be given within the Islamic community, and rejection, hate and enmity against the other is commanded, based upon Qur’anic foundations.
In his introduction to the book of Sheikh Muhammad al-Qahtani, al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, Sheikh Abdar Razaq Afīfī, Deputy President of the Department of Guidance and Member of Board of Great `Ulamā’ of Saudi Arabia, declares:
The subject matter is of paramount importance and utmost interest: it is concerned with one of Islam’s main foundations, which has two major prerequisites of true faith: al-Walā’ is a manifestation of sincere love for Allah, his prophet and the believers; al-Barā’ is an expression of enmity and hatred towards falsehood and its adherents. Both are evidence of Imān.
Ibn Taymīyah, the medieval exegete, one of the most cited authorities by Wahhabi jurisprudence, has referred to the issue:
Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, and hates for the sake of Allah, and whoever seals a friendship for his sake, or declares an enmity for his sake, will receive the protection of Allah. No one may taste true faith except by this.
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the Kuffār
The issue of the Kuffār, infidels, is one of the most important in the Qur’ān. The amount of verses devoted to the Kuffār is huge: 64% of the total Qur’ān; 81% of the Sīrāh; and 37% of the Hādīth; that is 60% of the Sharī‘āh is devoted to the Kuffār. The Qur’ān makes it clear that Islam is not about universal brotherhood, but about the brotherhood of believers only under Islamic Ummah, and the total denunciation of the other. There are over 400 verses in the Qur’ān alone that describe the torment in Hell-fire that Allah has prepared for the Kuffār. The Qur’ān dehumanizes the Kuffār, being vile animals and beasts, the worst of creatures and demons. They are perverted transgressors and partners of Satan to be fought until religion is Allah’s alone. They are to be beheaded; terrorized; annihilated; crucified; punished and expelled; and burn in Hell-fire. The believers must fight the Kuffār as a constant matter.
The Qur’ān tells Muslims to be compassionate with one another but ruthless to the Kuffār, it is commanded that the Kuffār must not be taken as friends. “Hostility and hate” exist between them forever until the Kuffār “believe in Allah alone.” They are unclean people who wish to extinguish the light of Allah. Bernard Lewis has put it:
Islam is still the ultimate criterion of group identity and loyalty. It is Islam that distinguishes between self and other, between insider and outsider, between brother and stranger… the ultimate definition of the other, the alien outsider and presumptive enemy, has been the Kāfir…
The Qur’ān and other religions
The Qur’ān says that all other religions as such are cursed by Allah. All those who join idols, or false gods to Allah, or invent lies about him, or deny Allah, or change even one word of Allah’s Book, or does not believe in Muhammad — are to be “seized wherever found and slain with a slaughter.”
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle.”
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been made victorious with terror, and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.”
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ by the Tawhīd
A second aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is when the Muslims solemnly declare the Tawhīd: La Illāh ila-llâh (there is no god but Allah), it means they clearly state that all other religions are denied, sinful and unlawful. According to Ibn Taymiyah:
It is not possible to achieve complete happiness by loving Allah, except by the full rejecting all other things. This is what the words, “There is no god but Allah” mean; this is the spirit of Dīn.
On many verses, the Qur’ān reiterates the commandment that it is forbidden to associate other gods with Allah, and Islam should be adhered to become the only legitimate religion on earth. It is followed by the swear-belief that Muhammad is his messenger, that his conduct embodied Islam and Qur’ān. Muhammad’s words are absolutely the best to follow, being religiously unassailable. Moreover, the mission of Muhammad is to all humanity, so actually humanity must obey Muhammad as much as Allah. Those who disobey Allah and his messenger will be led into the torment of Hell-fire to live forever. Tawhīd will never be achieved on earth until the believers apply the doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, by total following of Muhammad’s way of life, al-Sirāt al-Mustaqīm.
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ by the prayer
In each of the five daily prayers, Muslims declare the total allegiance and submission to Islam and objection to the other, as appears in Surat al-Fātihah, 1:5-7
Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those against whom there is wrath, nor of those have gone astray.
Those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the Jews, and those who go astray are the Christians. al-Tabari (838-923), in his Tafsīr, cites Surat al-Ma’idah 5:60, which name the Jews as those with whom Allah is angry with, turned into apes and pigs; and al-Mā’idah 5:77, which name the Christians as those who go astray from the right path. Narrated by Adi bin Hatim: I asked Allâh’s Messenger about the statement of Allâh ‘not (the way) of those who earned your anger,’ he replied: ‘They are the Jews; ’and ‘not those who went astray,’ he replied: ‘they are the Christians.’
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the supremacy of the Muslims
Another aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is based on the Qur’anic declaration that the Muslims are the best of all peoples ever raised up for mankind, and their profit is a luxurious life in Paradise. Islam is the perfect religious system, beyond and above all other religions. It clearly declares that its aim is to subjugate the world under the Sharī’ah, until Islam is the only religion upon earth. Its utmost goal is the establishing of a world Islamic Ummah under the Khilāfah, Caliphate.
The believers follow in total submission and devotion to Allah, and are “kneeling and bowing in reverence, seeking Allah’s favor in acceptance; their mark is on their foreheads from the effect of prostrations.” That is why the believer whose heart is at peace welcomes with a smile death and all worldly obstacles. Death is seen as the most desired result of life. This is according to the verses in Surat al-Fajr: “Return to your Lord, pleased and well-pleasing. Enter among my servants, and enter my Garden.”
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the ‘Just war’ (Siyār)
The last aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is related the issue of war and peace. Since the world is divided into two distinct realms: Dar al-Islām and Dar al-Harb, the normal and only justified relationship is a state of infinite war. There is no peace in Islam toward the other but temporary, elaborated by Majid Khadduri. Islam has no concept of “Just War,” since any war directed against the Kuffār, whatever are its grounds and circumstances is morally justified and religiously legitimized. A lasting peace between Dar al–Islām and Dar al–Harb is impossible, until Dar al–Harb no more exists.
Jihad reflects the normal relations existing between the believers and the Kuffār. There are no unbelievers or disbelievers in Islamic scriptures but only Kuffār. That is why the Islamic wars are Futuhat, in the sense of opening the world to the call of Islam, whereas the Kuffār wars are Hurub. Any territory conquered during history by Islam becomes Waqf, never to be returned, while any territory conquered by the Kuffār is considered occupation that must be returned by force. By this reasoning all territories of the Kuffār must be occupied and subdued by Jihad.
When the entire world becomes Dar al–Islām, submission to Allah will be the law of the whole universe, and Jihad al-Akbar reigns. Until then, war is the normal and lasting state of affair (Jihād al-Saghīr). Jihad as a Just War against the Kuffār appears as follows: Qur’an – 24%; Sīrah – 67%; Hādīth – 21%. The total Sharī‘āh – 31%.
Domestic realm: al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah
The issue of Walā’ wa-Barā’ has also a domestic framework. Salafi-Jihadi groups and the Wahhabi Muslims believe they are the Saved Sect (al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah), the only group who has the correct Islamic beliefs. They are the real Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamā‘ah, while all other manifestations of Islam have deviated from the ‘straight path’ (Sirāt al-Mustaqīm), and by that destined for hell as ‘apostates’. This principle is the basis of Takfīr doctrine the Jihadists use to identify their domestic Muslim enemies and to justify their elimination, as we see in Dawlat al-Khilāfah al-Islāmiyah.
Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb’s concept of Takfīr, includes the command that anyone who does not show sufficient levels of Walā’, allegiance to ‘true Muslims’, and adequate Barā’, rejection of ‘sinners’, is at risk of committing apostasy. Abū Qatāda, the Jordanian-Palestinian preacher, has written on the subject. al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah reinforces Jihadists’ self-belief being righteous; strengthen their mutual solidarity; and allows them to fight opposition to their views.
This has also to do with the issue is Tāghūt (false deity). Muslims have an obligation to struggle against Tāghūt on the mere assumption that it is against Allah or what Allah has revealed. This approach of Tāghūt depends on religious rulings issued by Wahhābi clerics, yet it is defined as anything that is antithesis of Islamic monotheism. ‘Abd al-Majīd bin Muhammad al-Munī‘, a leading scholar for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, explained that in order to achieve Tawhīd, which is the highest requirement of every Muslim, one must explicitly reject Tāghūt, otherwise he is an apostate.
Tāghūt is at the heart of the Salafi-Jihādi struggle against Arab-Muslim regimes that do not comply with their Islamic conceptions, and it legitimizes religious rationale behind their terrorist attacks. These are also based on the Hādīth: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” Salafi-Jihadi groups can accuse any ruler who implements a political system that conflicts with their exact interpretation of Islam as being Kafir.
al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and al-Fitrah doctrine
The Fitrah doctrine is the Islamic concept of human nature, as the right action of submission to Allah. Fitrah is associated with the Dīn, as how Allah has created mankind and universe. Islam is called Dīn al-Fitrah, the religion of human nature, because its laws and its teachings are relevant to all universe and human beings.
The highest important Islamic use of Fitrah is the belief that actually all mankind from eter¬nity are Muslims. Allah, having created humankind, took a covenant with them that they all will believe only in Islam and obey only him and his messenger. All babies who come to the world were born Muslim, and only their cruel inconsiderate parents have changed their religion. The proof comes from the Old and New Testaments: all Jewish and Christian patriarchs and prophets were Muslims who preached Islam from the outset, and clearly testified that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and the ‘Seal of all Prophets.’
In Sūrat al-Baqarah, Abraham prayed: “make us submit, oh Allah to your will.” Later on one finds Jacob’s sons declaring: “We shall worship your Allah and the Allah of Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, the one and only Allah; and to him we submit.” And later on, Jesus declares: “I am indeed a slave of Allah. Allah is my lord and your lord, so worship him alone.” Then he asked: “Who will help me in the way of Allah?’ And his disciples answered: we shall be the helpers of Allah. We believe in Allah; and you are our witness that we submit and obey.” In Sūrat al-Nisā’, one learns that Jesus, son of Mary, was only an apostle of Allah.
In its outrageous impudence, Islam declares that there are proofs of Muhammad’s prophecy in the Old and the New Testaments. They quote Deuteronomy 18:17-9 and 34:12 that promise the coming of Prophet Muhammad as the seal of all prophets. In Deuteronomy, 33:2, when they quote: “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran.” For the Muslims, Sinai is the place where the Moses spoke to Allah and received the Taurât; Seir, is the place where the Jesus received Divine Revelation; and Paran is in Mecca in which Allah manifested himself to mankind for the last time through his revelation to Muhammad.
This is the basis of Islamic Messianic conversion. Aslim – Taslim was the strategy, the slogan-message that Muhammad sent to the non-Muslims, literally meaning “submit and you will be safe”. This was accepted by all Muslim leaders: Da’wah Qablal-Jihād: the call to submit to Islam before Jihad war. Nowadays, the Da’wah, the propagation arm to deceive the infidels, works effectively to conquer the world by conversion, and the Fitrah doctrine has become the means to achieve it.
The doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ signifies critical importance to understanding Islamic worldview and its conceptions towards the other. Befriending believers and battling infidels are critical pillars in Islam. It is so important that is it second only to Tawhīd, the oneness of Allah. Faith is incomplete without it, including renouncing and fighting domestic rulers. It is the criterion of distinguishing between the believers and the enemies of Islam. That is why Tawhīd will never be achieved on earth until the believers apply al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, by total following Muhammad’s way of life, al-Sirāt al-Mustaqīm.
According to the Fitrah doctrine, it is the deep Islamic belief that Islam has the obligation to rule the world and to impose its Sharī‘āh on humanity. The Kuffār who resist Islam and do not accept it by their own free choice are responsible for the persistence of violence and the absence of world peace. If only they were to accept the unavoidable reality and submit to the propagation of Islam, then the Muslims would not have to use al-Barā’ and would not have to resort to Jihad to kill them. Submission is the only solution to world peace and it is for the best interest of humanity.
He who wishes to understand why the Muslims hate us so deeply; why Islam is a murderous automatic machinery system of hatred against the other; why this venom is so thoroughly implanted in every Muslim from infancy — al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ doctrine is the source and the answer.
Ukrainian Church Autocephaly: A Web of Intrigue
It is for long that the non-recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (UOC –KP) tries to get autocephaly and sever the link with the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. To get it the UOC-KP appealed to Patriarch Bartholomew of the Constantinople.
At the meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of the Constantinople Patriarchate His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow warned him about the disastrous consequences the provision of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the so called Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) could have for the religious life and the believers in the Ukraine.
According to some sources Patriarch Kirill tried to get across to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the idea that the political forces behind the idea of an independent status for the UOC-KP “do not represent the people. Those who came to power as a result of the Maidan coup in Kiev want autocephaly in order to consolidate their illegally seized power”. Fearing ouster by the disgruntled people and exile these people, who represent a mere 8 percent of Ukraine’s population, hope that the authority of and assistance from the Ecumenical Patriarchate will help them stay in power. The arrival of the two envoys dispatched to Ukraine by the Constantinople Patriarchate was followed by weeks of hectic and tense activity by local political and religious leaders.
In the wake of a series of meetings recently held by the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) at the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery news feeds and social networks continue to report on a flurry of consultations, meetings and statements made by bishops, clergy and laity of the canonical UOC-MP, the schismatic UOC-KP and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that in the Client – Executor – Statists (also Beneficiaries) – Victim scheme, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is acting as Executor, is using the Constantinople Patriarchate and the unrecognized Kiev Patriarchate as Statists in a bid to boost his chances for re-election with this “final step to independence.”
In turn, the Ecumenical Constantinople Patriarchate is trying to improve its image and financial status by foraying into foreign canonical territory and granting the self-proclaimed and self-styled KP and UAOC the status of “Churches” as part of the overall scam. Much to our regret, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOK-MP) is already falling victim to all this with separation lines already being drawn between the clergy and laity , dioceses and parishes being isolated and fragmented, conflicts flaring up, the faithful unaware of what is going on, temples and monasteries being expropriated with the help of the powers-that-be and “conscious” militants, and the UOC-MP being branded as the “aggressor’s church.”
All this is already a sad reality. Just as Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church noted: “Renaming the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate amid an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia is like forcing a Jew living in Nazi Germany to wear a yellow star.”
The main benefactor, behind all this, is the United States, as the proclamation of Tomos to the non-recognized Ukrainian church will inevitably set off a series of new conflicts, all of which will immediately be blamed on canonical priests and the Russian Federation. The Americans’ hand in these efforts, both in the form of advisers and ongoing consultations with the main actors of this process, aimed at the establishment of the new – United Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church (UCLOC), is impossible to miss.
The most recent consultations by three personalities, all of them, in one way or another, connected with the issue of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate), was not lost on the editors of SPZ-website.
“On Monday, September 24, Petro Poroshenko arrived in the United States,” – the online publication wrote. “The official purpose of his visit is to attend a regular session of the UN General Assembly”. By a mere chance ”the Metropolitan” (he names himself – Patriarch) of Kiev – Filaret (Denisenko) and the Metropolitan of Vinnitsa and Barsky – Simeon (Shostatsky), both of whom are playing key roles in the ongoing process and vying for the head of the United Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church happened to be in the US.
Metropolitan Simeon went to the United States on September 20 at the invitation of the American clergy.
The self-proclaimed “Metropolitan” Filaret has been in US since September 14.
On September 18, he met with former US Vice President Joseph Biden, who calls himself an advocate of LGBT rights, and awarded him the ecclesiastical order of Prince Vladimir the Great, Second Degree.
A little later, Filaret thanked Ohio Senator Robert Portman, another defender of LGBT rights, for his “continued support of Ukraine” bestowing on him the same award.
In his September 19 speech at the Atlatnic Council think tank, which looked more like one made by a job seeker to his would-be employers than by a church leader, Filaret said that “we are grateful to the United States of America for supporting the Ecumenical Patriarch and his intention to give us Tomos on autocephaly.”
“We hope that the United States of America will help us complete our church effort,” he added.
Like we already mentioned before, Denisenko, who is absolutely disrespected by Orthodox Church primates, including (surprisingly as it may seem) the Ecumenical Patriarch himself, is the main stumbling block on the way to Tomos. However, this fact is completely ignored by Filaret who still hopes…
Simeon, Metropolitan of Vinnitsa and Barsky, stayed in the shadows until the very last moment. His godbrother in the UOC-MP, Metropolitan Jonathan (Yeletskih), the head of the Tulchin and Bratslav eparchy, spoke openly about Simeon’s participation in the creation of the UCLOS. Presiding over an emergency meeting on autocephaly on September 14, he issued a decree forbidding any contacts with representatives of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and also named Metropolitan Simeon as the likely candidate for the head of the UCLOS.
Adding to Metropolitan Simeon’s chances of winning US support is the fact that, unlike Filaret, he is a canonical bishop of the canonical church. And, according to an analysis of recently obtained information, this fact is very important not only to the world Orthodox Churches, but above all, to Patriarch Bartholomew himself.
An article carried by the newspaper Kommersant sheds light on how the Ecumenical Patriarch wants to conduct and complete the procedure of granting autocephaly to the UOC-KP. An unnamed member of the Constantinople Patriarchate told the newspaper that “… Ukrainian hierarchs make a mistake hoping that Tomos will be granted to one of the non-recognized churches here. This will be a new structure: the hierarchs will be appointed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the parishioners of the Ukrainian churches, as well as the clergy, will have the opportunity to join the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Patriarchate of the Constantinople. ”
In other words, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been insisting that the Ukrainian Church cannot be in canonical subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church, since, allegedly, it is the Kiev Metropolis of the Constantinople Patriarchate. It also faults the UOC-MP for “shamelessly forgetting” the Mother Church of Constantinople, and is going to undo this “historical injustice that has developed over the centuries.”
The second step will apparently be bringing together under Constantinople’s hand the “lost” bishops and priests from all jurisdictions – both the canonical Church (here Metropolitan Simeon comes in just right!), and factious entities. Everyone will have to repent, both canonicals and impostors. Both are guilty of one terrible, yet forgivable, sin – they did not bow to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Constantinople. Other sins just don’t matter.
The “repentant” convene a Council, which is named the winner and awarded with Tomos. Filaret is not among the winners because there is no place for the “patriarch” and the “Kiev patriarchy” in the new plans and no one cares about its future.
The remaining prize-winners, helped by the state, the “national battalions” and conscious citizens, start snapping up the churches, parishes and monasteries that remain loyal to the UOC_MP. Goodbye, Filaret, your mission is over. Long live the new Constantinople metropolis. The game is over.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that those who ordered the drama unfolding before our eyes firmly believe in the omnipotence of the “human factor”. It seems that, being pragmatists excluding the existence of the Heavenly Power, they don’t take into account the main factor – the existence of the Creator.
“The Lord cannot be mocked”. Therefore, the miserable end of this project is imminent even though if it may take some time coming.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The Swedish Church of Plaka
There were many clouds in the sky. The temperature was still hot enough for early October and I was walking hurriedly across the narrow streets of Plaka. Shortly before 15.00 pm I would ring the bell in the building of 18, Daidalou street. Looking up I would notice a Swedish and Finnish flag fluttering on the balcony of the first floor while at the door of the entrance I would see only a small inscription with the emblem of the official Church of Sweden — Svenska Kyrkan.
Going to the first floor, Rev’d’ Björn Kling would open the door. Coming in, I heard a mixture of Scandinavian languages while Björn is offering me a tea to start our conversation. Brigitta, who is responsible for the cafe of the Swedish Church, is giving me my brown sugar, smiling, while she is speaking her mother tongue on the phone.
Founding the Swedish Church
“The Swedish church has been established about 45 years ago and not even in Athens where we are now but in Piraeus. Originally, it was a branch of the Seamen’s Churches, part of a huge network. The thought behind it, was that all Scandinavian countries had a large number of men working in shipping, at sea. When they got to the harbor, they were all in a bad situation due to the harsh working conditions and there was no one to take care of them as their own people would do. Well, this role has come to be covered by the Swedish Church.” says Björn, sitting on the white couch.
But the time when the Swedish sailors were at sea was over and the Swedish Church had to change its role and mission. It was now there to help the Swedish truck drivers who were waiting to load and unload goods from the port of Piraeus. Due to time-consuming customs procedures, drivers waited in Piraeus for several days or weeks and the Church was there to help them and facilitate their stay.”
“Then we entered the era of the European Union and there were no customs and therefore no truck drivers. Our Church had to think very seriously about its raison d’être, its reason of existence. Why do we exist? Whom should we help?
From Piraeus to Athens
The needs were now shifted from Piraeus to the center of Athens. “There were quite a few Swedes and Scandinavians in Athens. Mainly women who married Greeks 30–40 years ago and settled here permanently. The need to find a common bond with their homeland again, to speak their language again and to pray in a church with memories from their childhood was more intense than ever.”
Based on this reasoning, the Church settled in this building 8–10 years ago. Access now is pretty easy and everyone can come. But who are they all?
“The truth is that we are a very small parish, and indeed a “poor” parish. At Easter, 60 people were in the mass, while in Sunday’s services we did not exceed 20 people. “
The average age of Swedes who are members of the Church is growing while younger generations do not come to the church.
“Our people here are growing up. Mobility impairs and diseases do not allow them to come to the church regularly. Also, many choose to return to Sweden because of the economic crisis. An even more important problem is that the descendants of these people, children and grandchildren, have nothing to do with Swedish culture and identity. Because of their daily life in Greece, they did not learn to speak Swedish and they have no contact with this country culturally, let alone religiously. “
While we are talking, I am hearing people arrive and coffee cups take their place in front of the coffee maker. Fika is called the habit of Swedes to take a break from everyday life to have coffee with friends while enjoying the cinnamon buns. Coincidentally, on the same day of the interview, October 4th in Sweden, they celebrate the National Day of Cinnamon Buns.
“As I told you, our parish here is quite poor. Of course, the Church supports us back to Sweden, but we have to face several challenges. That’s why I chose tbeing and serving abroad. Parishes abroad do not enjoy the advantages of parishes in Sweden such as huge, clean buildings, bureaucratic organization, several employees, etc. “
In my question about their activities as a parish, I would be happy to learn that there have been several things in the last two years. There is a children-youth choir and a youth club where it meets Wednesdays or Saturdays. “We study and discuss. We study mainly religious books, but we love the ancient Greek philosophers and ancient Greek mythology. Despite the odds, the Swedish church will celebrate with all the glory the Christian feasts as well as the Swedish traditions such as the tradition of Lucia — Lucia. The custom of Lucius is celebrated every year in St. Paul’s Anglican Church. We have an excellent collaboration with both the Anglican and all other Lutheran churches here.”
“Unfortunately, we would love to help even more actively to tackle social problems. We are not running our own programs to alleviate vulnerable social groups. Instead, we provide some sponsorship for some who know very well how to do it. First, we give an amount to the Non-Profit Organization APOSTOLI belonging to the Greek Orthodox Archbishopric. Then we give a support to a very worthwhile effort, ANASA. It is a school — circus where pupils either Greeks or refugees or immigrants learn acrobatics. It supports young people so that they can come out of the margin or do not get to the margin. They learn how to work together and how to acquire skills. We are interested in souls. Everyone will give a dish of food or do a medical examination. But who will care for these so tormented souls? “
Volunteers play a very important role in the parish’s actions. “Generally, we have quite a few volunteers. Mostly young volunteers from the Finnish church.”
A few months earlier, I would have noticed a new Finnish in Greece. She had just begun to work in the refugee on behalf of the Finn Church Aid, official organization of the Finnish church.
“But we also have paid staff for a few hours a week. Brigitta, Eva or Mari but also other women. They are employed for the cafe or the administrative part while there are two musicians. “
“Are you optimistic about the future of the parish in Greece?” I will ask with naivety. He has traveled with the church as a volunteer but also as a priest in places like Tanzania and Eritrea, Paris, Spain. His experiences marked him and shaped him.
“I grew up in a small town in northern Sweden. My parents were not particularly observant, but my friends and I were going to the church. It was a little normal for me to become a priest … “
“At first I went to a very small place of Sweden. I had awesome dreams and innovative ideas for a priest. I dreamt to create a football team, a volleyball team, etc. The people there taught me to make close relationships and learn each other.”
While we share our experiences from Sweden, I would tell him that I believe that the Swedes are not at all religious. “I think the Swedes are very Christian,” Bjorn told me. “And when I say Christians I mean they have, they maintain and they share Christian values. The negative is that it is now a polarized society where everyone is afraid of religion. Is he a Muslim? He is a terrorist. “
We close the interview and the last question I want to ask is about memories. A memory he will keep with him when he leaves Greece.
“I will never forget a feeling. How people feel when they speak their mother tongue again, when they pray and sing hymns that remind them of their childhood, when they find shelter and themselves in their memories.
You next cofee meeting can take place at the cafe of the Swedish Church: https://www.svenskakyrkan.se/grekland/cafe-paulusgarden (with Google translation you will also see the days and hours of operation). If you are interested in seeing a typical Sunday service in Swedish, you can be on Sunday at 18.00 at the Anglican Church of St. Paul in Filellinon. But where you will meet the original Swedish and Scandinavian culture will be in the annual Christmas Bazaar and the tradition of Lucia. To keep up with their news, follow them: https://www.svenskakyrkan.se/grekland & Facebook.
Achieving religious harmony in a world of fear and populism
This is a tough time for men and women of the cloth, at least those whose message is one of peace, tolerance, mutual respect, equality and inter-faith dialogue.
Underlying the rise of populism, nationalism, protectionism, fear of the other, anti-migrant and anti-foreigner sentiment, and hate speech is an erosion of the norms of debate. Articulation of hate speech has become permissible, if not fashionable. Often blunt and crude language employed by leaders, politicians and some people of the cloth help shape an environment in which civility has been lost.
Intolerant, racist and supremacist have risen in significance even in democratic societies that project themselves as open, tolerant guarantors of equal rights irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, religion, colour or sexuality. Suppressing those voices through laws and bans drives hate speech and racism underground, it doesn’t erase or eradicate it. Countering it with a message of tolerance and mutual respect won’t erase it either but can help shape an environment in which those principles become dominant again.
Let’s face it, prejudice is a fact of life. Its inbred in whatever culture each of us adheres to and whatever education at home and in schools that we have enjoyed, irrespective of how conservative or liberal our family and societal backgrounds are. We all were raised on implicit or more explicit notions that our culture is best or by implication other cultures are not as good.
In other words, prejudice is not the issue, its how we deal with it, how we manage it. The problem arises when we lose our sense of relativity, when we adopt an absolutist approach, the high way or no way. It arises when pluralism is thrown out the window and we abandon the notion that our world is populated by a multitude of equally valid faiths, worldviews and belief systems.
To quote Mahatma Gandhi, a deeply religious Hindu, who said in 1942: “I believe with my soul that the God of the Qur’an is also the God of Gita and that we are all, no matter by what name designated, children of the same God. My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures… To ascent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God.”
In the battles in the late 1940s and 1950s over a proposed national ban in India on the slaughter of cows, Gandhi declared himself a worshipper of cows whom he regarded with the same veneration as he viewed his mother. Yet, Gandhi, went on to say that “the Hindu religion prohibits cow slaughter for the Hindus, not for the world. The religious prohibition comes from within. Any imposition from without means compulsion. Such compulsion is repugnant to religion.”
On a visit in 1942 to a German camp populated by Indian prisoners of war captured from the British during fighting in North Africa, Subhas Chandra Bose, a deeply religious leader of the Indian independence movement, reportedly warned inmates that “if you use religion to unite yourself today, you leave the door open for someone to divide you later using the same sentiments.”
Recent history validates Bose’s warning, not only in India and Pakistan, but across the globe expressed in Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Shiism, just to name a few, as well as in conflicts, wars and brutal repression in places like Syria, Yemen and the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Many of you represent faiths with multiple sects, legal schools and interpretations – proof that your belief system in the narrow context of that system is open to multiple interpretation. Some of those interpretations may be intolerant, anti-pluralistic, supremacist. They too are a fact of life, like it or not. Countering them depends on the social environment one creates, a sphere within which men and women of the cloth have an important role to play as well. It is also a function of the social and economic policies implemented by governments.
Indeed, the key is not suppression, what is suppressed doesn’t go away, at best it goes into hibernation, only to re-emerge at some point in the future. The key is containment, communities and societies that make discriminatory, racist, supremacist expressions socially taboo. That key is not enforcement by force of law but by social custom and an environment in which those expressions are continuously challenged in public debate, social settings and individual encounters. I am not talking about political correctness that stifles debate.
Leaving aside those whose beliefs are absolute and intolerant of any other view, a majority of people gravitate towards the middle. It’s what some call moral shock or what former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb dubbed black swans coupled with economic, social and societal uncertainty and political manipulation that drives people towards more literal, absolutist, intolerant beliefs.
It is those circumstances in which normally tolerant communities and societies become more amenable to those beliefs. It’s what allows men like Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad to turn societies where inter-communal relations and inter-marriage were the norm into wastelands in which one community tries to exterminate the other.
Think of Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990s that seemingly transformed overnight from a beacon of harmony into a hell or the tensions in multiple countries ranging from Bahrain to Nigeria or the tenth parallel that journalist Elizabeth Rush aptly described as the fault line cutting across Africa and Asia between more strident forms of Islam and Christianity.
The last two decades have witnessed a renewed hardening of fault lines, not just ones between strands of Islam and Christianity, but across the board. This latest round started in 2001 with the moral shock of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington and subsequent attacks across Europe as well as in Asia and Africa that continue until today. 9/11 was the death knell of multi-culturalism and the cradle of the latest wave of Islamophobia and rising anti-Semitism.
The economic financial crisis of 2008/2009 with its decimating effect on the lower and middle classes, the flourishing of jihadism, the impact of heinous attacks close to home and the fear, a human being’s most irrational emotion, that generated the breeding ground for populism, nationalism, protectionism and the return to primordial, absolutist beliefs propagated by multiple sources, including men and women of the cloth.
To be sure, the groundwork for this pre-date 9/11, fuelled by some strands of Christianity, massive Saudi funding across the globe of ultra-conservative strains of Islam, and the use of religious intolerance by leaders and governments because it served a political purpose.
Pakistan illustrates what this can produce. The tolerant and live-let-live types live in a bubble, primarily in Pakistan’s three foremost cities, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The gravity of society has shifted towards intolerance, anti-pluralism and supremacism. Ultra-conservatism has been woven into the texture of segments of society and the culture of some institutions of the state. It is a world in which absolute truth rules supreme, discrimination based on an absolute truth is anchored into law, competence is determined not exclusively on the basis of merit but on what faith one adheres to, democratic freedoms are curtailed. Mob lynching becomes acceptable, violence against minorities the norm, and anti-blasphemy the tool.
It’s a trend that is not unique to Pakistan and not unique to the Muslim world. It is a trend that is nurtured by the rise of populism, nationalism, authoritarianism and autocracy visible across Western societies, the Muslim world and Israel, in other words irrespective of cultural-religious roots.
In most, if not all of these countries, significant segments of the population have no real stake in society. Intolerance, anti-pluralism, racism and supremacism fuel the perception of disenfranchisement and marginalization that often produces a sense of not having anything to lose. It is some combination of religious ultra-conservatism, exclusivist ethnic and nationalist sentiment, and lack of a stake that creates breeding grounds for militancy and extremism.
Men and women of the cloth working in Singapore are in many ways privileged. While Singapore regulates hate speech or expressions it believes would undermine harmony, it has been successful in ensuring that all segments of the population have a stake in society – perhaps the most important factor in combatting discrimination, racism and supremacism as well as militancy and extremism.
Singapore demonstrates messages of tolerance and inter-ethnic and inter-faith harmony can and will be heard in a political and social environment that fosters mutual respect and dialogue.
There is however one caveat. Peace and harmony in society requires peace and harmony at home. The divisions and animosity between different religions and ethnicities at large are reflected in divisions and animosity within faith groups.
Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue starts in one’s own community and its message is as credible as one practices it without exception. That probably requires a redefinition of the concept of absolute truth. That’s a tough order, but no one claims that ensuring that a peaceful and harmonious existence and future would be easy. It also is a litmus test of one’s sincerity.
Edited version of remarks made at the Inter-Religious Organization Singapore, 1 October 2018
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