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The Three Abrahamic Religions and their Image of Woman

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Recently a lengthy scholarly article by Dr. Sherif Addel Azeem dealing with the conception of woman in the three Abrahamic religions, has appeared under the title of Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality. I have relied on such an article in double checking the historical data of the Islamic tradition on its conception and treatment of women. While agreeing with some of its premises and conclusions, I disagree with others as will become apparent further down in this essay. The juxtaposition of those variant views stimulated by Dr. Azeem’s article has yielded some surprising insights which I’d like to share with the reader.

As is commonly known, the Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, Adam tries to place all the blame on Eve. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” To Adam He said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree … Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”

In this narrative, or myth if you will, both Adam and Eve get punished and held responsible for disobedience. God is not punishing one for the faults of another, which would be unfair; neither does he accept Adam’s rationalization that the woman is exclusively responsible for the deed of disobedience. He holds them both responsible and punishes both. This needs to be kept well in mind: God judges, assigns the blame justly and equally; both Adam and Eve are punished.

On the other hand, the Islamic conception of the first sin, while appearing similar to the Judeo-Christian view at first sight (complete with the act of creation, the idyllic garden where everything is good but where Satan lurks in the form of a serpent, the positing of limits to freedom, the act of disobedience, and a meting out of punishment), it is nevertheless different in its conception of woman and what it implies. Here Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress. The narrative is found in several places in the Qur’an, for example: “O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:19:23).

A careful comparison of the two accounts of the primordial story of the Garden reveals some essential differences. The Qur’an seems to assign equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Qur’an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Here Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.

Needless to say, the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible, absent in the Qur’an has impacted in a negative way the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). It couldn’t be more clear.

And yet a caveat is in order here. As the founder of Christianity, nowhere in the gospels do we discern Jesus teaching and approving any kind of subordination of one of his followers to another. Instead, he expressly forbade it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record Jesus teaching his disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is a pagan practice—not something to take place among his followers. Having issued his strong prohibition against subordination of others, he prescribed the Christian alternative to subordination as being the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life if necessary: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”

His first phrase, “lord it over”, described the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power. His second phrase, “high officials”, referred to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, “exercised authority” over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus sternly commanded his disciple that “It shall not be so among you”, clearly forbidding both abusive extreme “lording it over” others, and even more moderate, ordinary “exercise (of) authority” over others. Egalitarian Christians consider that this teaching of Jesus to the men who were the 12 Apostles trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes “Husband-Headship” requiring “Wife-Submission”, or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle—notably his Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who is stated to have discovered the empty tomb of Christ and known as the “apostle to the apostles” since she was the one commissioned by the risen Jesus to go and tell the 11 disciples that he was risen.

According to the New Testament, Christ saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.

Unusually for his epoch, Jesus is said to have provided religious instruction to women. The Gospel of John provides an account of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” According to the passage, “They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last,” leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say, “Go, and sin no more.”

Another Gospel story concerns Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, “Mary has chosen what is better”

The story of Mark 5:23–34, in which Jesus heals a woman who had bled for 12 year suggests not only that Jesus could cleanse his followers, but this story also challenges Jewish cultural conventions of the time. In Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society. Therefore, the woman in Mark was ostracized for 12 years. Jesus healing her is not only a miracle, but by interacting with an unclean woman, he broke from the accepted practices of the time and embraced women.

So, Jesus treated women with compassion, grace and dignity. The gospels of the New Testament, especially Luke, mention Jesus speaking to or helping women publicly and openly. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet being taught, a privilege reserved for men in Judaism. Jesus had female followers who were his sponsors, and he stopped to express concern for the women of Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. Mary Magdalene is stated in the Gospels to be the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the narratives, Jesus charged her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid.

The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that women were more influential during the period of Jesus’ brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity. Blainey points to Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed his hair in precious ointment; of Jesus curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ side as he was crucified. Blainey concludes: “As the standing of women was not high in Palestine, Jesus’ kindnesses towards them were not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. According to Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men … Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.

Comparing to Paul’s traditional standing towards women to Jesus’ attitude toward them, what becomes immediately apparent is that somehow his example was not imitated after his death and resurrection. Paul seems eager to put women in their proper place. To be sure, this is not unusual in many religions: the founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool. The attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly representing the example of its founder. We shall see further down that something like that also happened to Islam: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion begins to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice leaves much to be desired

Let’s in turn have the Qur’an speak for itself on this issue: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35). “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71). “And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195). “Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40). “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).

It should be clear from the above passage that the Qur’anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur’an never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Qur’an, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur’an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur’an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife: “And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).

In fact, according to Dr. Azeem, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur’anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: “The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur’an severely condemned this heinous practice: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59). The Qur’an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur’an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: “He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”. “Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers”.

Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur’anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur’an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Qur’an intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Qur’an whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident: “Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1). A woman in the Qur’anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.

According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur’an: “He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24). The Qur’an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing: “And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad: “A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'”. Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.

The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.

It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.

The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family’s inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother’s immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.

On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst and most superficial (often called “progressive”) practices of Western civilization, the worst perhaps being the dispatching or religion per se as passé and unprogressive and not very modern and “enlightened.” In these societies, a typical “modern” woman’s top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body’s shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur’an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The cartoon below brilliantly makes the point. But there must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or discarded.

Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice, as indeed there is also one in Judaism and one in Christianity. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies’ whole way of life. Irshad Manji has recently shown us a possible way to analyze the situation and begin the reform process with her book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. The subject will be dealt in part II of this essay. Indeed, the Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam itself is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from it.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Erdogan, Andrew Brunson and Ukrainian Church autocephaly

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On Monday, a Turkish news website Dik Gazete published an article Erdogan’s Washington – Brunson – Ukraine game written by Adnan Cavusoglu. According to the author, there is a connection between the rumored release of Pastor Andrew Brunson on October 12, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s decision to grant autocephaly (independence) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the ease of Washington’s sanctions on Turkey.

Despite Erdogan’s “no crisis” rhetoric the Turkish economy faces hard times under the US pressure. Turkey’s finance minister Berat Albayrak has recently introduced the so-called New Economic Program to tackle the consequences of sanctions.

One of Washington’s main conditions for lifting the sanctions is Brunson’s release. However, there is another one – the autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the author states.

In April, Kyiv, which strives to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church and create an independent Ukrainian Church, addressed the Ecumenical Patriarchate with an appeal to grant the autocephaly. According to Patriarch Bartholomew, who delivered a speech after the recent Sunday service, the still-ongoing official process is to yield the results shortly.

The previous week, in an interview to BBC Ukraine, the leader of Crimean Tatars and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament Mustafa Dzhemilev said that President Erdogan had confirmed his support in the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. “I told him that today Moscow is like a Mecca for the Orthodox but after the UOC becomes independent Istanbul will take the place of Moscow,” Dzhemilev noticed. According to him, when he and Ukrainian president Poroshenko met with Erdogan on July 12, the Turkish leader assured that he would do “everything possible” for the Ukrainian autocephaly and said that he understood the importance of this issue for the Crimean Tatars.

Mustafa Dzhemilev’s words mean that Ankara and personally President Erdogan, who can influence the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are involved in the Ukrainian problem. But what’s the benefit of such an involvement? It’s obvious that Istanbul won’t become a Mecca for the Orthodox. Ukraine with it’s poor economic situation also can hardly make a decent proposal to Turkey. It seems then that Ankara has reached an agreement with the White House.

An independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not the goal of only Kyiv, the Ecumenical Patriarchate or Ankara. It is of great importance for Washington, which intends to restrain Moscow’s influence in the region.

The sanctions’ withdrawal for the release of Brunson and Turkey’s approval of the “autocephaly process” – that’s the deal. It’s politics. Despite the fast-developing relations with Russia, Erdogan can make deals with its rivals. Of course, Moscow won’t like the Turkish leader’s step but on the eve of an economic crisis and under such pressure it is indeed wise to choose an option like this.

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The Evangelicals of Katerini

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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Ιn 1923, hundreds of families of Greek Evangelicals from Pontos and Asia Minor found refuge in Katerini. Until then, Katerini was a small town of only 5,000 inhabitants who welcomed with open arms the arrival of the Greek Evangelicals. About 100 families settled in Katerini, not only from Pontus and Asia Minor, but also from Caucasus, Bulgaria and Romania. Now, Katerini would become the place with the largest Evangelical organized community. Immediately, Greek Evangelicals from other parts of Greece resorted to Katerini to find and live with their “brothers”.

The Evangelistic Refugee Group Committee distributed farmland to the families of the Evangelicals and thus will created the Evangelical Settlement of Katerini. At the same time, they were given space to proceed to the erection of their Temple and of their community school.

The Orthodox and Evangelical relations were excellent from the outset. On the day of the inauguration of the Church, representatives from the Orthodox Church and from all local authorities were present. Moreover, several years later, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, the Evangelicals began to offer for sale their agricultural land and their residencies in the settlement, to their orthodox fellow citizens. Now, the majority of the inhabitants of the Evangelicals are Christian Orthodox. The only black spot in the history of the Church is the arson of 1930. The temple was almost completely destroyed but after a year it was rebuilt with the approval of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

Within the next decades the Evangelical families grew to 500. The spiritual and social life of the Evangelical Community has been rich and the contribution to the commercial life of the city has been extremely important.

Today’s Evangelicals

Until today, the Evangelical community is the most well known in Greece. Approximately 850 people form the community and are actively involved in its social and cultural activities.

One of the first institutions that was created was that of the “Sunday School”, that is, the Catechism. As early as 1923, the children of the Evangelical Community gathered every Sunday morning in the Church to study and pray with their teachers. Today, Sunday School children organize activities to contribute back to the local community such as the Christmas Bazaar.

During the 1930s, the women of the community created the Ladies Group. Until today, the Group continues to be active and gathers every Tuesday. In 1950, the Orphanage’s operation began, which lasted until 1980. Several decades later, in 1980, another institution was created: the Young Couple Group to help couples at the beginning of their new life. A dominant role in the life of the community was the creation of the Summer Camp in Leptokarya, Pieria. Every summer, the camp welcomes hundreds of children from all the Evangelical Communities of Greece and several Orthodox families. From 2005, the “Good Samaritan” Aged Care Unit has been in operation.

Social Grocery stores and refugee crisis.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew Gospel 25:35

In 2012, the Evangelical Church created the Social Grocery in order to help Katerini’s society and the social groups affected. Up to now it offers free food, clothing and toys for children. As they mention on their website, “Every month, the Social Grocery store of the Evangelical Church of Katerini supports over 300 adults and 420 children in a total of 160 families. “

As refugees themselves, they could not remain unmotivated and unfathomable in the refugee crisis and the refugee flows in Greece. In their effort to provide assistance, they founded the Non-Profit Organization “PERICHORISIS” based in Katerini in 2016. Their main concern is the provision of housing to refugee families. They immediately co-operated with DORCAS International Aid and Tearfund, where they funded a pilot model for housing families with 13 homes. As needs grew, Perchorsis managed to ensure the co-operation of organizations such as Gustav Adolf Werk, UNHCR, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and RefuAid. To date, 1700 refugees have benefited from this action. The organization’s future plans include the creation of a center for unaccompanied children and a Center for the Theological Studies.

“According to the message of the Gospel, our vision is to live reconciled with God and among us through the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. This community of the reign of Christ is open to all people regardless of their ethnic, religious or social origins. The challenges of the modern world are many and many levels and it is our responsibility to confront them by bringing to our environment the light and the cure of the Holy Spirit of Christ.” Paris Papageorgiou, Greek Evangelical Church of Katerini, President of the Peripheral Society

If you ever get your way to Katerini shortly before Christmas, enter a Sunday in the Evangelical Church. From 1977 and every Sunday for a month until Christmas Katerini enjoys the German custom of Advents where the choir gives concerts and chants hymns to the Christmas spirit.

Most of the information was drawn from the web pages of the Evangelical Church of Katerini. You can follow their news and actions at the following addresses: http://www.eeek.gec.gr/ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EllinikiEvaggelikiEkklisiaKaterinis/ while on the local channel DION TV is being shown since September 2010, the weekly TV show of the Evangelical Church “In His Tracks”. Also, for those who are interested in learning more about the Evangelical Congregation, they can read the book “THE COURT’S COURT’S SYNDROME OF KATERINI (1923–2000) LOCAL HISTORY AND MOVEMENT OF THE RELIGIOUS IDEAS by the writers Papageorgiou and Kalfa.

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Religion

Genesis of Islam in Kashmir: Through historical insights

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Islam is one of the monotheistic and major religions of the world with an enormous following of 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the founder of Islam in Arabia. With the passage of time, the companions of Prophet SAW played a great role in the spread of Islam in the world facing a lot of hardships day-in and day-out. The messenger of Allah sent his companions every right, left and centres to convey the divine message of one God to the people of the world in order to show them a real path of eternal religious prosperity.

History is replete with the facts that although Islam had reached Kashmir very early, but the practical aspect was missing thereof. Kashmir was once a non-Muslim land where people were accustomed to non-Muslim practices and were mostly Hindus. Thus, there came an intervention in their lives. Whether, we call it divine or by chance, Islam arrived to make its roots permeate into the lives of the masses of the valley of South Asia.

It was initially Hazrat Syed Sharaf-ud- Din Abdul Rahman(RA), a Sufi from Turkistan also known as Syed Bulbul Shah(RA) who provided the idea of Islam in Kashmir. Unfortunately, there have been little literary forays into his life, although few references to him form a part and parcel of the historical narratives of the medieval Kashmir. He was thus the first Islamic missionary to Kashmir who laid the foundation of Sufi order here. He played a catalytic role in the spread of Islam to concretise the societal transformation at large. According to historical sources, many people in Kashmir embraced the creed of Bulbul Shah.

After this great saint, there arrived the descendent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), known as Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (R.A), a Sufi of Kubrawi order from Hamadan, Iran from central Asia along with 700 Sayyids in Kashmir to enlighten the masses with the glorious Islam and its practical aspects through his teachings. He was a Shafi Muslim scholar from an educationally well-off family. He was born in 1314 A.D. at Hamadan, Persia from parents namely Syed Shihab-Ud-din and Saiyidnah Fatima.

Shahi Hamadan R.A. came to Kashmir thrice with a noble mission of spreading the religion of Islam and arrived in Kashmir for the first time in 1372 A.D. and left for Mecca afterwards. Thereafter, he again arrived in Kashmir and stayed briefly and left vale again. Finally, he again came to Kashmir in 1383 and remained in Kashmir for a short span of time and left this earthly world towards eternal heavens afterwards and Tajikistan became the epicentre of his eternal bodily stay.

Shahi Hamdan is also known as Ali Sani (Second Ali) in Kashmir and revered by one and sundry with a linked genealogy through Imam Husain (R.A.) traced back to fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali (R.A.). He contributed not only Islamic tenets and principles based on the Islamic philosophy for the people, but also contributed the dual elements of art and crafts in Kashmir. He contributed subjects like ethics, science, philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, poetry and prose immensely in Kashmir. He also profoundly impacted the architecture in Kashmir through construction of Khanqahas and tombs.

The arrival and influx of Shahi Hamadan (R.A.) in Kashmir brought a socio-cultural and religious revolution. Shah-i-Hamadan was also an author and a poet par excellence who wrote books like, Zakhiratul Muluk and Muwwadatul Quraba. Zakhiratul Muluk dealt with his political ideology, the duties of rulers and the responsibilities of the people. Besides, he also authored several books spanning religious and spiritual aspects.

Awrad-E-Fathiya is a major case in point. It is the collection of religious prayers of great religious people which is recited every morning after the Fajr prayers in almost all the Hanafiya School of thought mosques reflecting the faith and deep commitment in one God laying emphasis on the  the unity of God and His attributes. Another important poetic collection of Shahi Hamadan (R.A) is Chahlul Asraar .Every year prior to Eid Ul Adha, the Urs of this great saint Shah Hamdan (R.A) is celebrated on the 6th of Zil Haj of the Muslim calendar at few sacred abodes of his shrines, including Seer Hamdan, Dooru Shahabad, Tral and Srinagar as a mark of deep reverence and regard for the unrelenting efforts of this saint for the upliftment and prosperity of the people of Kashmir.

The inroads of Shahi Hamadan (R.A.) into Kashmir without any regard for the rewards makes the point clear that the great saint as a mark of legacy of the mission of his dynasty of Prophet Muhammad SAW cared about the people of Kashmir and yearned to stabilise their lives socially, religiously and culturally.

Today, when Kashmir is at the crossroads of uncertainty, whether politically or otherwise, if we follow the paths of their great religious saint, time will not be far when divinely support to our problems will annihilate them and a valley of scenic beauty will restore and regain its charm again and metamorphosize our pains into peace. Together, by following the charted discourse of Shahi Hamadan R.A, our lives will blossom both here and hereafter. I still remember tears rolling down the cheeks of my deceased father Master GH Mohi Ud Din Shah at the time of prayer’s recitation of Urs of Shahi Hamadan R.A at dargah of the saint at Seer Hamdan. This was the time that etched my memory and solidified my love for the Auliya.Today,if we follow into the shoes of these mystics,there can really arrive peace in our trouble torn Kashmir.

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