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The Swedish Church of Plaka

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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. “

Björn Kling

“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.

Georgia Gleoudi is a graduate of "MA in Religious Roots in Europe: in Lund University and has a BA in International Relations and European Studies from Panteion University, Athens. She is interested in Religion and State relations, faith - based diplomacy and intercultural relations

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Islamophobia and Western World

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hijab

“How Islamophobia developed in west and how it built track towards influencing life of common man?”

In this research paper we are going to conduct a research on Islamophobia, its causes, its impact. First aim is to define and explain phobia. Define and explain  Islamophobia. Its main causes. How attacks of 9/11 influenced the lives of Muslims. Caricatures of Holy Prophet displayed in a school of France and magazine “Charlie Hebdo”. Consequences of Islamophobia are the main topics. In this paper I’ve brightened the aspects leading to Islamophobia, change of policies for Muslims in France.

WHAT IS PHOBIA?

A Phobia is an extreme fear of something. It may be an anxiety disorder in which fear of something is expressed. There are many factors that trigger a phobia, these factors may be environmental or genetic. But here we are talking about worldly phobia.

WHAT WE CALL, “ISLAMOPHOBIA

There is a great debate on Islamophobia. If we talk about Islamophobia which is a very considerable phobia or fear for the west. Islamophobia according to western people is hatred and prejudice against Muslims. Islamophobia is a phrase used to describe baseless malice and agitation or hatred towards Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture. It also throws light on discrimination that is faced by Muslims. Muslims face violence on daily bases. Circadian, they are victimized. Examples may vary from region to region, the way Muslims are treated and how arduous it is for them to face all the pessimism.

Commonplace, Muslims are attacked, their properties are attacked, their rights are violated, they face threats of violence. Muslims are blackmailed. Muslims face biased attitude at schools, workplaceand they also go through religion bigotry. Despite of all the endowment of Muslims, they are denounced and stigmatized. In a few recent years the terminology of Islamophobia gained vast popularity in west. Muslim minorities colonizing Europe face many issues on daily basis. This term spread widely in European countries in 2007. It was the after shock of economic crisis of 2007. They terrorists Muslims ( Muslim extremists)  which proved to be fuel to the fire.

Muslim minorities in Europe have always been manifested in a wrong order. It is portrayed that Muslims want to isolate themselves. Due to this wrong image of Muslims that is being portrayed, they are not given indistinguishable rights at work places, school and other business sites.

About 20 million Muslims live in Europe. These Muslims are viewed as a threat to European culture and their ways of spending life. The word Islamophobia has become a part of political discourse due is all because of researches  and citations of British and western think tanks. This term gains a number of critics. Western concept of Islam is only one-way street. Western people and leaders criticize Islamic values openly but they pay no consideration to frame of mind of Muslims.

ATTACKS OF 9/11

The 9/11 arsonist attacks exceptionally altered slant of public towards Muslims. Thenceforth, arsonist acts, the attacks by deadly jihadists in London, Paris, Brussels, and Barcelona have escalated trepidation. Aftermath of all these attacks by Muslim extremists, Muslims are regarded as terrorists by Europeans and they view Islam as a threat. The attack of 9/11 on twin tower was considered as an attack by Muslims, since then, Muslims are considered to bean ultimatum. Many changes were felt following these attacks. These terrible attacks left a horrific effect on Muslims. Muslims were considered as pessimists. President of the time Mr. George Bush launched “war on terror” which affected Muslim world badly. Muslims were the prey of this war. Countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan became the pivot of American forces. Sadly, Afghanistan and Iraq also have masses of American troops.

9/11 made Islamophobia more acceptable. Muslims are considered as terrorists and attacks of 9/11 were scrutinized to be done by Muslim extremists such as Al-Qaeda.

ISLAMOPHOBIA AND FRANCE

Recently, a French school teacher Samuel Paty displayed the lampoons of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) upon which a Muslim student Abdullah. He waited for his teacher to come out of his home and he shot him down with an air gun. Abdullah was living there with status of a refugee. After that French policies started to slap down on Muslims. French President said:

Islam in French needs Enlightenment.”

Further, he mentioned that we need to fight Islamist separatism.

He took measures and implemented new policies on Muslims which includes financing of mosques on French territory. Ban can be imposed on anyone visiting mosque.

On the other hand, Turkey which is also a western a country stood in front of France and retorted aggressively following the caricatures.

This is not the first time, such thing has also happened in France before in 2015. When a French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” published the mimics of our Holy Prophet(pbuh). Muslim extremists invaded the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 persons and injured 11. According to a report the killers were two Muslim brothers belonging to  extremist group Al-Qaeda.

 Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always quoted controversy with satirical attacks on political and non-secular leaders. It published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) in 2012, following which France temporarily closed embassies and schools amid fears of reprisals. Its offices had been bombed in November 2011 after publishing a caricature of Muhammad on its cover.

CONSEQUENCES OF ISLAMOPHOBIA

Islam is criticized by infidels in very tough words through out the world. Muslims are held responsible for incendiary activities because of hatred and prejudices towards Islam. New policies are being implemented on Muslims. French policies started to slap down on Muslims. Muslims are most exposed to hate speech, racism, discrimination, bigotry at work place, educational institutes and mosques are ambushed by fascists. In India Muslims are being killed because they eat meat of cows and cow is a sanctified animal for Hindus. They are whipped and canned when they go to mosques. Kashmir has become a detention center as was Germany during the reign of Hitler for Jews.

Industry of islamophobia is on rise. In the U.S., about one-half of nationally representative samples of Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews agree that in general, most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Specifically, 66% of Jewish Americans and 60% of Muslim Americans say that Americans in general are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Muslims(48%) have been through religious discrimination. It is always felt that Muslims will overtake the society and they will spread violence, hatred and bigotry in society. It is in people’s perception that Muslim’s will create problems. Well, it is not their fault up to major extent. It is due to extremist groups like Al-Qaeda which conveys terror in hearts of people. Another aspect is the role of the Media which tries to aggrandize every issue for commercial gain. The recent acts of certain so-called Muslim terrorists in America and other parts of the world added much more fuel to the fire which was already burning and the image of bad or evil which was already used by certain Western governments about Muslims got a stamp of approval for many people who are not aware of the true aspects of Islam.

ISLAMOPHOBIA, A FORM OF RACISM
Most scholars agree that Islamophobia is a form of racism. It is anti-Muslim racism. This type of racism stirs up hatred and prejudices on religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. Islam is baselessly labeled as treacherous to western civilization. They feel inferior in front of Islamic values. And they are always trying to prove Islam inferior and themselves, superior.

Islamophobia is illustrated as manifestation of cultural racism. Many people go through discrimination because they are perceived as Muslims. Western identities are created within white racialists.15 March, a gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and opened fire. During the course of his killing spree there, and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, 51 people were slaughtered in their place of worship for no other reason than their Murderer wanted to decide their faith by himself.  the racists in Northern Ireland who left a pig’s head on the door of the mosque . If this is not racism, then what it is? The motorists demanding £1,000 more to insure their car if their name is Muhammad, then what it is, called religious racism. Then how is it possible for native Muslims of those countries to spend a life of tranquility in those countries, where there not even minor rights of Muslims are protected. Where Muslims face troubles to go to their places of worships. This is not what they call freedom of speech. There is wide variability between freedom of speech and religious racism.

HOW TO ERADICATE ISLAMOPHOBIA?

It should be the first duty of teachers to exterminate such convictions from intellects of the young students and children. Islam is a peace loving religion. Muslims can not harm even an animal without any rationale. Media must also alter the way they present Muslims. Media must show things that are free from any kind of hatred towards religion. Politicians must also acknowledge ways to prevent Islamophobia. It would aid in preventing crimes. Differences in religious beliefs are basis of prejudices. These divergences take place in intellects of young children.

CONCLUSION

Islamophobia is rooted in minds of western people and other non-Muslims. Islamophobia is a slang which deteriorates the tranquility of human mind. Islamophobia is unbearable for Muslims and acts related to it. Such as exhibiting caricatures and lampoons of Holy Prophet Muhammad and then calling it freedom of speech. People are visually impaired to metamorphose among freedom of speech and hate speech. Hate speech, then escorts to ferocity. In retaliation of hate speech Muslim extremists pursuit anarchism. This anarchism ushers to Islamophobia and hence the cycle continues. Western states are chauvinists. Chauvinism has deeply rooted in intellect of people. Despicable oratory bestows people with license to treat Muslims preferentially. Muslims, in many parts of the world are conventionalized as arsonists and terrorists. They consider immigrants as foreign in their lands. Even the natives of those lands are prejudiced as foreigners. Muslim students and teachers are bullied. Together, we can flotsam bigotry and preconception and make world which is full of respect for religions.

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Islamophobia: A fungible prop for Muslim religious soft power

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Think the Muslim world is united in opposing Islamophobia? Think twice.

Rising anti-Muslim sentiment in countries like China, Myanmar, and India as well as the West against the backdrop of increased support for anti-migration and extreme nationalist groups, and far-right populist parties is proving to be a boost for contenders for religious soft power in and leadership of the Muslim world.

For Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, supporters of different expressions of political Islam, Islamophobia provides the backdrop for attempts to position themselves as defenders of Muslim causes such as Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and conflict in predominantly Muslim Kashmir.

Absent from the contenders’ list is China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang. China, which aggressively has sought repatriation of Turkic Muslims, recently ratified an extradition treaty that Turkey, home to the largest Xinjiang exile community, insists will not put Uighurs at risk.

By the same token, Islamophobia has proven a useful tool to influence efforts by men like French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to crack down on political Islam and shape the faith in the mould of Turkey & Co’s Middle Eastern rivals for religious soft power, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf monarchies advocate a vague notion of ‘moderate’ Islam that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and is quietist and non-political. The two Gulf states have gone as far as legitimizing China’s crackdown and persuading the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to endorse Chinese policy as an effective way of countering political extremism and violence.

Economics and trade are powerful drivers for the Muslim world’s refusal to hold China accountable. But so are the brownie points that major Muslim-majority contenders for religious soft power garner in Beijing. Muslim criticism of the crackdown potentially could make the difference in pressuring China to change its policy.

Saudi and Emirati rejection of and campaigning against political Islam bolsters the rationale of not only China’s crackdown but also Russian efforts to control Moscow’s potentially restive Muslim minority. China may not like the propagation of political Islam by the Gulf states’ religious soft power rivals but values their silence.

Chinese Turkic Muslims is not the only issue over which contenders, including Asian states like Indonesia, irrespective of what notion of Islam they promote, stumble in their quest for religious soft power.

So is another litmus test of claims of a majority of the contenders to embrace religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue that raises the question of whether contenders should clean up their own house first to give credibility to their often-opportunistic embrace of ‘moderate’ Islam.

Among the rivals, the UAE, populated in majority by non-nationals, is one of only two contenders to start acknowledging changing attitudes and demographic realities.

Authorities in November lifted the ban on consumption of alcohol and cohabitation among unmarried couples. This week, the UAE opened the door to the naturalization of foreign nationals.

The other contender, Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, has begun tackling legal and theological reform of Islam with the encouragement of the government. The movement offered in October a platform for then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lash out at China’s treatment of Turkic Muslims.

By contrast, Pakistan, in an act of overreach modelled on US insistence on extra-territorial abidance by some of its laws, recently laid down a gauntlet in the struggle to define religious freedom by seeking to block and shut down a US-based website associated with Ahmadis on charges of blasphemy.

Ahmadis are a minority sect viewed as heretics by many Muslims that have been targeted in Indonesia and elsewhere but nowhere more so than in Pakistan where they have been constitutionally classified as non-Muslims. Blasphemy is potentially punishable in Pakistan with a death sentence.

The Pakistani effort was launched at a moment that anti-Ahmadi and anti-Shiite sentiment in Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shia Muslim minority, is on the rise. Recent mass demonstrations denounced Shiites as “blasphemers” and “infidels” and called for their beheading as the number of blasphemy cases being filed against Shiites in the courts mushrooms.

Pakistan’s rivals in the competition for religious soft power have largely remained silent about the worrying trend, raising questions about the integrity of their commitment to religious freedom and tolerance as well as their rejection of Islamophobia.

Newly appointed Indonesian religious affairs minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, a senior Nahdlatul Ulama official, is proving to be the exception that confirms the rule. Mr. Qoumas pledged in one of his first statements as a minister during a visit to a Protestant church to protect the rights of Shiites and Ahmadis.

Said Indonesia scholar Alexander R Arifianto: “Qoumas’ new initiatives as Religious Affairs Minister are a welcome move to counter the influence of radical Islamists and address long-standing injustices against religious minorities. He now has to prove these are not empty slogans, but an earnest attempt at promoting equal citizenship for all Indonesians irrespective of their religious beliefs.”

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Custodians of Islam, changing their Avatar

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If we peek into the historical traces, it could be seen that the world has fought more wars on religion or for their state’s dignity and integrity than any other reason. It is mainly because accepting others ideologies either its religious or national, it’s hard to accept and this is at present the prevailing issue if someone looks deeper into the complex picture of geo-politics.

United Arab Emirates has passed new laws that have shocked the entire Muslim world. The Arab World has also been perceived as the “custodians of Islam” and other Muslim countries have look towards for the perfect implementation of misinterpreted “Islamic values”, ignoring the fact that mainly the values followed in the Arab world are Arabic not Islamic. There is huge difference among two interpretations.

UAE has recently relaxed its social constraints. These constraints that served as a shield from adopting the un-Islamic practices and pro-western values. UAE has allowed couples to cohabit; it has allowed drinking without fear of punishment. Lastly it has also it put off the honor crime from its menu means; they have criminalized the act of honor killing. The decision of UAE to revamp its policies depicts that UAE has chosen a “new” avatar, a more pro-western avatar, leaving the Islamic values behind.  The broadening of personal freedoms reflects that UAE is on its new journey to change its society at home.

After the announcement of new laws it seems as if United Arab Emirates is more focus on shifting their oil dependent economy or other industries. This includes inviting the high-flow of Israel and Western investments into their country at the cost of anything. They are aiming to boost UAE is the skyscraper tourist destination for Western tourists and fortune seekers, businesses regardless of its “legal hard-line Islamic System.”

Moreover, the major revamps came particularly right after the historic U.S brokered deal to normalize relations between UAE and Israel. The future will reveal but it can be foreseen that the days of monarchy are coming to end. It won’t happen in few years; it will take time but is surely going to happen. The decades old filthy rich monarchy will be replaced by “Democracy” for sure.

Other than the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also on the same journey. The new monarch King Muhammad Bin Salman is also tilted towards “Western culture” and more “Liberalist thoughts and values”. He is also more inclined to bring on more liberal structures in their country, for examples recently Saudi Arabia has given more freedom to women for driving and is allowed to work with men at offices or any other workplaces. These drastic changes were considered as an impossible task to do but things are changing rapidly.

The question to ask is, now where would Pakistan tilt? Whose society would Pakistan look upon as the guardian and custodians of Islam and its Islamic values? The Arab countries have also had massive influence upon the Pakistani society particularly in religious terms. Pakistan has to bear the cost of “Wahabbism” clashing with “Shiaism” and other Islamic sects that were mainly brought by the Arabs into the country.

Many Pakistanis have considered the Arabs as their ideal and the Arabian society as an ideal society to live in. I have also heard people giving examples of “Islamic system of Saudi Arabia” and how loyal they are to the “Islamic values”. They are also perceived as the “Guardians” and “Custodians” of Islamic values. But now as they are inclined or totally moving towards Western system, would Pakistan also opt for liberalism in their country?

As there has always been an environment of confusion in the Pakistani society. This confusion is, wither to opt for democracy or go for an Islamic system. This has created a sharp separation in the Pakistani society, the one struggling to go totally Western (far-left), and the others trying to preserve the Islamic system (far-right).

After United Arab Emirates new laws, this question is becoming more complex. The transformation of United Arab Emirates adoption of Westernized values shows that it is only the Muslim world leaving its values behind and moving towards a borrowed baggage of cultures and values. The future will disclose that who will sit on the throne of “Custodian of Islam”. Till now the changing geo-political situation shows that it is Turkey that is striving to go for this throne.

On the current politics of Arab powers I would say, “A tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots,” rightly said by Matshona Dhliwayo.

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