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The Swedish Church of Plaka

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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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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Inflation in Pakistan during the Holly Month of Ramadan

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Ramadan is considered one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar for Muslims all over the world. As for as Pakistan is concerned, it has always been a tradition that whenever Ramadan comes the inflation rate also increases. With the advent of Ramadan, the inflation rate is increased by 14.56 per cent within the country. Two types of Muslims throughout the country wait anxiously for this month. For one type of people, it brings happiness and blessings and for another type, it brings a massive amount of money. But it becomes a curse for the poor people when prices of the edible items touch the sky. While this month of Ramadan becomes blessings for the business community and hoarders that take as much benefit as they can. As 2020 had already remained the most challenging year of the twenty-first century because of the pandemic outbreak throughout the world. Almost every country has been victim Covid-19 where thousands of people are dying every day due to this deadly Virus. Because of this pandemic, the people of Pakistan are facing a dual challenge such as unemployment and increasing inflation.

Moreover, as for as the hard restrictions of lockdown against the spread of coronavirus have been implemented resultantly all of the economic activities such as construction, manufacturing and many other industries, which were the only source of earning for labour community, have been closed. In addition, the poor people who earn a few hundred per day after working the whole day have nothing to do, their lives are in trouble and they are worried about burning their stoves because of a current lockdown situation. They are restricted to their homes and there is no any available platform for them to earn. In this hard situation, the profiteering has taken birth, the profit earners have risen the prices of daily food items at alarming rates despite lowering the prices in respect of Ramadan. It is a painful truth that despite being a Muslim state, there is no any leniency in the prices of very basic and demanded vegetables and fruits such as flour, gram flour, oil, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons, sugar, red chills, chicken, watermelon, dates etc. in the Holy month of Ramadan.

These skyrocketing prices have compelled poor people to break their fast with only water. Moreover, they have nothing to eat after breaking their fast because of the high inflation rate. In this regard, inflation has been the major problem of the people of Pakistan facing from starting particularly in the month of Ramadan. But being a human it should be stopped at least in this staggering circumstances where a pandemic has wrapped the whole world and people are dying because of this dangerous virus. In addition, when the condition is already very bad and people had been unemployed due to COVID-19 lockdown. They are already fighting the war with their lives. They have nothing to eat. They are hardly surviving at the extent that even can’t afford their food necessities. Furthermore, these downtrodden people are suiciding because of hunger for instance recently a widow along with her children had committed suicide in Sukkur, Sindh due to hunger. Now the government has to decide what is more dangerous the “CORONAVIRUS” or “HUNGER”?

In Pakistan, this hazardous disease of inflation is increasing the poverty day by day. In PTI Government 18 million more people fall into poverty, it is reported that more than 39.9 per cent population of Pakistan lives below the poverty line. In this hard and difficult situation, the people have been frustrated. Besides, more than half of the poor people are homeless, many of them have not even their place to live rather they live on rent. But unfortunately, in this miserable condition, they cannot afford to buy their own house. The government says that they are providing the funds to the poor as well as Ramadan relief Packages but still no relief have been given. Not any proper funds are given to real deserving and poor people. If according to governments that it has given the funds then the question rises that will these little funds can beat these higher prices? This is one more remarkable stain on the government of Pakistan that would be highlighted in history. In this tough time instead of being a pillar for the public, the government has left poor people helpless even giving them a tough time by increasing the inflation. It is a painful truth that Muslims are sucking the blood of other Muslim brothers including government has been parasite for the public.

In other non-Muslim Countries such as Canada, United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany; the prices of food items, groceries, clothes, households and other demanded and consumed accessories reduce to less than half in respect of their holy events or festivals. But sadly opposite is happening in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in our country, profiteers see these holy events as the source of income. There is no check and balance system. This non-serious attitude of the Pakistani government has led people to beg for survival. But the only government could not be blamed, it is the collective responsibility of worthy people to take care of needy ones. Everyone complains about poor governance and rising inflation but no one talks about their responsibility. Have we ever been thought about our poor neighbours before having dinner? Have we ever noticed those little children without clothes wondering on the roads when we pass by them on our luxurious vehicles and went for shopping with our family? Instead of spending a lot of money on clothes or unnecessary things we should take a glance at those who even cannot fulfil their basic needs. So not much but do little things for others, spread little happiness on the faces of those who have remained deprived of it for many years. It is also the religious duty of all the Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth to give Zakat. Though paying Zakat purifies, increases and blesses the remainder of wealth, it is for better when it is the month of Ramadan. Allah says: “it is right of the poor on the wealth of the rich”. Bring some change in ourselves and let its shine reflect the society. Until Government do something on this issue we all have to hold each other’s up.

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The voiceless sufferers of covid-19: Islam and Animal care

Zahoor Ahmad Shah

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“Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to Himself.”(Bukhari)

The Corona virus has locked people inside their homes and has caused the death of thousands of individuals. Apart from taking a heavy toll of human lives, it has paralyzed all the vital sectors of life, like trade and commerce, education, communication and transport. On the socio-cultural grounds it has created a serious trauma and has led to psychosomatic disturbances. The social web or fabric has seen a great set back and challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. But humans are not the lone sufferers of this crisis as it is now badly hurting animals as well. These helpless creatures are suffering as the lockdown has left them wandering on the streets for food. While the world fights Covid-19, the needy animals and birds from the streets require food. As we know thousands of stray cats, cows and dogs in India depend on food and waste from markets, restaurants and grocery shops. But with corona virus sending people into isolation and public establishments shutting down, strays are having a hard time finding food. As per some reports many stray animals have died due to starvation. Some disturbing pictures of animals like cats and dogs, panting, licking mud and biting shoes can be seen on social media. This speaks a lot about the pathetic conditions of these animals and seriously these creatures are going through the troubled times.  As more and more people fall sick, the more rapidly, stray animals and birds are being ignored. The people are advised to stay home to avoid the spread of corona virus but the homeless, unvoiced and abandoned animals have been left at the mercy of their lord. These creatures need our care and attention. It is our collective job and obligation to feed these living beings.  To be gentle and humane to all creatures of God is the universal message of all religions but Islam in particular is very clear about animal care and has guided its followers to take due care of every creature on earth.

The Islamic view of the natural order and the environment, as everything else that is Islamic, has its roots in the Quran, the very Word of the God, which is the central theophany of Islam. The Quran addresses not only men and women but the Whole of the cosmos. Humans in Islam are the central creatures of the earthly sphere, but can exercise power over things only in obedience to God’s laws. And divine law (al-shari`ah) specifically includes duties to the natural environment. Laws forbid pollution and instruct the planting of trees and gentle treatment of animals.

The concept of environment in Quran is distinct enough. It has given the values of unity, balance, order and harmony. The balance not only governs the structuring of the universe, it has specified each element with its proper place and definite function. The law of structural balance of the environment is often referred in the Quran by the words ‘Balance,’ ‘proportion,’ or ‘measure’. The Quran presents the whole material world and the animal kingdom in particular, as a divine miracle to which man must respond with self-restrain. As one sonorous verse puts it: “Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whoever within the heavens and on the earth, and by the birds with wings spread? Each of them has known his means of prayer and exalting.” (Quran 24:41)

In mediaeval times, writes historian Gustave le Bon, “Animals enjoyed heaven in the Muslim world.” Trusts were solely devoted to sick and vulnerable creatures. The Muslims in 18th century Cairo, setup bread and water foundations for dogs. In Damascus, a municipal area was dedicated to ageing horses where they could pasture in dignity until the end of their lives, which continued until the 20th century.

From the start of an animal’s life to its end, there were clear rules on maintaining its welfare. Mercy to animals goes hand in hand with faith as Prophet’s (Pbuh) words articulate, “He who take pity even on a sparrow and spares its life, God will be merciful to him on the day of judgment.”

Islam talks a lot about the Ummah or global community of believers; some interpretations give the term a broader meaning, embracing humanity as a whole. As eco-Muslims often recall, the Quran also insists that other species constitute Ummah-like communities, which are correspondingly worth of respect. “There is no creature on earth, nor any bird that flies with its wings, but are communities (Ummah) like you. We neglected nothing in the scripture. Then to their lord they will be gathered.” (Quran: 6:38)

Furthermore, Muslims believe that all creations of Allah, including animals and trees, glorify God in their own way. “Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, the sun; the moon; the stars; the hills; the trees; the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (Quran 22:18) Islam also teaches humans that all creatures of God, whether it is the tiny ant or the huge lion, serve a certain purpose in the large scheme of God’s world. “There is not an animal (that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. (Quran 6:38)

The Prophet (Pbuh) said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the day of judgment.” The listeners asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is a just cause? The Prophet (Pbuh) replied, “That he will kill it to eat, not simply to chop off its head and then throws it away.” (Sunan Abu Dawud-2/11)

Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Pbuh) said, “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.” So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him.” The Companions said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for serving any living being.” (Bukhari)

Teasing or mutilating any living being, be that an animal or a bird is disapproved and abhorred in Islam. The Prophet (Pbuh) says, “May God curse anyone who maims animals”? (Bukhari) While as good and humane treatment is applauded in Islam, “Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to Himself.”(Bukhari) On discovering a companion had caused distress to a bird by taking her young, Mohammad (Pbuh) ordered him to return them at once.  (Sahi Muslim)Hence irresponsible wanton killing of even the tiniest of God’s creatures is strongly discouraged in Islam. He (Pbuh) even reprimanded those who sat idly on their camels and horses with the warning, “Do not treat the backs of animals as chairs. “God gave these to your command only on the condition that you may go with them easily to places you would not been able to go by yourself without extreme trouble.”(Abu Dawud, 61, [2667])

Animals should be cared for; Abdullah Ibn Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, “ A women entered the (Hell) fire because of a cat which she had tied , neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth.”[Bukhari…Narrated by Abdullah bin Omar].

We have seen that there are clear references in Holy Scriptures of Islam about the due place and position of animals and birds in the Gods scheme of the world. And the believers have been guided and instructed to be gentle and humane towards these creatures of God. There is a due reward for feeding a starving being be it an animal or a bird. As the Prophet of Allah (Pbuh) has said, “There is a reward for serving any living being”. Along with taking care of poor and needy it is our duty to serve animals living around us. The crisis will not remain longer but our attitude and character shown to helpless and voiceless will be remembered for long.

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The Proliferation of Religion in Pakistan

Ali Abbas

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Pakistan was established in the name of religion by the leaders of that time. Although they didn’t wish to use the name of religion as for personal interest or for the monopoly of some groups. Religion was used in history of Pakistan by different groups to gain power. In the era of Zia ulHaq religion become the most influential factor in the politics of Pakistan. Zia used religion to sustain his own power, the religious parties fully supported the reforms in every sector which gave religion as tool for politics.  The era of Zia ulHaq consider as mullah- military alliance. This alliance was formed to empower the right wing religious parties within the country. The changing politics of external environment gave further straighten to this alliance. The invasion in Afghanistan and expansion of communism threatened Pakistan’s security. Pakistansupported the Afghan resistance as proxy war with Soviet Union. This time was the massive proliferation of religion to motivate the young people to fight against the aggressive forces in neighboring Muslim country. The process of islamization took deep roots due to the Zia’s policies in the country.

Zia followed Jamat-i-islami version of Islam and combined religion with politics to prolong his rule and to justify his policy actions. With the diversified civil society this action created many setbacks for the country. On the other side, progressive liberal parties stand in the corner due to powerless and helpless. The reforms took in educational sector based on religion, the one section of society go more radicalized. Historically, the roots cause of Islamization and secularization have been originated with the concept of Pakistan. There were no genuine efforts towards the state apparatus early. The adoption of extremist ideology by some groups has badly affected the image of Pakistan and political structure. Though, modernists of Muslim League have the strong recognition that religion has the important element for their legitimacy. Modernists said that western democracy under the British model which was not ready to bring change in their political realm. The modernists believed that current interpretations of law would be responsible of the elected Muslim members through the concept of consensus. They said that it is not necessary to bind the state structure with Islamic medieval laws. The consensus was thought as sufficient for Pakistan todram the structural mechanism according to the Islamic laws. On the other hand, the religious fundamentalists were not satisfied with the proposed structure. 

The development within the political structure of Pakistan has been followed by the coming administration in 90s. After the collapse of USSR the behavior of USA towards Pakistan has changed.  The idea of New World Order has emerged suddenly and the international scenario changed. Pakistan had to needed with positive approach to run a new direction but the country remained under the occupation of traditional power politics between power center groups. The state was under the influence of religious parties and these groups have become stronger in the ground. During the process of Islamization simple demand to implement the Sharia laws in Pakistan. In this development the religious segment of the society was become strong and the intellectual society groups were totally missing. Now these groups are openly use the name of Islam for their own means and interest. The religious right wing groups only use the name of religion to gain support from the people. But they lost the actual power support of masses. Religion was used for the domestic and political objectives and also religion was a dominating factor in foreign policy. The new era of relations reestablished with Islamic world. Due to such new developments regional and global level attracted towards the country. The counter forces and thinking patterns all had affected by these new developments in the country. Though, these movements got not support globally, but they succeeded in farming the image of Islam throughout the world. In short extremism can never be a choice of common people and they are living within the diversified cultural and religious differences. 

After the 9/11 Pakistan has no choice to support the new global alliances against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups. Pakistan was forced to take action against the former Jihadi elements within the territories. Pakistan has started actions against these groups under the new US pressure and become the front line state in the war on terror. The domestic militant groups were mostly operating within the tribal region. They were become the most challenging factor for the security of Pakistan. Most of them were the products of local madrassahs, they has strong linkages with the criminals and other militants groups. Pakistan has faced many problems to distinguish between them. Islamic groups and militancy has deeply affected the domestic model of political structure of the country. Early religious scholars have the great contribution of ideas towards the development of the society. They reached an effective structural mechanism for the state. They were remained vocal but not extremist in their ideas and neither had they inclined towards militancy. The madrasahs in all over the Pakistan in beginning they were not inclining towards militancy. They have strong relations with the institutions of Pakistan. But the element of militancy started during Afghan war it gave them an opportunity to use the force to achieve their goals and objectives.  These groups and militants organizations have been used by the warlords. They are controlling and utilizing them for their own political objectives

Pakistan has adopted many policies to counter these militant groups and their activities. The most important step taken by the government was “Reforming the Madrasahs”. In June 2002 this Regulation Act was formulated. Mostly madrssahs are not run by the government they are working independent through other means of financial resources. Some changes were proposed in educational syllabus but this was not handled properly

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