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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

Religion

How divine books guide and socialize an individual into society

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When an individual born it  interact with social group in which it is present. The term socialization refers to the process of interaction through which the growing individual learns the habits, attitudes, values and beliefs of the social group into which one has been born. … Socialization prepares people to participate in a social group by teaching them its norms and expectations. But why there is need of socialization ? The answer is we are born there is something in our DNA that make us feel there should be some one who we need to follow, that there is someone who make us, who is very superior to us.

Very interesting question. what a religion actually is. As per the Oxford dictionary, “religion” is:   “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”

That is what religion is very simply put .strictly speaking, all “religions” in the world revolve around this same concept: a belief in a superhuman controlling power. They all build on this central concept, assigning various different attributes and holy books to this superhuman controlling power.

In Hinduism, this “power” is called Brahman and has many forms, manifesting itself in every sentient being, In Islam it is called “Allah” and so on so forth. But the bottom line of all these religions is: There is a god.

There is God who have sent us and give us the way to live the life. Through the learning process one give  priority to the religion it follow. The religion guide us through holy book. Divine books are four in numbers revealed to different Prophets i.e.

Tawrat to  Prophet Musa

Zabur to Prophet Dawud

Injil to Prophet Isa

Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad SAW

but Muslim believes that they all carry a same message or guidance for humanity. Divine books provide set of rules to live a life. They can also act as a source of history and motivation for the followers. Quran is last Divine book but it contains some  references of all other Divine Books.

Divine books act as source of religion provider. Beliefs, values and practices related to spiritual concerns are described by religion. It is also known as crucial roadway of socialization for many people. In many religious institutions like temples, churches and mosques individual of many religious communities assemble to glorify and to grasp knowledge. Many ceremonies related to structure of family like marriage and birth are also related to religious celebrations. Shared set of socialized value which passes through society are foster by organized religion. Each social theorist define religion according to their own perspective

The purpose of sending divine books to the followers of certain religion was to give them the principles of religion. The teachings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity are very similar to each other. The conflict occurs in their ideology and oneness of God. Reforms in individual life and society’s life like harmony and unity are brought by these books. They act as a balance between life of both the individual and society by safeguarding rights, assigning individual responsibilities which are guided by Divine books. Divine books deals with the demand of society and behave as building block of thinking and behavioural processes and lay stress on Faith  , through this human hearts and minds are completely transformed and remodelling  of our thinking and behavioural pattern occur  which as a result changes the whole society.

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Religion

Pakistan On Its Way to Promote Interfaith Harmony

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People from various cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds live in Pakistan.  96.28 percent of the country consists of a Muslim population. Minority groups make up 4% of the population, with Christians at 1.59%, Hindus at 1.60%, and Ismaili and Qadianis make 0.22 %. Unluckily this diversity is now being mistreated. Whether it is the ongoing violence against non-Muslims or the sectarian violence among Muslims across the nation, these misperceptions about other religions are a major contributor to violence among religious communities. Unfortunately, Pakistan has fallen prey to these social ills.

The government of Pakistan has contributed significantly by carrying out numerous initiatives and plans to guarantee all of Pakistani society with various religious and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to socialize with one another.  The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan specifically mentioned the rights of minorities to preserve interreligious harmony.  To represent religious minorities’ voices Article 51 (2A) of the Constitution grants ten additional public services to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi religious communities in the national assembly. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan mandated the establishment of a National Council for Minorities. The prime objective of the Council is to oversee, the effective application and protection of rights guaranteed to minorities by the Pakistani Constitution. The Council also demands from the Federal and Provincial Governments to structure the policy proposals to uphold and defend the rights of minorities as per the 2014 Jurisdiction of SC.

Since the last decade Pakistan has been working on the issues of protection of religious minority’s rights however, the process speeded up in 2018.  The Ministry of Human Rights created the Action Plan against Religious Persecution in 2016. The election campaign of the political Party “Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf” introduced, in their manifesto to establish a “legally empowered, well-resourced, independent National Commission on Minorities, followed by provincial Commissions/Departments”.The strategy outlines a strenuous effort to be undertaken with numerous stakeholders to protect and advance religious minorities so that they are better able to contribute to the peace and development of the nation and become a part of Pakistan’s mainstream social fabric fearlessly. It constitutes a task force at the federal level for developing a strategy for promoting religious tolerance. Curb hate speech in social media. The creation of an endowment fund for student scholarships, development of a complaint/redress mechanism, review/proposal of amendments for discriminatory laws, and protection of places of worship are just a few of the initiatives mentioned in the Action Plan. Others include raising awareness and providing training on interfaith harmony, reviewing and revising education curricula at all levels to foster a peaceful and inclusive society, and raising funds for student scholarships.

Subsequently, it is pertinent to mention here that religious harmony is crucial for maintaining interreligious relations. For this purpose, On January 16, 2018, a National Narrative (Paigham e Pakistan) for Peaceful and Moderate Pakistani Society based on Islamic Principles was presented under the watchful eye of government officials. In January 2019, the Paigham-e-Pakistan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies released a fatwa (verdict) signed by over 1800 Pakistani religious scholars denouncing suicide bombings, armed uprisings, and other acts of terrorism committed in the name of Sharia.

One of the main issues facing minorities, which is being echoed around the world, is the forced conversion of young girls. The Hindu Marriage Act of 2017 was passed by the National Assembly in response to this challenge, covering all of Pakistan except Sindh. To make it easier for the Hindu community to get married under the Sindh Hindu marriage Rules, 2019, the Sindh government passed the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016 (amended in 2018). Additionally, to resolve the issue and dispel any negative perceptions about forced conversion, the Pakistan Hindu Council and Ulema confined an agreement. According to this agreement, the law approved by the Parliament will be adopted regarding conversion. Any Hindu who approaches ulema for conversion will be reported to the local Hindu community leader, to meet with their parents (in absence of Ulema), until the law is approved. Still, if he/she wishes to convert will be allowed to do so.

The Pakistani religious and political elite have used religious segregation by emphasizing “divide and rule” and discouraging the idea of “unity in diversity to effectively consolidate their power. Segregation based on religion has become a major tool for encouraging violence against non-Muslims. This encourages extremism by instilling the desire in jihadist groups to commit acts of religious terrorism against members of other faiths. It is therefore essential to oppose any misuse of religion. Likewise, we must guard against religious fanaticism and extremism to promote interfaith harmony. Under the guise of religion, encourage hatred or even terrorist acts are destructive and poses a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of Pakistan.

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Religion

Betting on the wrong horse: The battle to define moderate Islam

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Proponents of a moderate Islam that embraces tolerance, diversity, and pluralism may be betting on the wrong horse by supporting Muslim scholars on autocrats’ payroll.

Polling in the Middle East seems to confirm that state-sponsored clerics lack credibility.

Recent research suggesting that non-violent protest has increasingly become less effective magnifies problems posed by the clerics’ legitimacy deficit.

The combination of lagging credibility and reduced effectiveness enhances the risk of politically inspired violence.

Add to that that young Muslims gravitate towards militancy in a world of perceived persecution of the faithful.

Tam Hussein, an award-winning investigative journalist and novelist, who has spent time with jihadists in various settings, noted in a recent blog and an interview that a segment of Muslim youth, who see Western militaries operating across the Muslim world, often embrace the jihadist argument that Muslims would not be victims if they had a genuinely Muslim state with an armed force and religious laws that would garner God’s favour.

Achieving a state, the jihadists say, has to be ‘through blood (because) the rose isn’t got except by putting one’s hand on the thorns.’

Mr. Hussein cautioned that “this sentiment of young Muslims…cannot be combated with platitudes, ill thought out deradicalisation programmes, and naff websites set up to combat social media.”

Mr. Hussein’s insight goes to the crux of a rivalry for religious soft power in the Muslim world that, at its core, involves a struggle to define concepts of moderate Islam.

In essence, Mr. Hussein argues that a credible response to religiously inspired militancy will have to come from independent Islamic scholars rather than clerics who do Muslim autocrats’ bidding.

The journalist’s assertion is undergirded by some three-quarters of Arab youth polled annually by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A BCW who have consistently asserted in recent years that religious institutions need to be reformed.

Commenting on the agency’s 2020 survey, Gulf scholar Eman Alhussein said that Arab youth had taken note of religious figures endorsing government-introduced reforms they had rejected in the past.

“This not only feeds into Arab youth’s scepticism towards religious institutions but also further highlights the inconsistency of the religious discourse and its inability to provide timely explanations or justifications to the changing reality of today,” Ms. Alhussein wrote.

Mr. Hussein warned that “what many…well-intentioned leaders and Imams don’t realise, and I have seen this with my own eyes, is that radical preachers…have a constituency. They hit a nerve and are watched” as opposed to “those they deem to be ‘scholars for dollars’… There is a dissonance between the young and the imams. …

When the no doubt erudite Azhari sheikhs such as Ali Gomaa seemingly support Sisi’s killing of innocents followed up by Habib Ali Jifri’s support for his teacher, one cannot help but understand their predicament and anger,” Mr. Hussein said, referring to scholars of Al Azhar, a citadel of Islamic learning in Cairo.

Mr. Hussein was pointing to Ali Gomaa, who, as the grand mufti of Egypt, defended the killing of some 800 non-violent protesters on a Cairo square in the wake of the 2013 military coup led by general-turned president Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The coup toppled Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and Egypt’s only democratically elected president.

A Yemeni-born UAE-backed cleric, Mr. Al-Jifri, a disciple of Mr. Goma, is part of a group of Islamic scholars who help project the Emirates as a beacon of an autocratic form of moderate Islam that embraces social reforms and religious diversity, rejects political pluralism, and demands absolute obedience of the ruler.

The group includes the former Egyptian mufti, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a respected Mauritanian theologian, and his disciple, Hamza Yusuf, one of America’s foremost Muslim figures.

Mr. Hussein could have included Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League, the primary vehicle employed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to garner religious soft power and propagate his autocratic version of Islam.

Autocratic reformers such as UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed and Mr. Bin Salman offer an upgraded 21st-century version of a social contract that kept undemocratic Arab regimes in office for much of the post-World War Two era.

The contract entailed the population’s surrender of political rights in exchange for a cradle-to-grave welfare state in the oil-rich Gulf or adequate delivery of public services and goods in less wealthy Arab states.

That bargain broke down with the 2011 and 2019/2020 popular Arab revolts that did not spare Gulf countries like Bahrain and Oman.

The breakdown was sparked not only by governments’ failure to deliver but also by governments, at times, opening political space to Islamists so that they could counter left-wing forces.

Scholar Hesham Allam summarised the policy as “more identity, less class.” In effect, Middle Eastern government were hopping onto a bandwagon that  globally was empowering religious and nationalist forces.

Using Egypt as a case study in his just publisjed book, Classless Politics: Islamist Movements, the Left, and Authoritarian Legacies in Egypt. Mr. Sallam argued that” in the long run, this policy led to the fragmentation of opponents of economic reform, the increased salience of cultural conflicts within the left, and the restructuring of political life around questions of national and religious identity.”

To revive the core of the social contract, Messrs. Bin Zayed and Bin Salman have thrown into the mix degrees of social liberalization and greater women’s rights needed to diversify their economies and increase jobs as well as professional, entertainment, and leisure opportunities.

At the same time, they have cracked down on dissent at home and sought to impede, if not at times brutally, reverse political change elsewhere in the region.

Even so, researcher Nora Derbal describes in her recently published book, Charity in Saudi Arabia: Civil Society under Authoritarianism, discrepancies between interpretations of Islamic guidance as provided by government officials and state-sponsored clerics and charity and civil society groups that have their own understanding.

In one instance, Ms. Derbal noted that the government sought to restrict charity recipients to holders of Saudi national id card. She quoted a representative of one group as saying that “Islamically speaking, any person, Muslim or not Muslim, deserves aid if in need.”

Nevertheless, the notion of an autocratic moderate Islam appears to work for the UAE and holds out promise for Saudi Arabia but is on shaky ground elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

Recent polling by ASDA’A BCW showed that of the 3,400 young Arabs in 17 Arab countries aged 18 to 24 surveyed, fifty-seven per cent identified the UAE as the country where they would like to live. Thirty-seven per cent wanted their home country to emulate the UAE.

The survey’s results starkly contrast Mr. Hussein’s perceptions of discontented, radicalized Muslims and jihadists he encountered in Syria and elsewhere.

The diverging pictures may be two sides of the same coin rather than mutually exclusive. The survey and other polls and Mr. Hussein likely tap into different segments of Muslim youth.

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk described the men and women that Mr. Hussein discussed as having a “sense of being second or third-class citizens, of feeling invisible, unrepresented, unimportant, like one counts for nothing—which can drive people toward extremism.”

Some of those responding to polls may be empathetic but probably wouldn’t pull up their stakes because they are at a point where they have too much to lose.

Even so, recent surveys by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 59 per cent of those polled in the UAE, 58 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 74 per cent in Egypt, disagreed with the notion that “we should listen to those among us who are trying to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, and modern way.”

Given that in the milieu that Mr. Hussein depicts, the UAE is “seen by many as actively subverting the aspirations of millions of Arabs and Muslims for their own political ends, one can see why these (angry) young men will continue to fight,” the journalist said.

“When scholars don’t act as their flock’s lightning rod, or do not convey their sentiments to power, or are not sufficiently independent enough, the matter becomes hopeless and young men being young men, look for other avenues,” Mr. Hussein added.

Pakistan is one place where Mr. Hussein’s scenario and Mr. Pamuk’s analysis play out. In July, a United Nations Security Council report said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, boasted the largest number of foreign militants operating from Afghan soil.

The report suggested that many of TTP’s 3,000 to 4,000 fighters were freed from Afghan jails shortly after last year’s fall of Kabul.

Recent academic research suggesting that non-violent dissent is seeing its lowest success rate in more than a century even though the number of protests has not diminished magnifies the resulting threat of militancy.

One study concluded that the number of protest movements worldwide had tripled between 2006 and 2020, including the dramatic 2011 popular Arab uprisings. Yet, compared to the early 2000s when two out of three protest movements demanding systemic change succeeded, today it is one in six, meaning that protests are more likely to fail than at any time since the 1930s, according to Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth. Ms. Chenoweth suggested that the sharp decline was starkest in the past two years.

By comparison, armed rebellion has seen its effectiveness decline more slowly than non-violent protest, making the two strategies nearly tied in their odds of succeeding. “For the first time since the 1940s, a decade dominated by state-backed partisan rebellions against Nazi occupations, non-violent resistance does not have a statistically significant advantage over armed insurrection,” Ms. Chenoweth said.

Ms. Chenoweth and others attribute the evening out of success rates of violent and non-violent agitation to deep-seated polarization, militant nationalism, media echo chambers, increased restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression that cut off avenues to release pent-up anger and frustration, and an enhanced authoritarian toolkit. The toolkit includes divide and rule strategies, digital repression, propaganda and misinformation, and the declaration of emergency powers under pretexts such as the recent public health crisis.

Said Ms. Chenoweth: “As authoritarian movements gain ground, democratic movements worldwide are struggling to expand their constituencies among those who have grown frustrated with the systems of inequality and injustice that continue to plague…countries worldwide.”

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