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Q.  I’m simply curious as to why a Greek would choose a religion that is so antithetical to his or her own culture. Beyond that, there are more general questions about Islam and its treatment of non-believers that I, as a non-believer, would like answered. Perhaps you can help.

A.  Thank you for asking about our religion and coming forth with your question.  I will answer the question based on my own experience as a Greek convert.  I know this is a really long post, but please bear with me.

(Special note to the questioner: Before we start, I have a special request, actually two.  First, I need you to forget about your culture for just a few minutes and think openmindely and objectively.  Second, I would like you to make a prayer.  I know you wouldn’t normally agree to this since you are an agnostic, but please, just try it.  It’s not going to hurt.  Turn to the one who created the heavens and the earth (whoever you think that is and even if it’s ‘unknown’) and say, ‘The one who created the heavens and the earth, if you have the power, strength and knowledge to create these, then you surely have the power to show me the truth. If you are out there, guide me to the truth, whatever that may be’  I know this might sound insane to you, but please trust me on this one. )

I’m serious, just try it.

For me, it all started when I was very young (about 7 years old, actually!) when I first started to contemplate on what the purpose of life is.  I’ve never really understood it but growing up, it would sometimes become a burning question that I did not have an answer to.  Without an answer, I would then often drift into “go with the flow” mode, where the purpose of life is the ol’ get a good education, get a good paying job, get married, by a house and a nice car…. and then, well, die.

I first met Muslims in my university classes.  Before that, they were always around me but I just never noticed.  I honestly naively thought that the entire world was full of Christians only! Can you believe it?  I thought it was a really strange thing that anyone would believe in some wierd god, oppress their women and speak some wierd language but I was still respectful to them because I felt sorry for them.

Later our discussions transformed into full-fledge debates at the student cafeteria.  I was their staunch opponent.  I started becoming more and more practising as a Greek Orthodox and going back to the church, perhaps because I felt that I had to defend my religion – everything that I was raised with. 

Without that much knowledge about Islam, it was harder to convince them that they were dead wrong, so when no one was looking, I would sneak into the library and try to find some books about Islam.  What I found were some books that looked like they were published 1000 years ago – they were so ancient, it seemed!  So, then I started to search online as well.  I needed some substantial evidence to prove that they were wrong.

Then everything changed.  I made a prayer that God show me the truth.   I wanted to know and I was so sincere in that prayer. 

I was absolutely sure that the truth would be Christianity and that the Muslims will soon find out but God had another plan for me. 

When no one was looking, I started to step back from my preconceived notions and started to think objectively for the first time in my life.  Why are Muslims so strict about not associating Jesus (peace be upon him) as God?  Don’t they know that we need Jesus to be a salvation for our sins?

I went to visit our local priest and asked him a lot of questions, especially about the trinity.  I finally had the guts to nonchalantly bring up the word ‘Islam’ (for all those Greeks out there, you know how hard that would be!) but as soon as I uttered that word, his eyes immediately bulged out of his head and he strongly suggested that I stay away from those bad people.  However, the problem was that he didn’t answer my questions with proper answers.  It was all a big run-around.

That just left me on my own to find out.  Slowly, with more and more research and evidence, my heart was realizing the truth of one God without partners but my mind was opposing it with all its might.  I just couldn’t even dream of leaving everything known to me – my religion, my culture, my family, my rituals and celebrations- behind.

Then it happened in my bedroom.  I was finishing up some more reading on the subject and contemplating heavily if Jesus is really God or not.  All of a sudden, within a few seconds, I felt something go through me very quickly, as if it was some fresh air or spirit washing out my heart and then BOOM (!), automatically, I felt this massive, I mean massive, sense of tranquility and almost said outoud, ‘Jesus is not God!’. 

Then immediately after that, I thought, ‘How in the world am I going to tell my parents that I am Muslim?’

I know what I am writing is going to be extremely difficult for some to believe.  No, I was not possessed by some devil or spirit.  Actually, I found when speaking to other converts that some of them related the same thing to me (before I even mentioned my story to them).  Now, after knowing more about Islam, I do believe that it was God answering my initial prayer and it was, perhaps, an angel, under the instruction of God, who cleansed my soul of the prior disbelief.

So, this is a super long post – sorry for that- so to conclude, I would like to answer your question, why would a Greek choose a religion so antithetical to his or her own culture?  Well, for a few reasons. 

First, it wasn’t my intention to do so.  In fact, it was the complete opposite but in my search for the truth, I found that it was that God is one without any partners.  I later found the answer to my question of what the purpose of life is explicitly mentioned beautifully in the Qur’an.

Second, after seeing all this truth, my priorties in life changed drastically.  I no longer was going with the flow for worldly success only.  I now had (and have) a primary goal of reaching paradise so whatever I can do to take me there, I will do.  If that is to leave some of my cultural aspects that contradict worshipping one God without associating partners, then I will do so. 

Third, becoming a Muslim does not mean I forfeit my culture.  In fact, Islam embraces diversity of all cultures.  For example, I have lots of friends who are Pakistani, Somalian, Arab, Greek, Bosnian, Canadian, British, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Spanish, etc who are Muslim.  Islam embraces culture and actually Islamic law is very dynamic in the sense that it changes with the people, culture, customs, generations, technology etc.

This is why we say we are Greek Muslim.  I hope that I have answered your question fully and that it has given you greater understanding of us.  I pray that the creator of the heavens and the earth show you the truth. 

I hope that we can create a discussion based on sincerity, honesty and respect.  I look forward to receiving your top 3-5 questions about the other aspects of Islam you have.

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It’s interesting to see how people give dawah differently (tell others about Islam).  Over the years, I’ve learned what to do and what not to do but now I face a new situation: telling people who live in Greece about Islam.  And I am finding over and over again, that Muslims living in Greece are taking a different approach that conflict what we, here in the West, find to be the best dawah techniques.

I have been told from various Muslims living in Greece that they take a calm approach making sure not to oppose Christianity but instead to show the similiarities between Christianity and Islam, otherwise Christians will become defensive because they think that you are disrespecting them. 

I definitely agree with the part but about being calm and respectful for sure.  These are the etiquettes of a Muslim anyway but I have to disagree with showing similiarities with Christians.  (I’ll tell you why at the end; keep reading.)

For example, here are some techniques that have been proven to be best and that come from the way the prophets have conveyed the message:

 

1. Understand where the person is coming from

Giving dawah to someone who is sincere in his questioning will be totally different to someone who is cutting and pasting some aspects of Islam, taking things out of context intentionally and taking you for a whirl.  Also, here is where you will assess how Islam is viewed where they live.  Do they live in Toronto, Canada where there are thousands and thousands of Muslims or do they live in a small city of Greece where there is only a small minority of Muslims?

 

2.  Don’t get trapped on the defensive

Unfortunately, some questioners have everything planned to drive you between a rock and a hard place.  But, for the most part, the questioner is sincere.  I’ve seen way to many Muslims take the passenger seat and showing less confidence in their body language and voice.  We are carrying the best message sent to ALL of the worlds.  If I am proud of that, I want to show it with confidence.

 

3.  Focus on tawheed first

In the end, writing articles or talking with others about fiqh points like drinking, smoking, adultery, gambling etc. is not going to get us very far.  Sure, these are very important aspects, no doubt, but people will never stop doing those things unless they have faith in their heart first.  And to have faith, they have to believe in tawheed (the Oneness of Allah).

 

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “You are going to a people from the People of the Book. Let the first thing that you call them to be the worship of Allah. If they acknowledge Allah, then inform them that Allah has obligated upon them five prayers during their days and nights.” [Al-Bukhari, Muslim]

 

4.  Concentrate on the differences NOT the similiarities

We all agree that we are here to only convey the message.  Our goal is not to convert people to Islam because only Allah can guide.  Now, if you concentrate on only similarities, you are taking the passenger’s seat and not only will they see you as coming closer to Christianity, they might even want to convert YOU!  Here in the West, we’ve heard of stories like this when Muslims participate in interfaith dialogues in churces with priests.

If our duty is to convey the message of true monotheism, have we really completed our duty if we hide the message in order to concentrate on similarities? 

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I see more and more European news outlets and blogs such as this one talking about Islamophobia*.  If I was not a Muslim, I guess I would be concerned too, being constantly bombarded by heavily distorted and false propaganda, but really if you understand Islam and how an Islamic state treats and protects dhimmis with high respect and honor, there’s nothing to be afraid of.  And I’ll go even further to say that it’s a much better system than how democracy treats its minorities.

 

          Will Muslims be the majority in Europe in 20 years?  Maybe.

          Could Christianity die out in a century?  Allah knows.

          Is Europe afraid?  Definitely.

          Is there a need to be afraid.  I don’t think so.

 

This blogger seems to think so with her ‘see saw’ theory that when Europe is up, Islam is down and vice versa.  She has a point. 

The tides are turning and no one can deny that.  Br. Amr Khaled has stated it publicly as well as Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi here:

 

 

Someone might view this video and be afraid but there’s nothing to be afraid of.  The truth of God stands clear and everyone is given a choice to accept or decline.

 

*Note:  Just had to throw this definition in here to show our “Greekness” 🙂 

A phobia (from Greek: φόβος, phobos, “fear”), is an irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, or persons.

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What do I have in common with the people who live here? We both think that we have “a particular calling [and] a very special way for a man to serve God and Humanity” as they put it.  But unlike myself who chooses to integrate with society to spread God’s message, these Greek Orthodox monks live in an area called Mount Athos in Northern Greece, a place that can only be visited by boat and you need special legal permission just to enter.

 

I have to admit, it’s quite fascinating to take a virtual walk through their living quarters or see panoramic views of the beautiful Aegean Sea and the remnants of their castles that were erected to fight off enemies throughout the centuries.  It’s interesting to see that despite constant defense against various rulers, when the Ottoman Empire conquered that area, they admit that the Ottoman Sultans gave them independence and administrative autonomy as long as they pay a tax (for military protection under Muslim rule).

Of course, as a Muslim, the part I don’t agree with is the need for isolation and marital abstinence in order to reach God.  From what I see on their website, they do the acts of worship like pray, fast and seek solitude, which are acts that we seek as well but the solitude we encourage is temporal solitude like setting aside time for prayer five times a day, waking up for prayer in the middle of the night or even doing I’tikaf, spending the last 10 nights of Ramadan in the mosque in solitude. 

Allah rebukes monasticism (from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from Greek monos, alone) as a man-made practice that is not divinely prescribed as shown in this ayah,

…we sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy. But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of Allah; but that they did not foster as they should have done… (Qur’an 57:27)

Once, one of my relatives (who is non-Muslim) was doing some soul searching and asked me if he should visit this area.  He was expecting me to tell him to stay far away and to follow Islam but you know, in reality, I told him to go because if you are looking for God and the truth and are sincere about it, pray to God to show you that truth and He will definitely show you, wherever you are in the world.

It’s just too bad that I can’t go visit this area because I would have liked to have a peaceful observation and discussion with the monks there.  Too bad I’m a woman.  Apparently, there was an incident in the 1930s where Aliki Diplarakou, the first Greek beauty pageant contestant to win the Miss Europe title, shocked the world when she dressed up as a man and sneaked into Mount Athos.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I can do something like that!

 

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With recent posts about my escapade outings donning the hijab, I thought it was interesting to show you what the Greek foreign minister said defending Muslim women.

 

“Bakoyannis, the Greek foreign minister, blamed ignorant Western media for propagating misconceptions about the status of women in Islam.

“There is a general misconception, based on false readings of the Qur’an, that Islam treats women as inferior to men.”

 Source:  IslamOnline.net (full article)

 

 

 

 

The question that keeps running around my head is,

Why do Greeks oppose the hijab when its remnants still exist in their religion and people?

Last time, I posted a photo of Greek Orthodox nuns wearing full hijab but if that’s not enough, what about these?

If that’s not a form of hijab, I don’t know what is. 

A lot of people will say women can dress modestly but who defines it?  Is wearing a skirt modest enough?  Or loose clothing?  To what extent?  When we leave it up to people to decide, the definition of modesty will inevitably change from region to region, society to society and century to century.  Showing your ankles can be taboo in one century and tanning in a topless beach can be acceptable in another century.

 I found this short video to be a quick summary to the solution:

 

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Sr. Jamilah Kolocotronis, a fabulous author and dear friend, converted to Islam.  She has a fascinating Greek ancestral history that proves to be a struggle to her journey.  Here’s her story in a nutshell:

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In 1913 my grandfather left his home in the small village of Zatouna and traveled to Patras to earn some money. He was seventeen. He worked in a shop and at night, he told me, he slept behind the counter. Two years later, when he had earned enough, he boarded a boat for New York City, traveling steerage. When he left, his mother gave him two pieces of underwear and instructed him to wear the first on the voyage. When he reached America he could throw that in the ocean and put on the clean pair.

 

After his arrival Grandpa was processed at Ellis Island and placed on board a train bound for St. Louis. He couldn’t speak a word of English but there was a color-coded system to let the conductor know when each passenger should get off. In St. Louis he joined three older brothers. They slept in a large room with other Greek immigrants and worked wherever they could. A few years later he sent for my grandmother, whom he had never before met.

 

Eventually, my grandfather opened a Greek restaurant with his brothers and helped build the first Greek Orthodox congregation in St. Louis. He did what he could to raise his family of six, but practical life didn’t really suit Grandpa. He was a scholar at heart. If he’d been born to a rich family I have no doubt he would have been a priest, but his family was very poor and he did what he could to survive.

 

Years later, I benefited from my grandfather’s wisdom. He talked of history and politics and religion, all in his thick Greek accent, and I hung on every word. One day he gave me a postcard of the statue of Theodoros Kolokotrones, my ancestor, and told me how he had defeated the Turks. Through my grandfather I learned of a heritage that extended far beyond my suburban St. Louis neighborhood.

 

When I went away to college I began learning about Islam. But I also carried with me the distrust of Muslim Turks, the people my ancestor had fought in the name of Greek independence. It took me four years to convert. One reason, I think, is that I couldn’t take that step and face telling my grandfather. He died in 1979. I became a Muslim in 1980.

 

My father, the son of Greek immigrants, basically renounced his Greek heritage. But I learned much of it from my grandfather and my aunts. I grew up Lutheran but we went to the Greek Orthodox Church for weddings, baptisms, and festivals. As a college student I spent two years learning Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, and I can still read it. I never learned to speak Greek but I can make some awesome kourabiethes.and even baklava. And one day I hope to visit Greece and find the little village of Zatouna.

 

Author
Jamilah Kolocotronis is an author and an American Muslim from Greek ancestry. She has a doctorate in Social Science Education and has taught in Islamic schools for many years. She writes Islamic fiction for young adults/adults about American Muslims striving to live Islamic lives within the challenges of American society.  She especially likes to write about converts who struggle to integrate their non-Islamic pasts with their new lives as Muslims.  She has six sons, ages
twenty-two to nine and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Published Books
Fiction – Innocent People, about a Muslim family in the year after
September 11, 2001.

Fiction – Echoes Series (5 books), about an American Muslim convert’s struggle to pick up the pieces of his life

Nonfiction – Islamic Jihad, about the principles and practices of military jihad.

 

        

 

http://jamilahkolocotronis.writerswebpages.com

 

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A couple of days ago, I came across a blog of a minister of the Christian faith.  What caught my eye was that he had included a post called “The Most Important Verses of the Qur’an” but what made me comment on it was that he inserted the translation of the word “kitab” or “alkitab”  as “The Bible”.  So, basically he was saying,

kitab = the Bible  (<—- incorrect)

but, it is common knowledge to Muslims (and is easily proven) that

kitab = book, and is another name for the Qur’an  (<—- correct)

So, for example, he included the following:

3:3, “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book [the Bible], confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).”

He displayed the same error for 35:31, 29:45 and 10:94.

So, after correcting it and letting him know Allah is referring to the Qur’an and not the Bible and this is a grave error to include something like this on a whim, he quoted me 3:23 and insisted that there must be two books that Allah is referring to.  In fact, it’s quite ironic, because 3:23 is not working for Christians, it’s actually exposing them.  Let me explain.

Verse:
Have you not seen those who have been given a portion of the Book. They are being invited to the Book of Allah to settle their dispute, then a party of them turned away, and they are averse.

His Perspective:

We should follow the Book and Book of Allah (which in his perspective in both cases are the Bible). 

 

 

Summarized Explanation from www.tafsir.com:
Allah criticizes the Jews and Christians who claim to follow their Books, the Tawrah and the Injil, because when they are called to refer to these Books where Allah commanded them to follow Muhammad, they turn away with aversion. This censure and criticism from Allah was all because of their defiance and rejection.

 

My Notes:

The first book is referring to the past scriptures.  The Book of Allah is the Qur’an. And this is proven.  Also, there are passages in the old and new testament of the prophecy of the coming of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

From the old testament:

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him”. Deuteronomy 18.18 

 

From the new testament:

“But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, send in my name, he will teach you to your remembrance all that I have whom the Father will all things, and bring said to you”. John 14.26

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you”. John 16.7
In fact, you can find a detailed account here (click on “Christianity” then, “Muhammad (pbuh)” to the right for the article) that these verses are certainly referring to the coming of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

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