Posts Tagged ‘Greek culture’

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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Introducing our new section, Etho Ta Leme! This will be our open discussion arena.  Literally, this translates from Greek to “here we will say them” , coming from the expression,”Ta Leme”, which generally means “see you [soon]”.  In other words, it’s your time to shine!  Let others know what you think about the chosen topic.  Let’s make the first discussion memorable!!!


Why couldn’t you just find a good Greek boy?

I’m sure at one point in time, you’ve heard your mom say this to your or your sibling.  It’s the dream of any mother that you find that perfect Greek spouse.

As exciting as marriage can be, it’s also complicated.  To add to that, many are entering into intercultural marriages (which are permissible), especially in the case of Greek Muslims who are widely spread out around the world. 

Would you rather marry

 inside or outside of your culture?




Looking forward to hearing lots of responses insha Allah.  Let’s get a discussion going and connect on a whole new level!

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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:


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.


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.






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(photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtbphoto/124430789)

Often times, I find we particularly have a hard time with family because they look at us like traitors.  In their minds, we’re now Turks!  We’ve gone over to the OTHER side. 

And for Greeks, that’s just about the worst thing you can do!  I’m serious.  You can come home pregnant (outside of marriage) or basically become an atheist and still look better to your mom than if you become the baboolas, the big monster Muslim.

See, for many of us Greek Muslims, we still want to keep our culture along with our Islam.  And there is no problem with that as long as we don’t indulge in forbidden acts.  But how do we find that middle path? 

When I think Greek, I think of a Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.  Seriously.

A big loud, traditional dancing party with food for the entire village.   Drinking, music,  pure wildness and kissing from cheek to cheek. Everyone knows everyone.  And a place where really, anything goes. 

Try finding the middle path now!  As you can see, it’s hard at times.  Eventually, I came to grips with it and learned to take the good and throw out the bad.  Obviously, no more Greek weddings for me!  I now spend a lot more time with family, choosing the environment carefully. 

I’m very careful not to admonish others about their lifestyle choices but make it very clear to them how I choose to live my lifestyle and they cannot sway me otherwise.  In fact, I learned to give dawah through my actions and not my tongue, and now I’m a lot more respected than ever before.  In fact, my mom coined my new nickname, ei kaloygria (the nun).

So, the best advice I can give to new converts is to seek knowledge first.  Find a good mentor and group of friends who are pious and knowledgeable in Islam that you can emulate. 

Islam is compelling because it’s so simple and natural.  With further prodding, Islam can also be very deep and complex because it covers every single aspect of our lives.  So, when learning more about the details of Islam, it’s always best to go to people of knowledge.  As they say, you are who your friends are.

What are your experiences or advice about culture and Islam?

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