On Monday, September 27th, 2021, the fourth and last round table of the cycle “Orthodoxy and the ‘Others’ in Greece in 2040” entitled “Islam in Greece and Europe” was successfully held in Alexandroupolis. The speakers of the panel included George Kalantzis (Secretary General of Religions, Ministry of Education and Religions), Mohammed Elzahabi (Chairman of the Religious Committee of the Islamic Mosque of Athens), Nayla Tabbara (President of Aydan Foundation, Professor of Islamic Studies, Saint Joseph University, Beirut, Lebanon) and Katerina Markou (Associate Professor, Department of History and Ethnology, Democritus University of Thrace). The event was greeted by the Metropolitan of Alexandroupolis Anthimos, who spoke about the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Thrace, despite the occasional provocative actions that have occurred, sometimes supported by Turkey. In addition, he emphasized the need to strengthen the ties between the communities based on a culture of mutual understanding and solidarity, saying that it is impossible to expect the central administration to solve all the problems.
George Kalantzis then spoke about the current demographic problems all over Europe and about the economic forces that cause migration, emphasizing that immigrants seek a better fortune and should not be treated as invaders. He spoke of the need to respect all religions, citing the fact that in Greece in the past there has been repeated discrimination against citizens who were not Orthodox Christians. Furthermore he expressed his wish for the full integration of Muslim Greek citizens in society. He also stressed that islamophobia is based on myths systematically cultivated by the far right parties throughout Europe with the ultimate goal of overthrowing or restricting democratic freedoms.
Mohammed Elzahabi then stressed the fact that the human need for help, but also solidarity, knows no religious differences. The doctor or the rescuer, he said characteristically, does not ask the patient “in which God do you believe,” but first asks him “where do you hurt?” He spoke about his own life in Greece and through it, about the creation of the Islamic Mosque in Athens, which is an achievement, since it provides conditions for equality for Greek Muslims, solving many practical problems of the past.
Then Nayla Tabbara from Lebanon, who participated in the meeting online, presented the new perceptions that exist in the Islamic world about the relationship of religious faith with the secular state and the ways of coexistence of Muslims with other religions in the Middle East and North Africa. She also underlined that within Islam exists a lot of diversity, as well as evolution, which occurs in all religions, which becomes obvious in views that a few decades ago were totally unthinkable. Finally, she presented an outline of an Islamic theology of religions and religious pluralism.
The last of the speakers, Katerina Markou spoke about the ethnographic landscape of Islam in the Balkans, focusing on local differences that have either existed for centuries or have been created by political developments, such as the break-up of the former Eastern Europe. In this landscape, fundamentalist elements have emerged mainly in recent times of conflict (such as the Bosnian war), often abandoning their ideas and remaining in the region with a much more peaceful profile, while radicalization tendencies are exacerbated by economic hardship, by the absence of the welfare state, etc., conditions that give the opportunity to external factors, such as Turkey or some Arab countries, to interfere as protectors of the Islamic element in the region.
Among the interventions made by the audience, special mention should be made of His Eminence Panteleimon, Metropolitan of Xanthi, who offered his personal testimony of the harmonious and beautiful coexistence between the Muslim and Christian people of the region and the great respect Muslims express to the Christian clergy.
The event was coordinated by His Eminence Ignatius, Metropolitan of Demetrias, Chair of the Board of Directors of Volos Academy for Theological Studies and Coordinator of the Working Group “Orthodoxy and the ‘others’ in Greece in 2040”. The videos from the live broadcast of the event are available here (Greek)
The conclusions of the series of meetings will be included in the White Bible for 2040, which will be presented to the state and political leadership on October 18 in Athens, in the Senate Hall of the Old Parliament.