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How’s It Like to Be a Muslim Woman in Greece?

Being a Woman has always been a difficult task. To succeed in life, a woman has to have many talents. Being a Woman in Europe is hard since a woman has to be more educated, more efficient than men, capable of multitasking, able to raise children and excel in her profession while being paid less. 

What about a Muslim Woman in Europe? Especially a woman in a hijab? This is a field full of prejudices, discriminations, and slander.

A Muslim woman in Europe is under the microscope for all her actions, what’s more, she is not enjoying the solidarity of the women’s movements, since they contradict her principles. A Muslim woman stands alone and is struggling all the time.

Greece is a country with two different Muslim communities. The first one is the Muslim Minority of Thrace, an indigenous minority of 150,000 people who have been living there for centuries. It consists of Muslim Balkan inhabitants who used to move everywhere around the Balkan peninsula which was part of the Ottoman Empire. They include Turks, Pomacs, and Romans, all born and raised for many generations in this area. That specific minority was exempted from the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), according to which Greece as a free state exchanged populations with Turkey based on their religion (According to the Treaty of Lausanne the Christians of Turkey were forced to move to Greece, and the Muslims of Greece were forced to move to Turkey, which was was a very painful period for both refugee populations). The Muslim Minority of Thrace is Turkish speaking and has bilingual education, assigned Religious leaders by the state and still has many unsolved problems that cannot fit in a sentence. 

The wider Muslim community of Greece has more than 500,000 people from many origins, primarily from the Middle Eastern countries, like Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, but after the war in Afghanistan on 2001, more nationalities arrived, such as Afghan, Pakistani, and Bangladesh, making the community multicultural. 

The rights of the Muslims in the country are secured by the constitution, but the country’s policy has always been aimed at oppressing and underestimating the Muslim citizens, no matter what government is elected.

Still, in 2020, Muslims in Greece cannot be employed in the Security Forces, such as Police, Army, Coastguard, the Educational System except the minority area, and, of course, in the decision-making of the country. Thus, whoever wants to excel in a field other than Business or Medical, must move to another country, where he/she can gain an equal opportunity in life.

Despite the efforts of the Muslims, Athens, the capital of Greece, has neither an official mosque nor a cemetery, leaving a disgraceful gap that creates negative and distressing feelings to the Muslim population, especially to the young generation, who is growing up with the ideals of an equal society for all, and then realizes that religious identity can be an obstacle for equality. 

Furthermore, Greece has been facing a dramatic recession for the last 10 years, which has been making Greeks poor and desperate, trying to live in dignity, but leaving the vision of social prosperity behind. The religious wars in the region brought hundreds of thousands of refugees, who were seeking shelter in Europe, and Greece, the natural Eastern Gate, has become their trap, as they cannot go forward to the wealthier EU countries. About 70,000 people seeking asylum in Greece have been blocked in the eastern islands, where the poor residents of those islands are suffering as well, due to the poor administration of the situation.

The financial crisis along with the refugee crisis have created an extreme Xenophobia and Islamophobia rising, targeting all foreigners and mainly the Muslims, who make up the vast majority of them. 

Where does a Muslim Woman stand in this chaotic situation? 

The situation is really difficult. The woman is the core of the family bond in our society, but she must also contribute to the household finance since the salaries are really low and one salary is not able to provide even a small family. 

Let’s follow the life of an average Muslim girl in Greece: she attends Kindergarten School since 4 years old, finishes High School at 17 and goes to a university or some technical school, and the family supports her all the way. The majority of parents invest in the education of their children and want the latter to have a better life than theirs. They hire tutors, pay for foreign languages and private classes, they do everything in their power to ensure that their children have skills to succeed. This is common for all parents, no matter what religion they practice.

However, soon a Muslim girl realizes that she instantly has fewer opportunities and faces prejudices from a very young age, starting from the early school years. This is why a young Muslim woman knows well that she must struggle harder than anyone to have a decent life.

If she decides to wear a headscarf, she can start her own business, in terms of finance she will not find obstacles, but she cannot expect to be employed wearing the headscarf. The main reason for that is the Islamophobic rhetoric, which has reached a new high, and the Greeks seem to forget that their mothers and grandmothers were respected in their headscarves. To say more, there is no traditional Greek costume without a headscarf, but now a headscarf is a barrier that does not allow women to gain a position in society. So what do girls do? Many of them take off the headscarf to graduate from university without problems, and then continue wearing it.

In her professional life, this woman will be always overqualified and underpaid for the job she does, which she will silently accept because the unemployment rates are high.

This situation sends many families to migrate abroad, especially to continental Europe, where they can find a job, a decent life and can make dreams come true for their children.

When I converted to Islam I had no idea of all those issues. I was born and raised in Athens and I thought that nothing would change if a person converts to Islam, or Buddhism or any other religion.

I thought that we were all equal in obligations and privileges, had the same challenges and the same gains.

And I chose to wear the headscarf. Then I saw the reality. I adjusted my professional life according to the headscarf, and as far as our family business with my husband was going well, I was free to have any activity I wished. I cooperated with cultural organizations where we translated books, issued cultural magazines, I worked voluntarily with new Muslims, mixed marriages became a strong voice of the Muslim affairs of Greece in international organizations, I was even invited by the Green party to become a candidate for the European Parliament elections of 2014, which was something that gave visibility to the Muslim women and something significant. 

I believe strongly that the visibility of Muslim women along with their achievements is the key to diminish prejudice.

The strong, skillful and sophisticated voice of women is more than essential.

And if we’ve reached a certain level today, we must train and prepare the young generation, to boost their identity, to inspire them to work towards the right direction, to promote solidarity, inclusion and show to the world that we share the same Human Values. We need more success stories to be told because there are many of them, we just don’t know them yet. We need to share experiences and show proudly who we are. And I am sure the world will listen.

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