August 13, 2015

Journalistic experiment: what means to be a Muslim in Lithuania

Most of Muslims start their life in other countries

When wearing the Muslim dresses we experienced everything during four days, including contempt, pity, resentment, discrimination, derision, curiosity but also sincere interest and generosity. In overall, there was more negative attitude of the surrounding people to us; thus, every time, when taking off the Muslim dresses, we got much easier.

Exaggerated attention of the surrounding even encourages a part of Muslim families to emigrate – Muslim Lithuanian females feel abroad freer.

“We do not plan definitely to come back to live to Lithuania – not as for ourselves but for our children. It is just horrible to think how much sneer we should have to suffer and how difficult it would be to accommodate in the Lithuanian culture“, – affirms 31-year-old Giedrė Cherfaoui, who grows up two children with her Algerian husband and has been living in suburbs of Paris for eight years.

fuori MaximaAnother Lithuanian woman, who introduces herself by the Muslim name Nur al-Huda, has been already living for five years in Tunisia; prior it, she lived seven years with her husband in Lithuania and a couple of years – in the other European countries.

“I have not visited Lithuania for five years, but, when living here, initially I had very big complexes for being the Muslim woman. It is very difficult to be the Muslim woman in Lithuania as you are an exception. For example, even though you can wear a scarf in the passport picture as there is officially established religious community and even a muftiat, migration female employees conceal it and firstly try to make you take off the head cover“, – 38-year five-children mother tells.

It was very hard for Nur al-Huda‘s family in Lithuania, and first of all, because of her husband. They spent half of their life in migration services. “We got exhausted, over-burned. We moved also due to the fact that the elder son had to go to the first class – we wanted that he learnt in Arabic language and lived in the Muslim environment. My husband would like to let our children study in Lithuania or other European countries but I do not agree with it – I do not want to provide them with such testing“, – the Lithuanian woman discloses.

Muslims have difficulties in Lithuania not only due to reaction of surrounding people to their wearing – it is difficult to them to follow other religious requirements as well. Practicing Muslims pray five times a day; however, in Lithuania unlike in the Western Europe, there are no praying rooms in the shopping centres, institutions or offices; moreover, many people are stopped by the thought what colleagues will think.

The Tatar Hamza Beganskas, the director of Islamic Centre of Culture and Education, admits that even his family not always manages to live following Islamic values. The man did not conceal that his wife also not always wears a Muslim headscarf even though it is a sin – the same as to eat pork or use alcohol.

Muslims also face other everyday difficulties in Lithuania. For example, it is difficult to find halal meat, which is suitable to eat for Muslims (when the cow is slaughtered trying to stress him as little as possible, saying „in the name of Allah“ and bleeding him), in common shopping centres.

Due to unfavourable public attitude some Muslim couples avoid giving Muslim names to their children or give two names – one Lithuanian and another – Muslim. For example, a girl can be called Jolanta Hava and a boy – Tomas Mustafa.

  1. Beganskas admits: he has the name of Aleksandras in his passport, though the most familiar people have been calling him as Hamza all his life. During the Soviet occupation, when Muslims were prosecuted due to their religion, most often any common name used to be written in the child‘s passport but he was called by the “true“ Muslim name in the kin circle. Neither to enrol university or get better job then was available having the Muslim name.
  2. Cherfaoui emphasizes that community of Muslims is increasing in Lithuania; therefore, she hopes that the situation is getting better step by step.

Nevertheless, the newest survey made under the order of the Lithuanian Social Research Centre, revealed that approach of even 42 percent of Lithuanians with regard to Muslims worsened during recent five years. After the events of the 11th September, terror acts in the editorial Office Charlie Hebdo and other tragic events, image of Muslim community was seriously affected.

Islamologyst Prof. Dr. Egdūnas Račius, the head of Regional Studies Department of Vytautas Magnus University, states that, nowadays, it is undoubtedly not advantage to be a Muslim. According to him, it was led by frequent bloody arracks related to Muslims, which were counted not in dozens during recent decades. “Identification of individuals, terrorists with wholeness is a great problem; however, when we speak, what religion and tradition causes the most violence, we will have to admit that in most cases it is that of Muslims. But, to prove to a person who encounters a stinking drunkard that not all drunkards are stinking and using curse words, is very difficult.“

Milda Ališauskienė, the head of the New Religions Research and Information Centre, says that when talking about Islam and Muslims, we think immediately about the Muslim, having seized an airplane and participating in beheadings. Such image of Muslims has been formed in the public space for some time in both Lithuania and other countries.

Nevertheless, M. Ališauskienė makes conclusion that attitudes with regard to Muslims really change when individual communication starts: when neighbours see that adjacent living Muslims are rather kind people and the manager of the company self-assures that a Muslim employed by him perfectly carries out his duties. „In this way, stereotypes formed in the society are being destroyed“, – she says.

It was also approved by our journalistic experiment: there are no doubts that sincere communication with met people helped us in search of both accommodation and job, even though overall reaction of surrounding people towards our appearance in public places was negative.

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