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International evening "Meet the World": Insight to being a Muslim in Estonia 12.03.2014

For the first time in Meet the World's history this event was not about a country. Held on Wednesday evening, March 12th, it was about a religion, concerning mostly its cultural aspects. Two Estonian women Kätlin Hommik-Mrabte and Kristi Ockba– came to Domus Dorpatensis to speak about what it's like being a Muslim in Estonia.

Since Kätlin was little, she wanted answers to questions such as “What will happen when you die?”. Later on she started realising that she doesn't agree with all the aspects of Christianism and instead found that Islam answered all of her questions. “I didn't convert to Islam, I just realised that I am a Muslim”, she said. Kristi's mother is from Estonia and father from Yemen, a Muslim. She always felt like she had to somehow choose between her parents. She didn't consider herself a Muslim as a kid but since she looked different, once even her best friend tried to convince her: “But you are a Muslim”. As a bit older, she did well in religious studies and was even a little embarrassed how much she loved this religion. It all evolved very naturally for her.

They had no tragic stories about them being a Muslim in Estonia. People here just don't care or at least don't show their emotions while walking past a traditionally-clothed Muslim. Kristi said that she gets along well with people and joked that perhaps people forgive her being a Muslim since she already looks different. Both women agreed that if you hang out with people who accept you as you are, then there aren't many problems. They admitted that in a sense it's even easier to live in an Atheist society because when you see someone that does know the Islamic law and still doesn't follow it, it's a little disturbing but in Estonia you don't have such expectations. By the way, it is also not that hard to find halal food in Estonia (we eat halal without even realising).They explained that the meaning of halal is to respect the animal, because it has given its life for you.

Both women emphasised that they don't want to do anything without understanding the point of it. Since they chose that religion, they constantly analyse things  and try to find explanations. But how do they explain themselves things such as praying 5 times a day or wearing a headscarf? Kristi said that unlike common opinion, Islam doesn't mean “peace” but “submission”. She said that since you submit to God completely, you don't care what anybody else thinks about you and that makes you very free. Once she realised that Islam is not a noun but a verb, an action, everything made sense to her. She understands both– those who wear niqab and those who don't. It is not a decision you rush into. The idea is modesty to some extent, many wear it for cultural reasons. There are aspects of both logic and faith. Is it rational? Wearing a mini skirt at -20 degrees isn't rational either. Kätlin explained that she wears traditional clothing because in her opinion, hair is the most attractive part of her body. Also, she wants people to appreciate her the way she is: a Muslim.

Of course, women's rights came up as a topic. Sometimes people are concerned if their husbands are forcing them to dress like this and sincerely offer their help. Kätlin explained how in some Islamic countries, it is the culture's fault, not Islam's, if women are treated unequally. People there don't know about their rights and that's why religious education is important. For example women in Kuwait won their right to vote because they pointed out that nowhere in the Koran is written that it's forbidden for them. At the fact that men can have 4 wives they laughed “as if it's a blessing”. In fact, polygamy doesn't come from the Islam. Before it was regulated in the Koran, men could have as many women they financially managed. So this number was actually limiting to some extent. In western societies some men still change their wives for younger models, but in Islam you could make it legal. That way there is no hiding, all women are lawful. At the end of the day women don't let second wives happen quietly, without their permission.

The performers also said that suicide-terrorists are hand-picked people: those who are not knowledgeable and are vulnerable. Many of them aren't even religious. Because in the Koran it says that you are not supposed to kill yourself. If you kill one person– you kill the whole humanity. They are just told that it's for Islam, otherwise they wouldn't do it. Interestingly, they also said that Islam is more tolerant towards homosexuals than many other religions because for conviction you need 4 credible witnesses who have seen the act and that's quite impossible.

The round of questions ended with a heated debate over the fact that Islam was forced on Persians. The performers thought that it's a political question. Nowhere in the Koran says you have to invade other countries and force them this religion. Another person from the audience got the last word by saying that you can't blame the religion or the people for what their leaders did.