Accepted Paper:

Muslims and Christian holy places as a strategy of coping with differences  


Karolina Bielenin-Lenczowska (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

Western Macedonia is inhabited mostly by Muslims, but signs of Christians presence remained visible. Their holy places are often visited by Muslims who are looking for magical ways of healing. These practices are explained as necessity for emphasizing similarities between Islam and Christianity.

Paper long abstract:

Based on fieldwork in Western Macedonia, I examine Muslim uses of Orthodox churches and monasteries. Today only Muslims live in the villages I researched although in the 1960s and 1970s these places were also inhabited by Orthodox Christians. These Christians moved to the cities looking for jobs and education while for the most part the Muslims remained behind (although recently these too have started to migrate abroad). In all villages there were two parts (maalo) of Christians and Muslims as well as two temples (church and mosque).

Interlocutors recall this neighbourhood as very close and friendly. They point a necessity of cooperating since they used to live and work together, i.e. all depended on others. The politics of neighbourliness revealed in paying and receiving visits, exchanging gifts and respecting of others' feasts and customs.

Even though currently Christians have not lived in villages of Western Macedonia, material signs of their presence still exist. Those are churches, monasteries, cemeteries. Christian holy places are often visited by Muslims who need some magical ways for healing. They frequent monasteries or churches to light candles for health and happiness. It is commonly believed between Muslims that sleeping in monasteries improves health and cures diseases.

Interlocutors' explanations depict a need for defining differences between Christianity and Islam and diminish them by emphasizing similarities between feasts and values presented in the Bible and in the Koran. Christian temples are defined as "houses of God", i.e. are put on a par with mosques.

Panel W018
Mutuality and difference in multireligious local communities: the politics of neighbourliness