Nato Baramidze, 48, Adjara

„I was 21 when I was kidnapped. We were under the Communist rule then and every religion was persecuted. Families had to practice their religion in secret or stay away from the church. I was still not baptized when I got married. One day, my father-in-law entered my room and asked me which religion I followed. When he heard that I was not baptized, he gave me a book and asked me to read it. The book was Quran. I read the book written in Arabic 4444 times and embraced the religion of Islam together with the Arabic language. It’s not that the religion was forced upon me. Through Quran, I realized that God existed and that God was love. Since then, I have been a devout Muslim and I am ready to teach Arabic and the suras to anyone willing to learn.

In 1990, there was a landslide in Zemo (Upper) Adjara and we had to leave our village. A few Muslim families, including us, were moved to a village in the Gori region. We lived in hardship (one kind Christian lent us his barn to live in), but hardest of all was the pressure we were subject to because of our religion. This was the time when informal forces ran the country. Many military people and the armed Mkhedrioni members walked around robbing civilians. In Islam, there is a period of fasting, during which faithful Muslims do not eat food and do not even touch water until sunset. During the fasting period, my neighbor came to me crying and complaining: “Nato, they made me break my fast!” It’s safe to say that we, the Muslim families were forced out of our temporary shelters. We returned to Adjara – this time to place of my husband’s brother in another village.

My husband’s family has always respected my opinion. They accepted me just the way I was: lighthearted and free. They never set restrictions or brainwash me. I raised my children the same way. I try to give them a decent education, teach them many languages and not to decide things for them.

I proudly wear a headscarf as a sign of my integrity. I do not trouble anyone by wearing it, but as soon as they find out that I am a Muslim, they treat me like a leper. They think Muslim women are oppressed and I am expected to go about quiet as a mouse, with my head lowered. This is not true. With my life as an example, I try to change people’s prejudice against Islam. I was once at a wedding, sitting at a food-laden table. I was fasting at the time. I was appointed a toastmaster at the women’s table. Nobody knew I was a Muslim. I did a fairly good job of being a toastmaster – I was telling jokes, entertaining fellow guests. I did it so that nobody noticed my not touching food at all. In the end, I was offered coffee. I told them I was fasting. Everyone smiled, telling me that coffee was admissible during fasting. I had to tell them I was Muslim. They were eyeing me with apparent surprise. I realized that I had challenged the stereotype they had had of Muslim women.

Nowadays many people seem to think that the Muslim religion is based on violence. Many Muslims commit atrocities in the name of Islam. While Islam teaches love and respect. I respect Christ too. One of my girls was born on Christmas and I wanted to name her Christine.

I am a modern Muslim woman, I do not persecute anyone, I do not push my religious views on anyone, on the contrary, I think that different religions are built on one foundation, which is God and God is love. We must share opinions and support each other. Many people have converted to Christianity in Khulo, however there are others who do not wish to abandon Islam. They do not show it, but they carry Islam in their heart. A few days ago, my schoolteacher passed away. They called me in the middle of the night and told me that I was to observe Phati teacher’s final will – to bathe her body in the Islamic manner. I was stunned. I thought Phati teacher had converted to Christianity, but she had been secretly Muslim all along. I was proud to observe her will and bathe her body as prescribed by Islam.“