Albanian Muslims: The challenges they face in Europe (Part 5)
Albanian Muslims under the Communist Regime
Albanian Muslims have experienced enormous cruelties during the communist regime. People were not allowed to practice religion openly. Even Minarets were removed from mosques and organized religion was banned under communist leadership.
As Kujtim Dervishi, a principal at Shamia School recalls,” I remember my parents fasting secretly, if they woke up for (Sehri) Suhoor, they would keep the lights off so that nobody could see them,”.
“There was so much pressure from the authorities and it was forbidden to fast during Ramadan,” Dervishi said.
“They would humiliate you in the middle of the public squares if they found out that you were fasting,” Kujtim Dervishi added. “When children went to school they were forced to drink water to break the fast,” he regretted.
For 46 years from 1946 to 1992, Albanian Muslims were isolated from the rest of the world. But since the fall of communism, many things changed in Albania. Albanian Muslims fast publically now which helps them to keep this tradition alive for future generations. They are recovering from a very painful past.
After the disintegration of Yugoslavia
After the decline of communism and due to the persecution during that regime, Albanian Muslims voted for democracy and its institutions. In that scenario, they also supported the idea of religion being a personal matter. They favored the separation of state from religion. Today, Albania has no official religion and it’s a secular parliamentary state.
Albania following the disintegration rushed into the process of westernization and accession to the EU. Albania got its membership in NATO in 2009. It has got an official candidate status but its application to join the EU has not been accepted so far.
But still, Albania has not influenced the geopolitical affairs of the Balkans although it has been a member of NATO. Due to the economic and political instability in the region, Albania is a very important country at least for Albanian Muslims living in Chamrea (Greece), Macedonia, and Kosovo. Religious, cultural, and moral disharmony also affect the Albanian Muslims which requires responsible leadership.
Declining Religious identity of Albanian Muslims
Today the capital city Tirana doesn’t reflect hundred years of Muslim rule although it was established by Muslim chiefs. One can find big Catholic and Orthodox churches in the city. But only a few mosques and Ethem Bey mosque have survived the oppression of the communist era.
Tirana authorities have declined the requests for building new mosques or the Ottoman endowments returning to them. Turkey can pursue its legal procedure to support those in Albania who demand returning of the endowments which have been mostly privatized in the 1990s.
The image of Albanian Muslims is changing. According to the 2011 census, the Muslim population has been declared as 56.70% (1,587,608). It was 72 % in 1947 and it is feared that the demographic situation of Albania will greatly change. Surprisingly, Baktashis Muslims have been placed in a separate group.
A large number of Greeks schools have been established which can raise orthodox generation while Madrasas have been closed down. Most of the Albanian Muslims have not yet adopted an Islamic code of conduct after the fall of a secular communist state. That is also one of the reasons that Albanian Muslims are not actively visible in the religious and social life of the country.
(To be continued)
(Written by Ijaz Ali, a freelance journalist from Pakistan. He holds a Master Degree in European Studies from Germany and can be reached at [email protected])