by Cristiana Missori (ANSAmed)
Four years on from its independence, Kosovo is attempting to reaffirm its native traditions and is calling on the West for help to avoid being swallowed by the slow advance of radical Islam, which is taking advantage of tolerant traditions. The scenario is one of inter-religious dialogue that is progressing at its own slow pace, without making any fuss and seeking to keep its distance from politics, and of a moderate Islamic tradition at risk of Wahabite contagion. As Don Lush Gjergji, Vicar General of the Catholic Church in Kosovo, explained to ANSAmed, ”the issues that Kosovo has to tackle are mainly economic in nature. The true problem is the high level of unemployment affecting the population”.
Don Lush speaks about the religious tensions, but without highlighting them. ”Inter-religious dialogue is proceeding both with the Orthodox Church and with the Muslims”. As the bishop points out, just a couple of months ago he held a meeting ”with the Grand Muftì of Kosovo, Naim Ternava and the Orthodox Bishop of Raska and Prizren, Teodosije Sibalic”. Speaking of a duty to provide a good example and to extinguish any tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims, he said, ”it is up to the sister churches to show this Christian attitude, allowing others to be themselves. It is indeed impossible to exclude those who do not belong to our own community”, Don Lush said. He recalled how only 3 percent of Kosovo’s population is Catholic. So how is it possible to persuade the monks of Peja/Pec and Decani to leave their monasteries? ”They have to overcome their fear,” the Bishop replied. ”The monks of Decani have started learning Albanian. This gives us hope of a normalisation of relations between Serbs and Albanians”. The General Secretary of Kosovo’s Muslim community, Resul Rexepji, confirmed the excellent relations with the Catholic Church and spoke of a small opening of relations with the Orthodox Church. ”In the past, relations were difficult. But now things appear to have improved. Politics should keep out of inter-religious relations”. As Rexepji pointed out, the country’s Muslim community includes Albanians, Turks, Bosnians, Bektashis and Roma. Today, Kosovo can boast of 760 mosques, while there were only 550 before the war. Unlike other countries, there are clear rules relating to sermons. “In order to become an Imam, you need to have attended a madrasa, to have absolved a competitive process, and entered into a faculty of Islamic studies”. Kosovo society also lives its religious nature in a different way to the Arab Muslims. Here, the great feast of Bairam (the Feast of the Sacrifice), is celebrated by drinking rakìa (an alcoholic spirit similar to grappa). There are few veils, long beards or traditional garments to be seen and it is the Muslims themselves that produce the wine and beer they consume – mainly in the Suhareke and Rahovec areas of the Prizren district. Another distinctive element is the presence of a Sufi brotherhood (a mystic sect within Islam), which is not just tolerated, but takes an active role in Kosovo’s religious life. The most important of these is the tekke halveti of Prizren, which has a following of 15,000 and has been practising its faith since 1713. As the General Secretary of the Muslim community concludes: ”We are not in agreement with the Muslim faith as it is practised in Arab countries and we do not intend to go in that direction. For this reason, we are concerned about the advance of radical Islam in our country”. For now, only a few have fallen under the spell of the so-called ”Taleban of the Balkans,” Fuad Ramiqi, who, through his organisation, ‘Bashkohu’ (Let us unite), preaches the total conversion of the state to Islam. But then? ”If the West were to leave us alone,” the Kosovo Ambassador to Italy, Albert Prenkaj, never tires of saying ”our country would risk becoming a pupil of the more fanatical Islamic countries”. (ANSAmed).