The arrest of radical Islamists in Macedonia linked to the killing of five persons near Skopje in April caused reactions in Kosovo over the possible presence of radical Islam.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/05/12
For centuries, Islam in Kosovo has been considered moderate, having no influence over public life, but practiced privately. Today, however, the apprehension from the spread of fundamentalist Muslim preachers and literature is a part of Kosovo reality, as foreign nationals can still enter the country without a visa requirement since the NATO presence from 1999.
Kosovo opinion makers say that the county's traditional Islam will not fall under the influence of radical views, while the pro-Western stance differs.
In a country with over 90% of Muslim population, religion does not play a major role, states the 2011 US State Department for Religious Freedom report.
"Religion is not a significant factor in public life. Religious rhetoric was largely absent from public discourse in Muslim communities and mosque attendance was low; however, public displays of conservative Islamic dress and culture, although still infrequent, increased," the report said.
Habibe Berisha, an Islamic theologian, claimed that Islam in Kosovo is not threatened by radical Islam, Wahhabism or Salafism [militant stream of Sunni Islam].
"Islam among Albanians, Turks, Bosniaks and others in Kosovo is purely private, not mixed with our public life, because there are Albanians of different religious orientation, [Muslim, Christian Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and others], and in order to preserve national unity, people treat religion as a private matter. But that does not mean that institutions should not respond to demands of religious communities," Berisha said.
He added, however, the Kosovo government should resolve the legal position of its religious communities.
"Kosovo religious communities are not legally registered; they have problems paying taxes, property registration, and other dues, and the government needs to resolve this. It also must respond to demands of religious communities. The State Department report shows several issues that need to be resolved," Berisha said.
Arber Fetiu, a researcher at the Washington, DC International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy, said the governments of Kosovo, Albania, and neighbouring countries need to adopt tolerant policies towards the Islamic community, and other communities as well.
"If the countries where Albanian Muslims live pursue discriminatory policies towards them, destroying the principle of [state] neutrality towards religions, it will necessarily produce a frustration for the oppressed, and such a phenomenon would be evident in any ethnic or religious community where they are subject to predominant structures," Fetiu told SETimes.
He added that that those who are part of a radical discourse in Kosovo do not enjoy the support of the wider community.
Seb Bytyci, the executive director of the Pristina-based Balkan Policy Institute, told SETimes that radical Islam as an ideology can find a place anywhere in the world, but argues that the concern over peoples' welfare prevents extremist ideologies.
"The single best way to prevent the growth of extremist ideologies is to improve the living standard, and instill a social safety net which does not leave room for people with ulterior motives to spread roots … Politicians and intellectuals should do much more to promote the merits of a liberal society, including the articulation of a mainstream conservative ideology," Bytyci said.
He pointed out that the Kosovo Salafi community is small, observing mostly Sunni Islam.
"Because the small Salafi community is more vocal does not mean it has grown -- it remains tiny. While society rejected new forms of Islam and kept its secular outlook, now some politicians are more ready to use references to religion to try to patch up their legitimacy and cover up their shortcomings," Bytyci explained.
According to Katriot Krasniqi, a researcher at the Pristina-based Centre for Conflict Research and Resolution, Kosovo is not a target for Islamic terrorism.
"There may be individuals who gravitate towards organisations involved with terrorism, but they are minimal and do not pose a threat to Kosovo or the region. The Western Balkans is not a target because the countries don't have stable economies, and the international political weight is limited. I consider the right-wing extremism and nationalism the biggest threats, rather than radical Islam," Krasniqi said.