An election in the Kosovo Islamic Community shows clear differences between two leading candidates.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 10/09/13
Mufti Naim Ternava (right, with Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has led the Kosovo Islamic Community for 10 years. [AFP]
The November election to decide the leadership of the Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) is shaping up to be a choice between an extremist cleric seeking to remain in power and moderate scholar who was severely beaten for expressing moderate views.
Mufti Naim Ternava, who led a process to amend the community's constitution last month in order to run for a third five-year term, is being challenged by Xhabir Hamiti, who was president of BIK until August 20th until he was abruptly dismissed by the body that approved Ternava's bid to seek a third term.
Hamiti's dismissal was on the grounds that he departed from a meeting, but the account is under dispute. He had opposed Ternava's bid to change the constitution.
"These radical (Wahhabi) or the so-called Salafi imported from other countries, with major funding and having space provided by BIK heads, have found space to penetrate into Kosovo society through various individuals and organisations, taking control of mosques and different jobs in the territory of Kosovo through the hidden coalition, which is open now between Naim Ternava and his clan and these radical groups," Osman Musliu, a moderate Imam in Drenas, told SETimes.
An estimated 90 percent of Kosovo's population is Islamic.
Hamiti, who was severely beaten by five masked men in his home in 2008 for his support of moderate traditional Islam, was also one of seven moderate scholars recently dismissed from the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina. He announced his candidacy in August 9th, saying he would be transparent and have a clear and stable vision.
"First of all, I will try to ensure the juridical status of BIC, as it is currently a phantom organisation and its workers are not registered at all," Hamiti told reporters, adding that the state should create connecting bridges with the community, including its status and finances. Hamiti said it is better that the state finances religious communities than have no control on their incomes.
Ternava has not spoken about the recent developments. His adviser, Vedat Sahiti, told SETimes that it was premature to discuss potential candidates for mufti.
About 90 percent of Kosovo is Islamic. [AFP]
"Officially, until now, nobody is a candidate except if someone can express his will, but that does not necessarily makes (him) a candidate, without the proposal of the forums and institutions of BIK," Sahiti told SETimes.
Kosovo Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms issued a statement of protest that Hamiti and his supporters were the victims of threats and violence.
"By not acting, not distancing from threats and lectures of some imams who have the least to do with religion, BIK has not fulfilled obligations as the supreme authority in matters of religion in Kosovo and it seems it is profiling itself as a political party that has the sole purpose of obtaining and maintaining power at all costs and in the longest term," the council said in the statement.
Another Islamic organisation, the Islamic Movement Unite (LISBA), said it would not allow Hamiti to lead the Islamic community.
"We assure the Muslim believers of Kosovo and the interpreter Xhabir Hamiti that it is totally unacceptable and (we) will not allow (him) by any price to come at the top of the Islamic Community of Kosovo as the only Islamic religious institution in Kosovo…," the organisation said in a statement.
Debates about BIK and its role have gone beyond Kosovo borders. The leader of the Islamic Community for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, Nexhmedin ef. Saqipi, accused Ternava and his supporters of interfering in religious organisations in Presevo Valley.
"BIK, rather than working for the electoral process and change its status in conformity with the independence of Kosovo, acts illegally, interfering with the religious organisation in the Presevo Valley, without withdrawing its delegates, whom it often inspires in spreading disruption and intimidation in this region and beyond," Saqipi told the Presevo portal Jehona Islame.
Muslims in Pristina protest in 2011. Experts say the Kosovo Islamic Community is growing more active in politics. [AFP]
Some analysts encouraged BIK of taking a role that promotes peace and tolerance.
"These are the values that the people of Kosovo believe and the philosophy of the work of this important religious institution in Kosovo should be based on these values. Only this philosophy ensures that Kosovo and its people will continue the path of construction and development," Valon Murtezaj, a professor of international negotiation at the IESEG School of Management in Paris, told SETimes.
Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of Kosovo Institute of Peace, told SETimes that the Kosovo Islamic Community was becoming more politically active.
"It is taking a role that does not belong to it, damaging the most precious values of Kosovo society, the religious tolerance," Ilazi said, adding that BIK "is trying to displace the loyalty of the Kosovo Albanians from the national identity to the religious identity."
Musliu said there are imams within BIK that are interested to fix the situation, but that cannot be done without the approval of the law on religions in Kosovo parliament.
"We are at a time when we need a transparent leadership which has clear long-term objectives," Musliu said. "But again I want to stress that despite these radical movements operating in Kosovo, the overwhelming part of Kosovo imams and believers stay faithful to Islamic teachings and culture that we inherit for many centuries now."
How can members help BIK leadership promote tolerance? Share your ideas in the comment section.