Grand Mufti Naim Ternava is nearing the end of his second five-year mandate as leader of the Kosovo Islamic Community.
By Enis Rexhepi for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 26/08/13
The Kosovo Islamic Community is expected to vote in November on a leader. [AFP]
November's election for a new chairman of the Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) is developing as a choice between extremists and moderates who are vying to lead the community for the next five years.
Levizja Bashkohu (LISBA), a political party that represents extremist Islamic viewpoints, is opposing the candidacy of Xhabir Hamiti, a lecturer of Islam at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, who is considered as a moderate who can reform the Islamic Community.
"It's absurd and ridiculous to claim that he will come on top of the BIK, knowing that BIK represents the interests of Muslims and the translator Xhabir Hamiti has not the support of any Muslim believer, and furthermore will not achieve or meet statutory provisions that stipulate the conditions for candidacy for chairman of BIK," LISBA said in a statement.
Hamiti has warned that some imams are trying to organise an extraordinary assembly of BIK to make statutory changes that would enable Grand Mufti Naim Ternava to lead the community for a third five-year mandate. BIK statutes do not allow the grand mufti to serve more than two terms.
Ternava, whose mandate ends in October, and BIK declined to comment to SETimes.
An estimated 90 percent of Kosovo's population is Islamic.
Imer Mushkolaj, a columnist at Gazeta Express, told SETimes that BIK has become a troubled institution that has behaved in an arrogant way to voices that are not in line with its leadership and has not resisted interference from outside.
"BIK today is an institution that has deviated from its mission, and has become a laborer of suspicious individuals and groups and is not being faithful to the believers it represents," Mushkolaj said.
Stephen Sylejman Schwartz, author of The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony and executive director of Centre for Islamic Pluralism, told SETimes that with Kosovo's overwhelming Muslim majority the elections are very important because BIK plays an enormous moral and social role, given its responsibilities as administrator of local mosques in small communities.
"Kosovar Albanians have a history of moderate and Sufi-oriented Islam that is an indispensable model not only for Europe but also for the entire Islamic world," Schwartz said.
Mushkolaj said the elections in BIK are of particular importance, given that this institution should represent the majority of the religious aspect of Kosovo's citizens. He said that Kosovo needs a strong and representative Islamic community, and not an organisation that is subjected to pressures of individuals and various NGOs who want to realise their agendas through the institution.
"Elections in BIK are really a battle between radical and moderate wings. Today BIK is captured by suspected radical groups, which want at all costs to promote a form of Islam that has no foundation in peace, but violence," he said.
Schwartz said that Kosovo is not threatened by Islamist radicalisation, but rather by penetration of its leadership by agents and financing from other countries. He said he is convinced that Islam can be and will be an outstanding global example for moderate Islamic values.
"I would not say the elections represent a battle between radicals and moderates, but between individuals susceptible to radical influence and financing, supported by foreign ideologists, on one hand, and the majority of believers, on the other, especially rural and traditional Muslims, who resent radical and foreign interference," Schwartz said.
Mushkolaj said that BIK needs a deep reform with a clear vision rather than being influenced by extremist groups.
"BIK should reconsider the appointments of imams in mosques made in Kosovo, not giving any of them the opportunity to promote radical ideas, but to cultivate traditional Islam that has characterised the century's Albanians," he said.
Some citizens said that BIK should represent Muslims of Kosovo and should become more engaged on social issues rather than politics.
"I think they should take an example from the Pope in the Vatican who is dealing with social and economic problems, and leave politics to elected politicians," Dritero Gashi, a political science student from Pristina, told SETimes.
Should the Kosovo Islamic Community play a political role or a civic role in Kosovo? Share your thoughts in the section below.