The Balkans confront rogue mosques

04/09/2014

Experts said mosques not under control of Islamic Communities breed extremist Islam and recruit jihad fighters.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 04/09/14

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Some Islamic Communities are trying exercise jurisdiction over mosques whose leaders come from Middle Eastern countries. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]

The Balkan Islamic Communities need to co-operate more closely with authorities to control rogue mosques and prevent them from becoming recruiting centres for conflicts in Syria and Iraq, experts said.

"Such mosques that spread radical Islam are growing throughout the Balkans," Ivan Babanovski, professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje, told SETimes.

Some people organise in private houses, buildings, even in bars, said Resul Rexhepi, head of the Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK).

"One such structure the police closed down was close to Termokos, two are in the Dragash municipality, and there was one in Decan earlier that also closed down," Rexhepi told SETimes.

But Rexhepi said BIK is not interested in putting these structures under its jurisdiction. "They do not meet any criteria to become mosques," he said.

Many of those who claim to operate mosques do not have building permission and illegal construction is widespread in Albania, according to Ilir Kulla, former Albania presidential national security advisor.

"The problem is there are imams who do not represent the official Hanefi trend, but follow trends from the [Persian] Gulf countries and the Middle East, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movement," Kulla told SETimes.

Albania's Islamic Community recently asked imams at such mosques to speak out against involvement in foreign wars.

But Kulla also said recruiting jihad fighters cannot be stopped by just appointing imams to talk in mosques, as recruiting is also done through the internet and direct contact.

"The first phase should be education," he added.

Rogue mosques do not follow the rules of the Islamic Community and frequently invite extremist imams to preach. A rogue mosque in Skopje recently invited Bilal Bosnic, an imam from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a Wahabi leader who has called on young Bosnians to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Macedonia Islamic Community (IVZ) does not have full control over two mosques as the presidents of the mosque boards are imposed from outside the IVZ, said Sulejman Rexhepi, head of the Macedonia Islamic Community.

"I have often reacted and send notes to those who encourage young people to leave [to Syria]. They do not realise what damage we are doing to us as Muslims and Albanians," Rexhepi said.

The Islamic Community must spearhead the fight against Islamic extremism, and state institutions need to get involved to stop potential fighters from joining conflicts, said Pavle Trajanov, former Macedonia interior minister.

"There are reports that in mosques other than the rogue ones imams are also agitating, and are conducting surveys of believers about their families, health and property and are recruiting in Kosovo and elsewhere in the region," Trajanov told SETimes.

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Islamic NGOs help funnel money and buy property to perform sermons and engage believers, particularly ones that are economically hard hit, making the security services' job more difficult, said Vladimir Pivovarov, former director of Macedonia military intelligence.

"The recent radical protests in Skopje started from one of the rogue mosques. The assumption is that more mosques are rogue than originally thought," Pivovarov told SETimes.

Correspondent Linda Karadaku in Tirana contributed to this report.

What can be done to counter the extremists? Share your opinion in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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