The year 2003 saw the flaring up of a robust campaign for teaching religion in schools, with a collection of signatures reaching over 100,000 in favour.
Now, with the approaching November elections for the municipal administration, the issue is up again thanks to pressure from the Islamic Kosovar Community (CIK), through an unceasing lobbying activity, to persuade Kosovo’s institutions to introduce the religion hour in the educational programs and school syllabuses of the young Republic, counting on the fact that many European countries provide for such teaching in their State school curricula.
The reasons for this campaign in favour of the religion hour can be traced back to the fact that some more “radical” groups of Muslim faithful think that the young generations ought to be granted a stronger, more “orthodox” religious education than that practised and proposed by the actual religious institutions of Kosovo. They believe, in fact, that a rigorous and controlled teaching of religion may guarantee a safer society,and a future more in line with the “healthiest” Muslim tradition. Besides, there are also those who point out that the introduction of such material would per se also constitute a form of defence from the risk of losing the young generations to “non-Kosovar” varieties of Islam and, particularly, to its more extreme wings.
What is not explained, however, is that such a reform of the organization of the school timetable would make it necessary to introduce imams in the State schools; these imams would thus also come into close contact with very young students.
In order to show the positive aspects of such reform, its supporters even remark on the possibility to increase job opportunities by recruiting people who have studied theology or attended the Madrasas of Pristina or those in Arab countries.
Thus it becomes evident to even the most naïve observer how this request made by the Islamic community is characterized by a certain ambiguity, if only with the purpose to trigger a particular proselitism in State schools.
Last August the Islamic community organized a number of meetings with almost all the political parties in Kosovo in the attempt to involve them in their pressure action to change the present situation.
But so far the majority of the political forces, both government and opposition, have expressed their rejection of such a request, also on the grounds of the present Constitution which defends the laicality of the State.
Some emerging parties, however, have started to declare themselves in favour.
The proposal has also been opposed by the Catholic community of Kosovo, fearing that the teaching of religion in State schools may turn above all into a way of imposing the Islamic religion to the Catholic minority too, if only because of the statistics: the population of Kosovo is 90% Muslim.
The Serbian Orthodox community, instead, has not even participated in the debate because its young people follow the Serbian Republic’s school syllabuses even though they live in Kosovo.
It seems evident that this situation will not be unblocked in the short term, since the priority for all political and social forces is the need to integrate Kosovo into the European and Atlantic context; internal issues can tackled successively.
The teaching of religion in schools remains, however, a sort of banner, which, because of its paradigmatic value, is periodically unfurled at every new electoral campaign. This shows not only the public relevance of the religious question but also the risk, in the absence of an adequate reflection, that it may be systematically instrumentalized.