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Religion and Society

The Red Terror has Silenced the Minarets but not the Hearts of Believers

A young scholar, Skender Bruçai, who was born in 1976, has led the Islamic community of Albania, which makes up about 60% of the overall population, since last March. He followed with great attention every stage of the day that Pope Francis spent in this ‘periphery’ in which the Communist regime for a quarter of a century tried to destroy religious faith in a systematic and inhuman way, but without succeeding.

Does Islam in Albania have a special profile?



Islam is Albania is ancient and is rooted in local tradition without deviating the universal principles of Islam. Islam places a great importance on justice, protection of human right, morality, and commands people to be honest and virtuous in every aspect of their life. We here have always maintained a position that does not manipulate religion or faith for political reasons or reasons of other kinds. The Islamic faith we inherited from our predecessors is tolerant and open to dialogue with everyone. Certain authors, although sympathetically, have mistakenly considered this Islam as “Albanian Islam”, but I am convinced that this way of living faith simply reflects the basic and universal teachings of Islam.



Amongst the faces of the martyrs of Communism to be seen in the principal street of Tirana there are also Muslims. How did state atheism affect the lives of Muslims here and what signs did it leave behind it?



For a quarter of a century in our country religion was prohibited by baseless and absurd laws that went against innocent souls, strengthening their incommensurable strength. People carried out their religious rites such as fasting, praying, in secret. However this regime did not manage to put out the light of faith in God in the hearts of Albanian Muslims and it was not able to impede their worship. Indeed, people continued to fast and to pray in secret. The collapse of the Communist regime and the birth and the development of democracy immediately led to the return of religion and religious institutions. Nothing and nobody can deprive man of love for the Creator. The ‘red terror’ silenced the minarets but not the hearts of believers. Albanians of all religions supported each other against Communist reprisals.



This visit has been wounded by the news that comes from the Middle East, in particular about the use of violence by the Islamic State against all minorities. What is your judgement as regards the self-proclaimed Caliphate?



We have all been shocked by what is taking place in Iraq; it is real madness and absolute ignorance. All of that has nothing to do with the Islamic religion. The idea of an Islamic State is beyond any reality. The question, as proposed by the IS, is totally absurd. Neither in the Qur’an nor in prophetic messages, Muslims are ever told to establish a state. Instead, there are hundreds of order and provisions related to justice, love, understanding, forgiveness and peace. This terrorist group has the goal of ruining the name of the Islamic religion in the international arena or one is dealing with an entire group of monsters who do not have the slightest idea of what Islam is. We have always appealed to our believers to stay away from such provocations. In addition, this has been expressed by official circulars sent to all the muftis of our country. As Muslims, we are quite aware of what being persecuted, discriminated against and attacked means. We express our solidarity to all those who are suffering from injustice of tyranny and cruelty. A true Muslim cannot discriminate against anyone, nor can he kill anyone.



After the Communist attempt to eradicate faith, what about the new generations and their request for religion?



Although we live in a era of extreme materialism and technology, more and more young people choose to practice Islamic rites. I see increasing numbers of young people coming to knock at the doors of religion. On Fridays the mosques are overflowing with young people for prayers. The Islamic schools cannot deal with the enormous flow of students, like the universities. The whole of the country is returning in an unstoppable way to religion, as it has never done before.



What can you say about the relations between religious communities in your Country?



God created us different, God created us into nations and tribes, so as to become acquainted with each other, as the Qur’an states. This is a divine definition, in which we firmly believe as Muslims. I do believe that tolerance is the first step towards acceptance of “the other”, and his way of living according to his own worldview. What we experience is coexistence between people with different religious beliefs, harmony between various spiritual traditions as well as interreligious understanding. We believe that this harmony in Albania is the greatest and most precious legacy which we inherited from our wise predecessors and we must preserve it very carefully. This is a task that belongs to the state as well. The Albanian case has occasionally attracted the attention of foreign scholars and researchers and finally, this is one of the main reasons why Pope Francis chose to visit our country. Relations between our religious communities can serve as an example to everyone.