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Religion and Society

Wahhabis in Kosovo: a foreign presence that is worrying civil society

The arrival of Wahhabis in Kosovo right after the 1999 war has been a cause for concern. Even the most naive Kosovars realised quite soon that this "alien" presence would lead to frictions with the local population.

 

 

Although initially Christians were the first to worry about the growing assertiveness of the members of this sect, even moderate pro-Western Muslims began to show signs of unease over their presence because they could see that the Wahhabis were becoming a threat to Kosovo's order and traditions.

 

 

Many Kosovars also came to see how Wahhabis began to gradually and insiduously create a niche for themselves in the country's social fabric in such a way that it was not possible to oppose them explicitly or stop their activities even if people were scared by the way these activities were carried out.

 

 

International organisations present in Kosovo are responsible for public security and law enforcement as part of a broader plan to build a democratic state, but even they have not been able to contain these groups and limit their influence which is so foreign to the local form of Islam. On the contrary, somehow international institutions have helped Wahhabism expand by promoting an unbalanced idea of "secularism" and "freedom", understood as the right to do anything one wants to the point that extremists and fundamentalists are allowed to do anything they want without limits or controls.

 

 

In Kosovo today Wahhabis are very active and visible in both urban and rural areas. Their approach is quite primitive, scaring people for its lack of transparency, which is fuelling inter-faith hatred.

 

Wahhabis are constantly trying to take on positions of power and control within Muslim institutions, but do so from behind the scenes so that no one can see what they are actually doing. In some municipalities they have already taken over and control local communities.

 

 

In the last few months some members of this sect have even attacked moderate Muslim leaders, people like Xhabir Hamiti, head of the Assembly of the Islamic Community, and Osman Musliu, imam of Skënderaj (central Kosovo), both of whom are public figures with great influence in the country. The two were probably attacked because they do not represent and are a danger to what Wahhabis believe to be the true form of Islam. These and other recent events have made people apprehensive. Many are wondering who these Wahhabi groups are and what they really want.

 

But the situation locally is at a standstill. Muslim community organisations can no longer hold these extremists at bay and want the government to do something. But the latter claims that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter, saying that it cannot interfere in the internal affairs of religious communities. The police itself cannot intervene unless someone files a formal complaint.

 

 

One of the most tragic consequences is that Kosovo Muslims are more divided than ever. Some of them still believe in a moderate, European Islam, a secular Islam that recognises the separation between politics and religion; others are instead backing a radical Islam with support from Arab countries who want to draw Kosovo into the sphere of influence of Middle East.

 

 

A case in point that well illustrates what is happening involves Shefqet Krasniqi, imam at Pristina's famous mosque, a Wahhabi sympathiser who during a Friday sermon attacked and insulted Mother Teresa of Kolkata. His sermon was secretly taped and eventually ended up on the Internet for everyone around the world to see. This caused widespread outrage at home and in the diaspora among both Kosovars and Albanians, who deeply care about Mother Teresa. The incident even led the Catholic Church of Kosovo to demand an official apology from the Muslim community, but it is also indicative of the tensions that fester in the country.

 

 

Another Pristina imam was instead assaulted and beaten because he had in his library some "banned" books, books deemed disrespectful to Islam according to the Wahhabis.

 

 

Danger is looming and fears are growing that a point of no return might have been reached in a country already badly tried by fratricidal clashes and still reeling from open wounds.

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