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Kosovo - Religion

Kosovo is traditionally secular state with a liberal Muslim population, where conservative Islam is taking root. There were about 200 mosques after the war in 1999. By 2016 there were more than 800. A new mosque is built every month. Kosovo is in limbo with regard to its identity. For many Kosovars, Islam has filled that identity gap and offered a clear sense of belonging.

Islam is the predominant faith of the majority ethnic Albanian population of about 2,000,000; the Bosniak, Gorani, and Turkish communities; and some members of the Romani/Ashkali/Egyptian communities. The ethnic Serb population, estimated at 100,000 to 120,000, is largely Serbian Orthodox. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Catholic communities are concentrated around Catholic churches in Gjakove/Djakovica, Kline/Klina, Prizren, Janjevo, and Pristina. Protestants have small populations in most cities, with the largest concentration in Pristina. The Jewish community’s largest population is in Prizren.

Yugoslavia's Islamic community, the largest in any European country west of Turkey, included about 4 million people, about half the number who wound up in indendent Kosovo. Yugoslavia's Muslims were concentrated among three ethnic groups: Muslim Slavs, located in Bosnia and Hercegovina and Kosovo; ethnic Albanians, primarily in Kosovo, the town of Novi Pazar in Serbia, and Macedonia; and Turks inhabiting the same regions as the Albanians. Most of the Muslim Slavs and Albanians converted to Islam in the early stages of Ottoman occupation to gain the higher social status that Ottoman policy afforded to converts. They were the only groups in the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire to convert in large numbers.

In 1930 Yugoslavia's separate Muslim groups united under the authority of a single ulama, (religious scholar), the Rais-ul Ulama, who enforced Islamic religious and legal dogma and managed the affairs of the Islamic community. Headquartered in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia's Islamic community included about 3,000 religious leaders and 3,000 mosques in the 1980s. Some Yugoslav Muslim officials studied at Islamic institutions abroad. Financial contributions from Islamic countries such as Libya and Saudi Arabia helped fund many of the 800 mosques constructed in Yugoslavia after World War II. In 1985 a "grand mosque" was opened in Zagreb after years of delay. The only Islamic school of theology in Europe was located in Sarajevo, and Islamic secondary schools operated in Sarajevo, Skopje, and Pristina. A religious school for women, attached to the Islamic secondary school in Sarajevo, had a capacity of sixty. The Islamic community of Yugoslavia published a variety of newspapers and periodicals.

Relations of the postwar communist government with the Islamic community were less troubled than those with the Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches. Yugoslavia's Islamic leaders generally had kept a low profile during World War II, although the authorities condemned the mufti of Zagreb to death for allegedly inciting Muslims to murder Serbs. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tito used Yugoslavia's Islamic community to maintain friendly relations with oil-producing Arab countries because Yugoslavia needed access to inexpensive oil. But after the 1979 fundamentalist revolution in Iran, the Yugoslav government reviewed its policy on potentially destabilizing contacts between Yugoslav Muslims and Middle Eastern governments. The ulama responded by disavowing all connection with the pan-Islamic movement.

After independence, Gulf-funded Islamic charities radicalized poor communities The charities have penetrated communities that have been neglected by the government and where unemployment is around 50 percent, making young men easy targets for indoctrination. In late 2014, Kosovar officials closed 14 Middle Eastern-funded charities, which were suspected of having ties to Islamic extremist groups. In addition to Saudi-funded organizations, Turkish and Iranian charities have also been closed in from 2014 to 2016.

Besides mainstream Sunni Islam, the Yugoslav Muslim population also included several small groups such as the Bektashi dervishes. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Bektashi sect was one of the official religions of Kosovo under the tolerant policy of the Ottoman Turks. Its practice disregards much of traditional Islamic ritual and contains some Christian elements, especially in areas where Christianity is the prevalent religion. After Turkey dissolved its Bektashi orders in 1925, the sect survived only in the Balkans.

The Islamic Community of Kosovo, an independent institution that oversees Islamic affairs in the country through an appointed mufti, or religious leader, has tried to keep tight control over Islamic activities. But the institution has been accused by critics of being lax about the registration of official mosques, and allowing unregistered religious schools and informal mosques to flourish throughout the country.

The constitution and other laws and policies of independent Kosovo protect religious freedom. The law affirms the right to freedom of expression, conscience, and religion for all residents regardless of their religious convictions. It provides for the separation of religious communities from public institutions and for equal rights for all religious communities, stipulates that there is no official religion, and prohibits discrimination based on religion and ethnicity. There is no legal mechanism to register religious groups.

Religious leaders stated the lack of a mechanism for religious groups to register and obtain legal status created a number of practical challenges. Although many groups found alternative methods, a number of them reported challenges in owning and registering property and vehicles, opening bank accounts, and paying taxes on employees’ salaries.

Protestants continued to allege institutional discrimination by central and municipal governments. They complained of not being allowed to establish a Protestant cemetery, which frequently resulted in Protestants being buried in Muslim graveyards and Muslim clerics performing funeral services for Protestants. Protestants claimed this circumstance was a violation of their right to be buried among those of their faith and the imposition of another religious tradition.

The Kosovo Islamic Community (known by its Albanian-language acronym BIK) and Muslim-oriented nongovernmental organizations reported that students were prevented from attending public schools while wearing Islamic headscarves. In 2010 the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology issued an administrative instruction prohibiting pre-university students from wearing Islamic headscarves. School administrators selectively applied this instruction and previous instructions from the ministry. The BIK reported that during the year 2011 at least 13 students were expelled from schools for wearing headscarves. The Ombudsperson’s office reported that three additional pre-university students were not allowed to attend school while wearing headscarves and two university students were not allowed to attend the Faculty of Education while wearing headscarves.

In August 2011 the Assembly reviewed draft legislation to establish special protective zones for the historic center of Prizren and the village of Velika Hoca/Hoce e Madhe, which contain numerous examples of religious and cultural heritage dating as far back as the thirteenth century. This process resulted in heated debates and criticism that the laws would create special status for Serb cultural objects. Many parliamentarians made claims about the country’s Serbian cultural heritage that some Serbs considered offensive. SOC representatives expressed concern that the Assembly’s stance on these two draft laws represented a troubling opposition to the Ahtisaari Plan-mandated protection of the SOC.

As many as 40 percent of the two million people living in Kosovo are unemployed. Frustrated they start embracing a version of Islam we have never had here before. The more liberal version of Islam is losing its ground with an estimated 50,000 or so ethnic Albanians having switched to hardline Islam and women in traditional Muslim attire more and more visible in the streets of Pristina.

Local authorities say that 316 Kosovans, including 44 women and 27 children, have fought in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan on the side of the terrorist groups. 117 have returned home and an estimated 140 still remain in the war zones. By 2017 at least 237 people were being investigated on charges of committing terrorist acts and recruiting and financing terrorists, and 127 people had been arrested since 2013.





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Page last modified: 11-03-2017 16:49:07 ZULU