Miranda Vickers is mistaken about Islam in Albania
The Muslim Forum of Albania has read with interest Miranda Vickers’ work entitled “Islam in Albania”, published on March 2008 by the Advanced Research and Assessment Group of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.
After reading the paper, the Muslim Forum of Albania expresses its discontent with its quality. The Forum is concerned with Ms. Vicker’s paper, since it is filled with generalizations and in many cases with gossips, which diminish the quality of an academic work that Ms. Vickers pretends to have accomplished.
Many sentences and paragraphs of her writing, reflect a tendency to generalize and simplify the realities of Islam in Albania, showing thus a lack of knowledge by the author about the Albanian Muslim community. Since the author does not have a good knowledge of the realities of Islam in Albania and because it uses many generalizations, in many cases the author creates unfounded fears and Islamophobia. In some cases, such as on page 2 of the work, Vickers pretends that Albanians have brought down communism only to embrace the West and not their Islamic religion. She ignores the massive flow of the Albanians towards religion which followed the collapse of communism, whereby they opened hundreds of mosques and churches all over the country, and started learning and practicing their communist-prohibited religions. The wording that Vickers uses in her paper and her claim that the slogan of the Albanians in 1990’s was “Towards Europe or Islam,” make the readers feel as if the Albanians did not want Islam and God, but wanted only the West, which for its part abandoned them to the ‘Other’, which for her is Islam. This is a very simplistic and exclusivist example, which does not take into consideration the feelings of Albanian Muslims but refers only to the Islamophobes, who do not want to see Muslims living in Albania; are not happy to see Albania be part of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and have connections to the Arab World.
In her article, Vickers lays out some facts that would surprise any serious researcher of religions in Albania. In this context, she pretends that Muslim missionaries pay children for going to the mosques of Albania, even though she fails to give even a single reference proving this. In another paragraph Ms. Vickers, labels the head of the Muslim Community of Albania “Chief Mufti Selim Muca”, while Selim Muça is neither a mufti, nor Chief Mufti but the head of the Muslim Community of Albania. In another place, she claims that the Xhemati Ahmadije (sic!), which has a mosque in Tirana, but is considered as non-Muslim by the Muslims, according to her is a “a very strict Muslim sect from Kashmir”. And in another place she claims that one journalist that writes about Islam in Albania, was educated in a madrasa in Malaysia, while in reality he has never attended any madrasa in his life.
In page 3 of the paper, Ms. Vickers pretends that since the 1990s, thousands of Albanians traveled to Arab and Asian countries and as a result brought another version of Islam in Albania which differs from the Hanafi Islam. But even here she fails to produce any reference for this claim. The major theme of Vickers’ paper seems to be the repetition of the myth that the Islamophobes created in Albania during the era of Socialist rule, which claims that the Arab Islam is the bad Islam – and it is exported in Albania in order of destroying the Albanian Islam, which is shown as the politically correct form of Islam that Albanians must have. For making her point, on page 2 of the article, Vickers shows how with the opening of Albania to the free world, the Arab Islam came in Albania, as if the Islam that the Albanians have practiced for the last 500 years and throughout the World, has not originated from Mecca but from the Moon. Vickers pretends that the Muslims in Albania are threatened by fundamentalists who are penetrating Albania through imam trainings and their literature. However she fails to show how this thing is happening, and moreover she fails to show the persecution, prejudice and illegal expulsions that many Muslims, Arabs and Muslim NGOs have suffered in Albania, after the tragedy of 9/11.
Vickers pretends that with the coming of the Arab Islam, two rival factions have been created within the Muslim Community in Albania, the Salafis and the Hanafis. The Salafis are considered by Vickers as radicals and anti-modern, while the Hanafis as moderate. According to the author, the Salafis are a problem not only for the Sunni Muslims of Albania, but also for the Bektashis and they are perceived as potential terrorists.
For making her point about the threat of the Salafi Islam, Vickers connects even the assassination of Salih Tivari, former deputy secretary general of the Muslim Community of Albania, with them. Even though up to this day no one knows who killed Tivari and in many cases the Albanian press has alluded that he might have been killed by the Albanian Mafia, Vickers insists that he was threatened by people who had studied in the ‘madrasas’ of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, since, according to Vickers, he supposedly attempted to reduce the number of daily and funeral prayers of Muslims (sic). But even here, Vickers does not defend her argument with credible facts, but refers only to an amateur article published on Klan Magazine which fails to explain why this conspiracy theory should be credible.
Vickers’s narrative becomes even more intriguing when she claims that Albanian Muslims educated in foreign religious schools led by the Salafis wanted to change the praying rituals within the MCA (as if Albanian Muslims do not pray like the Arabs and do not read the Qur’an in Arabic). According to Vickers, the Salafis were defeated in their attempts to Salafise the MCA from the moderate elements. But even here, she fails to give facts to defend her argument.
Based on the gossips spread by Ilir Kulla, an individual who was discredited by the Muslims of Albania, and was accused in the media by many Muslims for his corruptive and suspicious affairs connected to Former Prime Minister Fatos Nano, Miranda Vickers pretends that when the Salafis failed to change the statute of the MCA, they threatened the director of the State Committee of Cults, Ilir Kulla and the head of the Muslim Community of Albania, Selim Muça. However, even in this instance, Vickers is wrong because Mr. Kulla and Selim Muça were not threatened by any Muslim. But it was Ilir Kulla who was going to loose his job in a matter of days, since the Nano government lost the elections of 2005, who created the false news as if he and Selim Muça were threatened by the Wahabis. Ilir Kulla’s lies were immediately refuted in the media by the head of the Muslim Community of Albania, Selim Muça who publicly denied the rumors spread by Kulla. Ilir Kulla’s games with the image of Islam in Albania were denounced by the Muslim Forum of Albania on 3/ 06/ 2005, which accused Kulla as a violator of the constitution and secularism of Albania, when he suggested in one televised public debate that the state should take over the control of Islam in Albania and not treat Islam as the other religions. The Muslim Forum of Albania denounced Ilir Kulla even on 24/ 09/ 2005 when he blackmailed the imams of Tirana by accompanying them to police stations, after pretending that they had threatened him. The MFA has denounced even the blackmails that Mr. Kulla made against the Mufti of Tirana, who was threatened before this, with execution, by one of the bosses of the construction industry in Tirana, since the Mufti refused to sell the religious VAKF properties of the MCA to them.
Even though the Muslim Forum of Albania has continuously denounced the slanders and blackmails of Mr. Kulla and the construction mafia in Albania against Muslims, Vickers who quotes the fabrications of Kulla, claims that the Muslim Forum of Albania is a religious organization, established to rival the MCA. To the astonishment of the MFA, Vickers describes the Forum as a Salafi organization. It is interesting to note that the first to spread out this rumor about the Forum was the Serbian press, obviously prone to link Islam in Albania to terrorism, trying thus to affect the pro-Albanian policies of the Americans towards the Albanians, and portray them as Islamic extremists. If Ms. Vickers did not have the chance to consult the Albanian press, where the MFA has answered to Mr. Kulla and has explained that the Forum is not a religious organization (Gazeta Panorama, 25-09-05), we advise her to consult the website of the Forum where the MFA explains that:
The Muslim Forum of Albania is a civil society organization whose objectives are:
a) To unite Muslim Albanians (be them Sunni, Bektashi and of other sects) in order of combating Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism in Albania.
b) The MFA does not, in any way aim to rival the MCA, the World Center of Bektashis or other Islamic Sects in Albania in their religious activities and practice.
c) The MFA is and remains a civil society organization, whose main objective is the protection of human rights and the right of belief, in line with the international conventions which Albania has ratified.
Contrary to Ms. Vickers’s conclusions, the MFA is not a religious organization but a civil society organization, whose aim is to defend the historical, cultural and political image of Islam in Albania.
The MFA was established as a response to the need that the Muslims of Albania had for confronting what the Forum has labeled as “a media terror” with which Islam and Muslims have been confronted for many years in Albania and Kosova. This slander campaign was sponsored in the media of Albania by Islamophobes that are attacking the Muslim identity of the Albanians under the excuses of Europeanisation, which they like to translate as Christianization.
The reactions of the MFA in defense of Islam have found great support in the audiovisual and printed media of Albania. As a result of the Forum’s efforts against Islamophobia, we observe that the media of Albania and Kosova have started being more sensitive and correct when talking about Islam and avoid offences against Muslims, that before us, were randomly made in our press.
Since the Muslim Forum of Albania wishes to make Albanian Muslims that live in Albania and Kosova feel part of our old continent of Europe, and that Europe should never be monopolized in the minds of the Albanians as only a Christian continent, the MFA has been keen to inform the Albanian public opinion that the integration of the Albanians in Europe will not harm Muslims’ aspirations for preserving and practicing their religion. For this reason, in February 2008, the MFA organized in Kavaja a symposium called “The European Integration of the Albanians and the Values that Islam Brings in this Integration” with participants from Albania, Kosova, Macedonia and Montenegro.
As a result of the above, we believe that Ms. Vickers’ conclusions about the reality of Islam in Albania, where according to her, extremists are conspiring to impose an aggressive form of Islam, or the ‘Arabian version’ of Islam which challenges the Hanafi Islam and the Tarikats of Albania, are wrong and unfounded. They do not represent the reality of Islam in Albania and are based on hysterical news and gossips that were fabricated during the era of Nano government.
The MFA believes that Ms. Vicker’s discourse is characterized by many inaccuracies. In most of the cases, it is built upon false news that were fabricated during Mr. Nano’s rule, where the government of Mr. Nano and the Socialists in general used Islamophobia and the spread of anti-Islamic sentiments, for their politico-religious games against the opposition.
The MFA thinks that if Ms. Vickers wants to be impartial in her writings about Islam in Albania, should consult all the sources that have been produced about Islam in our country. For producing a fair report she should consult even the reactions of the Muslims against the Islamophobic circles and must not adopt an Orientalist stance, whereby the ‘Orientals cannot represent themselves, but must be represented’. Only by doing so, Ms. Vickers will be able to produce a credible and fair study on Islam in our country.
For all the above, we suggest to the Advanced Research and Assessment Group of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom to critically analyze Ms. Vickers’ work, since we fear that inaccurate studies can lead to the compilation of unjust policies by the respective institutions. At the same time, we want to assure the Western public opinion that even though the Muslims of Albania pray to their Lord in Arabic and face Him towards Mecca, they remain loyal and devoted citizens to the principles of democracy and human rights in which our United Europe believes today. The Muslims of Albania have a great need for the democracy and the human rights which our common continent has constructed in years.
The Muslim Forum of Albania,
 Following the end of the one-party state and the coming to power of the Democratic Party in March 1992, several Arab countries showed an interest in development opportunities in the country. Albanians, however, expected an immediate rush of American and European investment in their country. When this failed to materialise, the slogan “Towards Europe or Islam” began to appear in media discussions. Yet even though Albanians believed then that the West had turned its back on Albania, they were alarmed by the decision in December 1992 of the then newly-elected President Sali Berisha that the country should become a full member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The decision had been made hurriedly without consulting parliament and many Albanians were worried that the move would align Albania closer to the Islamic world. Nevertheless, for a country in such desperate economic straits, at the time it appeared a logical move in order to provide an alternative source of potential aid and investment. Thus began the involvement of Arab-Islam in Albania. p. 2
 In many northern towns and villages children are being paid to attend mosques, in much the same manner as Christian missionaries tried to bribe Albanian children into attending churches in the early 1990s by offering them sweets and cans of Coca Cola. p. 2
 Its correct spelling should be the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat
 For example, an organization based on the outskirts of Tirana is run by a very strict Muslim sect from Kashmir called Xhemati Ahmadije, and has lately become very active amongst the Muslim community in the suburbs of Tirana. p. 10
 Since the mid-1990s thousands of young Sunni Muslim Albanians have travelled to Arab and Asian countries on educational scholarships, with many returning to Albania embracing different religious schools other than the Hanefi, which is traditionally predominant in the Balkans. P. 3
 Olsi Jazexhi, The Political Exploitation of Islamophobia in post–communist Albania, Islamophobia Conference, Istanbul, December 2007
Fundamentalist missionaries are making inroads amongst Albania’s Muslims mainly in two areas: training of imams and the distribution of religious literature. This reflects serious shortcomings in the resources and activities of the established Albanian Muslim community, which has trouble financing the training of imams, forcing many go abroad for their religious education where they are often exposed to fundamentalist teachings. p. 3
 She names the Salafis as ‘Selefiste’ and the Hanafi as ‘Hanefiste’.
 There are two rival groups within Albania’s Sunni Muslim Community, founded in Tirana in 1924, which is a loose informal representative body of the country’s active mosques. The Selefi faction is an anti-modernist puritanical school, which promotes a strict traditional interpretation of Islamic doctrine, whilst the Hanefi school advocates a more traditional liberal interpretation of Islam. During the past few years there has developed an emerging conflict between older supporters of the Hanefi, and younger men who have returned from religious education in increasingly radical Islamic environments, and are supporters of the far less tolerant and more radical Selefi school of Islam. This has caused particular concern for members of Albania’s Bektashi community practising the most liberal form of Islam, which has put them in direct confrontation with Selefi supporters. Although still relatively few in number, these young men are treated with suspicion by the older community because they are perceived as "potential terrorists", who are bringing unwanted and unnecessary attention upon Albania’s Muslim Community. p. 3
 Sali Tivari’s relatively radical ideas aimed at introducing a new spirit of moderation into Albanian Islam, had become the focus of much criticism in the weeks leading up to his murder. Tivari had spoken publicly about reducing the number of the five obligatory daily prayers and shortening the very lengthy rituals during funerals. These ideas had won him many enemies amongst Albania’s Sunni Muslim community. Apparently, just days before his death, Tivari had been threatened by a number of young men, mainly graduates from madrasas in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, who were striving to establish a puritanical form of Islam in Albania. Representatives of this faction, adherents of the Selefi sect, had been persistently trying to gain leading positions within the Muslim Community. p. 5
 MCA refers to the Muslim Community of Albania
 The following May, the General Council of the Albanian Islamic Community voted to adopt a new name – the Albanian Muslim Community (AMC) – with the view that the new name was more comprehensive. At the same time, an attempt by young Muslims educated in foreign madrasas in which the Selefi school is predominant, to introduce a proposal to change religious rituals within the Muslim community was defeated by moderate elements. The proposal was to change the meddh’bei (the direction of thought of a man well versed in Islamic religious rites), from the traditional Hanefi school to the more radical Selefi. Article 2 of the Constitution of the Muslim Community clearly stipulates that the Hanefi line is in the Albanian tradition. The Hanefi meddh’bei has existed for centuries amongst Albania’s Muslims, whereas the Selefi became known in Albania only since 1991 when Islamic clerics and associations began arriving in the country following the end of the one-party state. p. 6
 See the public declaration of Faik Cota, honorary member of the King’s Mosque in Elbasan, given to TV News 24 and other televisions, September 2005
 However, the decision by the General Council to reject the proposed changes in its statute angered some members of the Selefist faction, who vented their frustration by issuing death threats against AMC Chairman, Selim Muca and the then director of the State Committee of Cults, Ilir Kulla. It appeared almost certain that the cause of these threats was the public stance of Muca and Kulla against the extremist current within the Muslim community. In several televised debates, Kulla had repeated his growing concerns at the penetration of the Muslim Community by radical elements. At the beginning of June 2005, leaflets were distributed in three Tirana mosques demanding that both Muca and Kulla abandon their opposition to the proposal to change the meddh’bei from Hanefi to Selefi. Muca received direct threats by people asking him to reconsider his stance against changes to the statute. Meanwhile, Kulla received anonymous phone calls and threatening messages on the internet.18 The death threats resulted in the anti-terrorist branch of the Tirana police providing armed protection to both Muca and Kulla. p. 7
 Gazeta TemA, 14 janar 2005, Kercenohet Myftiu i Tiranes
 Just a month later a new religious organization – the Muslim Forum of Albania - was established in the northern city of Shkoder. The emergence of a new parallel organisation intended to rival the AMC), appeared to be in direct response to the AMC’s rejection of the request to change the meddh’bei. An indication of the level of support for this fundamental break with traditional Albanian Muslim values was witnessed by those attending the founding ceremony of the Shkoder branch which included at least three prominent imams of the city, including the imam of the Great Mosque and several representatives of the AMC in this area. p. 7
 Read: Gazeta “Korrieri”, 10 Gusht 2005, “Feja Islame perballe terrorit mediatik”.
 Under the pretext of working towards the internationalisation of Islam, extremists aim to impose a rigid, primarily Arab version of Islam onto Albanian Muslims. If their aim is the “purification of Sunni Islam”, then Albania with its combination of Hanefi Islam and numerous Tarikat brotherhoods represents an irresistible challenge. p. 10
In order to understand the Socialist Party
hysteria against Islam see:
Quote: “When Fatos Nano came to power after the elections of June 1997, he filled government positions with southern Orthodox and Greek Albanians. He developed close contacts with Greece which were not approved of by a large part of the non-Orthodox population. He was criticised for reacting slowly to the Kosovars’ suffering. At the same time he launched a hysterical anti-Muslim campaign against foreign Muslim countries…”
 Edward Said, Orientalism, New York, 1979, p. 21
Note for Editors:
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