Albania: Starting Over
Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, publisher of The Muslim Magazine, with Shaykh Hafiz Sabri Kocki, Grand Mufti of Albania during a recent visit.
The Muslim Magazine recently had the opportunity to interview the Grand Mufti of Albania, Shaykh Hafiz Sabri Cocki. The Grand Mufti is one of a handful of Albanian Muslim intellectuals left after the catastrophic destruction of Islam by communists in the country. He received a traditional Islamic education, like most of the other intellectuals who remain, studying at the madrassah at Tirana, Albanias capital. He is from the Tijaniyya Tariqat, which survived communism largely intact, along with a few other tariqats, especially Shukriyyah. One notices immediately that His Holiness the Grand Mufti is a reflection of the ravages of communism "if you look carefully, you can see the fingers of His Excellency are almost destroyed" from the torture he endured in a communist prison.
Albania was once a thriving outpost of the Ottoman Empire. It has a population of about
3.3 million, of whom 70% are Muslim. Its Western border is on the Adriatic and Ionian
seas, Its South-Eastern border is Greece, part of the Eastern border is with Macedonia,
and the Northern border is with fascist Serbia. It is on the Western side of the Greek
peninsula. It is a little larger than Maryland, with about 29,000 square kilometers. It
borders the Adriatic and Ionian seas. The languages spoken there are Albanian and Greek.
The other religions represented there are Albanian Orthodox (20%) and Roman Catholic
(10%). The climate is like that of Northern California, temperate, with wet winters and
dry summers. Islam was repressed under communism. Fortunately Albania was not much
affected by the war in Bosnia.
|The Grand Mufti, the muftis of each city and Islamic scholars meet with Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, Chairman of American Muslims Assistance, in Albania.|
But under atheist communism, Albania has suffered. From 1967 until 1990, all mosques and churches in Albania were closed by the government. Before communism, there were "1,700 mosques. They left only 50 of them, as museums. Many of those mosques had been there since even before Ottoman times, because Islam had been in Albania since about the 13th century, from Syrians and Egyptians (traders who once did business with Albania)." Before communism, Muslims controlled over 12,000 hectares of land in Albania. Now they control "no more than one tenth of that."
The communists also eviscerated Islamic education. "We are poor. We are very poor in this respect. No ulama... [I]f I can get a person who can read Quran from A lam tara kaifa... up to Surat an-Nas, I am be very happy. He is an alim... We have forgotten so much. And the Latin script is very different from the Arabic script." Those Muslims who are educated are from the same generation they studied together forty years ago at a madrassah in the capital city, Tirana this is true of the Grand Mufti as well.
Tasawwuf has also been attacked by communism. In his words, tasawwuf in Albania is now "a name without a root." The tariqats of Albania were so important in the spreading of Islam there. The Grand Mufti says the strongest of those left is "at-Tariqat Shukriyya, because this tariqat has kept all the rules of Islam. The five prayers, fasting in Ramadan. They are Ahl as-Sunnah wal Jamaat." He says that tariqat was safe in the hands of the ulama, "but now there are no more ulama, so..." Tariqats that remain are "Qadiri, Melani, Shadhili, Helveti, Tijani, Naqshbandi." The tariqats cannot participate in the rebuilding process as they normally would because they have been so badly damaged.
But the communists were not the last to damage Albanian Islam. The Christians there are expanding their land holdings dramatically. Both the Catholics and the Orthodox are buying up unoccupied land and buildings. One sign of this is that there are now at least as many churches as mosques in Albania, although 70% of Albanians are Muslim. There are over 200 Christian Orthodox associations in Albania, with between 2,500 and 3,000 missionaries, according to the Grand Mufti. The Christians bring food to areas not serviced by paved roads and try to convert people to Christianity that way, although they are not very successful.
Typical apartment complex. The standard of living is extremely low in this impoverished country.
"Three years ago," His Holiness the Grand Mufti said, "I myself went to all Muslim governments" to ask them to take some young people from Albania so that they could find work, and "nobody answered." Christian nations (Greece and Italy) took those young men, and now many of them have changed their names to Christian ones, especially in Greece. The openings for work, unfortunately, came from those nations not intended to answer.
The deafening silence of the Muslim nations visited by the Grand Mufti is characteristic of the plight in Albania. No help has come from the Muslim nations, and very little even from Muslim individuals. The Saudis provided free hajj to Albania, flying people to Mecca and providing for them there during the hajj season for two years; they agreed to continue for a total of five years, but then they stopped prematurely for no reason. This aid, says the Grand Mufti, was used as the basis for a lot of propaganda by the Saudis. As far as building masajid, schools and paying imams, the Grand Mufti says, "we never received anything from Saudi Arabia. Never." Is there help from Turkey? "From the government, no. Up until now we have received support from the people but not the government." "We have some organizations helping from Qatar and Kuwait... but sometimes it takes months before we receive the money we need." The Mufti himself has had to call and ask for back wages for imams in Albania who sometimes go months without pay. Albania experiences all this difficulty although the minimum wage in Albania is only $30 per month.
Kids waking homefrom school in the afternoon.
The edifice of Islam in Albania is slowly being rebuilt. New mosques have been built now there are about 300. The next order of business is to get financial support for the Muslims there. Unfortunately, the Muslims who rallied to the support of Bosnia during the war do not know that their support is still needed for this nearby country, also an oasis of Islam surrounded by Christian nations.
The Grand Mufti of Albania has agreed to speak at the Second International Unity Conference this July in Washington, DC. He will address the plight of Albanian Muslims, and the work that he and other Albanian Muslims are doing to support and raise Islam there.