Albania Jails Radical Imam, Welcomes New Synagogue
by Stephen Schwartz
The isolated and often-derided country of Albania, with a Muslim majority amounting to 70 percent of its three million citizens, has lately illustrated that small nations may often have great ideas, or, at least, may act responsibly in the face of major challenges that cause bigger powers to procrastinate.
On Friday, December 17, Muhammad Abdullahi, a prominent imam in the Albanian port of Durres, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for jihadist incitement. Abdullahi had posted extremist sermons on an Albanian-language Wahhabi website, http://www.albselefet.net/.
Abdullahi worked in 2002 as the Albanian representative of the Al-Haramain Foundation, a Saudi-based global network named by the U.S. Treasury in 2004 as having "provided financial, material, and logistical support" to al Qaeda. The head of the U.S. branch of Al-Haramain, Pete Seda, an Iranian native, was found guilty in September 2010, by a federal court in Oregon, of financing radical activities in Chechnya through smuggling and money laundering. Al-Haramain in America also sent copies of the notorious Saudi-Wahhabi edition of the Koran to convicts in U.S. prisons, from an office in the Oregon town of Ashland.
The Albanian imam had been investigated in 2003 in the murder of the moderate secretary of the official Albanian Islamic Community, Salih Tivari. Abdullahi was never charged in the Tivari affair.
Simultaneous with its legal blow against Wahhabism, the Albanian govermment welcomed the foundation of a new Jewish synagogue in Tirana, the national capital. The synagogue was established by the Brussels-based Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) and named "Hechal Shlomo" after the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, who visited Tirana to participate in the official opening of the synagogue.
The RCE expressed delight over the opportunity for Albanian Jews to hold religious services in Tirana for the first time since the beginning of World War II. Albania had a small but long-established Jewish community, although Judaism, like all other religions, was mercilessly suppressed under the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha and his successors. With the fall of communism in the country in 1991, at least 500 Albanian Jews departed for the United States and Israel.
Albania today has between 150 and 250 Jews. The new synagogue will be led by Albania's first-ever Chief Rabbi, Yoel Kaplan. Albanian president Salih Berisha had appealed to the RCE for help in establishing the synagogue and rabbinate during a visit to Brussels in April. Berisha declared, "The Jewish Community is welcome to practice its religion and promote its culture in Albania, like every other religion." The "religion" of jihad, however, is obviously excepted.