Kosova Continues Fight Against Wahhabi Infiltration
by Stephen Schwartz
Kosova defines itself constitutionally as a secular state, and female students are forbidden to wear headscarves in public schools, with religious instruction barred from state-subsidized primary and secondary education. But anti-extremist imams and professors of Islamic theology have been physically attacked and fired from Islamic teaching at the university level.
On March 8, Kosova saw a new front open against radical Islam, in the beautiful region of Kaçanik near the Macedonian border. The town of Kaçanik has special resonance for Kosovars. In 1990, Kosova Albanians met there to adopt a constitution proclaiming their independence from a collapsing Yugoslavia. The document was memorable for bearing the Statue of Liberty on its printed cover. Kaçanik is also known for its historic and graceful Gazi Sinan Pasha mosque, erected in the 16th century at the order of an Albanian grand vizier of the Ottoman empire.
That day Sabri Bajgora, a former religious instructor who had been named chief imam of Kosova – a new position in the Muslim institutions of the republic – claimed he was attacked on the street in the capital, Prishtina, by Musli Verbani, who had been removed as imam of the Kaçanik mosque. Bajgora is viewed widely as a lackey of Naim Tërnava, the Wahhabi head of the Kosovo Islamic Community since 2003. Tërnava had invented the job of chief imam, which did not exist in the established regulations of the Islamic structure, to accommodate Bajgora.
In Kaçanik the next day, a crowd demonstrated at the local office of the Islamic community, protesting against the suspension of Verbani from the Gazi Sinan Pasha mosque. The brother of imam Verbani stated that 1,800 local worshippers had demanded the reinstatement of the dismissed cleric.
Six days later, prayer in the Gazi Sinan Pasha mosque was interrupted when members of the congregation proclaimed their opposition to the ouster of imam Verbani. For his part, Verbani declared that he had never received any notice of his suspension from his religious duties. Two Wahhabi interlopers were arrested at the mosque, according to Kosovo police regional chief Jaser Jaha.
Imam Verbani is considered a well-educated and qualified religious official, while Bajgora has been denounced as a usurper since his sudden elevation to the invented post of chief imam for the whole country. A statement last year by seven professors of traditional Islam, who had been expelled from their academic positions by the Wahhabi chieftain Tërnava, noted that Bajgora and others like him lacked the recognized academic credentials of the moderates.
The Kosovars are victims of Islamist intrigue, but are fighting back. A handful have succumbed to divisive propaganda, including Arid Uka, the convicted murderer of two American servicemen in Germany last year. Kosovars point out that those susceptible to terrorist delusions are typically loners, separated from their ethnic roots, or opportunists, like Fuad Ramiqi, a Kosovar who had served in the Yugoslav army, and was involved in the 2010 Islamist attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade at Gaza. But in their homeland, Kosovar Muslims continue to demonstrate their friendship for America and their commitment to an Islam without radicalism.
Their attitude was, as previously during these confrontations, stated in eloquent terms by notes in the online comment sections of the Kosova daily newspapers. An individual signing as "Sadriu" wrote in the lively daily Express that the believers in Kaçanik were not to blame, but that the problems were caused by imams contaminated by "Arab-Turkish-Taliban culture" and forgetful of Albanian traditions. In the Kosova newspaper of record, Koha Ditore (Daily Times), reader Rita Lumi addressed the Wahhabis as follows: "Go to the Arab world, because there is your proper place."
The case was put most directly by readers of the sensationalist daily Bota Sot (World Today). A post by an anonymous Kosovar declared, "Musli Verbani, the imam of Kaçanik, with a master's degree in law, was a freedom fighter. . . . But the officials of the Islamic Community prefer someone who is uneducated. Imam Verbani does not have a beard or short pants (affected by Wahhabis). Let the local community side with the educated imam."
In the same site, "Danir" wrote, "Well done, imam Verbani, for being educated to a standard far above the others. Well done, for being among the first to join the war for our freedom. You deserve to be a leader, unlike Bajgora and Tërnava – where were they when war was raging?" Other readers denounced the Wahhabi religious functionaries as corrupt and dishonest. The fight for the soul of Islam in Kosova will continue, it seems, with great potential for positive results.