Radical Islamists Reach for Control Over Kosova Muslims
by Stephen Schwartz
Notwithstanding its overwhelmingly Muslim population, Kosova is a constitutionally secular state in which women play leading political roles, none of them appearing in anything other than modern, Western-style clothing and hair styles. Fanatical Islamist moral standards are unpopular among them.
Imam Salihu's diatribe was condemned by the three biggest political parties, the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), led by the main figures in the former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), which preceded the appearance of the KLA and has always been committed to nonviolence and dialogue, and the "Self-Determination!" movement, known by its Albanian initials LVV.
"Self-Determination!" advocates an activist stance against apparently unending European control over Kosova. Fourteen years after the NATO air operation there concluded in 1999, Kosova continues to be administered legally by a European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX).
Imam Salihu was, nevertheless, defended by a new Islamist minority party, the "Islamic Movement to Unite," or LISBA, that as yet has no representation in the Assembly. When it began, under the title "Join!" LISBA's leader, Fuad Ramiqi, led mass public prayers in the streets of Prishtina calling for the erection of a "megamosque" as a response to the establishment in the municipal center of a Catholic cathedral dedicated to Mother Teresa. Kosovar sources suggested that participants in the religious demonstrations were mainly interlopers from the Albanian districts of neighboring Macedonia, where Arab radical influence is dominant in the state-recognized Islamic Community.
In view of the controversy his hateful remarks provoked, Imam Salihu of Prizren was discarded prudently by the authorities of the Islamic Community of Kosova (BIK in Albanian). Nevertheless, the BIK, which is headed by a cleric of pronounced radical sympathies, Naim Tërnava, will soon face a new test.
Tërnava was elected to direct the BIK in 2003, after supporting a constitutional agreement for the Islamic institution that would ban its chief cleric from serving more than two five-year terms. The BIK will vote for its top leader on October 15, and Tërnava is expected to run a third time, in violation of the charter he signed a decade ago.
Given Boja's hostility to radicalism, the diplomatic appointment was brilliant, as it allowed him to monitor the spread of Wahhabi agitation from its source in the desert kingdom. Still, Boja could obviously do more good administering the Muslim community in his home nation. Boja's staff told Duriqi's blog that he was following the new developments but had no further comments.
Musliu is widely honored in Kosova as the only Muslim cleric willing to risk conducting the funeral in 1998 of the KLA leader Adem Jashari, who was murdered with his family by Serbian terrorists. Musliu was dismissed from his mosque at the same time as Bilalli.
Vishi, who accused Tërnava of attempted to change the BIK constitution and institute a permanent term as its head, was expelled from supervising the Islamic council in the southern Kosova city of Kaçanik. But his adherents in the nearby village of Begrac backed him, against a further attempt at his discharge from his mosque itself, by Tërnava's clique.
Commenting on the approaching balloting, Vishi repeated earlier charges that Tërnava seeks to become the "sultan" or "monarch" of Kosovar Islam.
Kosova Islamic community voting is constitutionally open to any Muslim above the age of 18, as an elector or a candidate, regardless of religious credentials, and is required to be secret and competitive. Term limits in the Kosovar Islamic structure may be altered by amendment of the constitution, but such must be carried out by a two-thirds majority of the BIK Assembly, which is independent of Tërnava's office and currently led by Xhabir Hamiti, a professor of Islamic studies who was one of seven moderate academics, including Idriz Bilalli, deprived of teaching responsibilities at the Prishtina Faculty of Islamic Studies in 2011.
At the time, the seven warned that they would be replaced by "the promotion of dubious professors, influenced by foreign ideologies, with rigid and extremist orientations. . . . Behind this kind of professors are generous donors with plenty of cash."
Although Hamiti was also assaulted in 2009, in his house, his anti-extremist stand is popular, as shown by his election as head of the Islamic Assembly. Hamiti has denounced the ambitions of Naim Tërnava to become "chief cleric for life" as a "Communist" attitude. Bilalli has said that Hamiti will likely be the sole candidate in opposition to Tërnava, with endorsement by the Professional Association of Islamic Community Workers.
Tërnava, as reported on August 4 by Radio Television Kosova (RTK) and United Nations media monitors, denied that any form of Wahhabism or other radical Islamist trend exists in Kosova. One problem may facilitate official manipulation by Tërnava of the Islamic community elections this year. The date set for the polling, October 15, coincides with the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj. But Bosnia-Hercegovina has lately replaced another would-be Muslim "clerical sultan," Mustafa Cerić, with a presumed moderate as head of its Islamic apparatus, and the same may take place in Kosova. The conflict between radicals and moderates in the Kosova Islamic community bears close observation by all those interested in the current upheaval within Islam worldwide.