by Ilir Dugolli
Saudi organizations flocked to Kosovo after the war ended, and they began an effort to eradicate everything they perceived as outside the dogma of Wahhabism (gravemarkers, decorated mosques, etc). However, at every step they faced the resistance of the Albanians. With the war having just ended, the Albanians were horrified by this new form of destruction, a "peaceful" and much better camouflaged one targeting local religious and historical symbols, customs, and the unique indigenous understanding of faith. On numerous occasions foreigners were prevented from locally imposing their "correct interpretation of Islam," as the Kosovars remained true to the spirit of their centuries-old traditions.
Today, desecration of graves marked by stones, by inscriptions of the names of the dead, or by any kind of photograph of the deceased, is one of the most alarming signals of a new trend which, at the moment, seems unstoppable. To make things worse, no measures are being taken to stop this phenomenon. In fact, the vandals operate stealthily, which makes it harder to act against them. However, there is something clear and out in the open: the sense that now the violence and the destruction are inspired by the open preaching of some of our own imams.
Images from the localities of Sharban and Koliqi – where cemeteries have been systematically vandalized at night – remind people of Afghanistan under the Taliban. Coincidentally, some local Muslim clerics are becoming "inventive" in their interpretations of the sacred scriptures. Rather than base their teachings on the word of God they are promoting the word of mouth. It is not the aim of this article to deal extensively with the public utterances of the imam in Koliqi who preaches against raising gravemarkers. Suffice it to say that his interpretation is considered baseless. No rule against gravemarkers is mentioned in the holy book of the Muslims, so putting names or markers on graves is considered neither haram (forbidden) nor makruh (not specifically forbidden but better avoided).
The interpretation offered by the imam of Koliqi can be based only on the extreme doctrine of Wahhabism, if it is not simply a misunderstanding of one of the hadith of Muhammad. The Prophet asked his followers to refrain from venerating his image, with the aim of discouraging the return of idolatry among the Arabs. I will not allow myself to evaluate the competency of the imam of Koliqi, despite the fact that at least in this case he shows a lack of understanding of Qur'an, the interpretation of its ayat, and the necessary limits of a cleric's discretion.
The main issue here is that even if it possible, through creative interpretation, to argue that Qur'an forbids the use of gravemarkers, this does not justify the destruction of and vandalism against the memory and sensitivities those who have a different understanding of the faith. No one is permitted to incite religious violence in Kosovo, but unfortunately this is what has happened in Koliqi and elsewhere, as the phenomenon is spreading.
We must not forget that freedom of expression, which is used by some people to justify their poisonous words, implies a dimension of responsibility. This is quite clear in countries where people believe in freedom, rule of law, and democracy. Incitement of hate may not be shielded from the law even when delivered in the form of religious sermons. Inciting hate is not only against every essential principle of justice and ethics, but it runs against the very foundations of Islam.
What conclusion may be drawn from the words of this imam when he admits having told his jama'at a few months ago, "if you don't take them down (markers and photos on the graves) I will do it"? He gives himself the right to "correct" generally accepted practices through which Albanians honor the memory of their dear ones in eternal repose. This dangerous rhetoric and interpretation of religion has never found a place among us. It is only now that through the help of foreign organizations roving freely in Kosovo, they try to impose their ideology on that part of the society left helpless, outside of local and international institutional care. These poor people on the edge of survival are also served by local imams of questionable knowledge, who seem unaware of the effect of their own words. What other actions can be produced by sermons against the "unbelievers" and people of other faiths? If someone destroys the graves belonging to people of the same religion, believing that he is serving God or an imam, how much farther will he go?
The Sunni tradition is often praised for the absence of a hierarchy such as exists in most of the other religions. Among Albanians, this absence has helped to thwart any potential "interpreter of God's word" from imposing his views on those who have a different understanding of religion and on the secular institutions of our society. Now, we have imperfect, mortal, and sinful imams claiming to hold the license for interpretation of God's word, and the edge of the abyss seems to come nearer. A growing number of people believe in and work for the return of Shari'a law for the entire society, and for the unrestricted operation of the religious institutions.
As the situation worsens in Kosovo, and popular dissatisfaction and resentment increases, this will slowly open the way for some clerics who have it made their mission to fight against every "deviation" from their strict dogma. From this point of view, sermons like those in Koliqi are encouraging the devoted to accept violence. Today this violence targets graves, tomorrow it may easily send us to the grave.
Translation by Center for Islamic Pluralism
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