Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Resurfacing of Islam in Albania

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Resurfacing of Islam in Albania

Article excerpt

In the twentieth century, Islam in Albania has ranged from being secure as the majority religion to being at risk for its very survival. In the first half of the twentieth century, seventy percent of Albania's people were Muslim,(1) mostly Sunni Muslim, but also including members of the more Alevite Sufi Orders like the Bektashi, Halveti, Kaderi, Sa'adi, and Rifa'i.(2) As a sign of the relative security of Islam in Albania, when Ataturk closed the Sufi tekkes (centers) in Turkey in 1926, the headquarters of the Bektashi Order moved from Anatolia to Albania. However, beginning with the Communist victory in 1944, and culminating in Hoxha's declaration of Albania as an atheist state in 1967, the very survival of Islam in Albania came into question. Since the fall of the Communists in 1990-1991, there has been a revival of religion in Albania, but the loss of Islamic clerics and the destruction of centers of worship that occurred during Communist times has taken its toll. What will be the future of Islam in Albania? What outside sources will it turn to, and more importantly, what residual sources within Albania will it draw on?

In this paper I present the resurfacing of Islam in Albania in 1991, the first year that public worship was again permitted. Notice that I do not refer to this as a "rebirth" or a "resurgence." Rather I choose the phrase "resurfacing of Islam" as more descriptive, both for the advanced age of its leaders and for the way Islam has not become the locus of a major political group.

To appreciate the return of public Islam to Albania it is necessary to understand its suppression. Therefore I survey the Communist suppression of religion, followed by the loosening of State atheism. Then I focus on particular public Islamic events of 1991: the celebration of Id al-Fitr(3) at the Sultan Edhem Mosque in Tirana, the celebration of Nevruz(4) at the Bektashi Headquarters in Tirana, and the celebration of the rebuilding of a turbe (mausoleum) next to a Bektashi tekke (spelled teqe in Albanian) in the far south of Albania, outside the village of Nepravishte. In reflecting on these events, I contrast capital-city dwellers and villagers in their celebrations, in their sources of funding, and in their records of the event. I then tentatively suggest that the villages and cities in the south and north of Albania, both border regions where there are also Christians, will likely serve as continuing sources of Muslim believers and Muslim leaders in Albania.

Besides works on Albania under Communist rule(5) and Islam in the Balkans,(6) my sources for most recent times include videos, tapes, interviews, newspapers and journals,(7) and my own fieldwork in Albania in the spring and summer of 1993.(8) Fieldwork in Albania in these times is challenging, due to the state of the economy and the degree of social uncertainty, and yet to begin to understand how Islam survived Communist times, and to note the directions it is presently taking, it is crucial to interview often aged Muslims there and visit villages whose activities have not been documented in any written form.

Communist Suppression of Religion

The policy of the Communists under Enver Hoxha was to replace the people's loyalty to various religions (Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism), to religious leaders, and to sacred places with loyalty to the Party, to Hoxha, and to the State. As early as 1945, laws were promulgated to dispossess religious institutions of their properties. This especially affected the Bektashis, a Sufi Order that included a fifth of all Albanian Muslims, as they often had their tekkes outside cities and depended for support on their surrounding properties. The Roman Catholics, who constituted ten percent of the population and were concentrated in the north around Shkoder, also suffered dispossession of properties in that the schools they had run were taken from them.

Further, immediately at the close of the war, certain religious leaders were imprisoned or executed on the grounds that they had worked for the National Front (Balli Kombetar), a group that lost out to the Communists, or that they had sided with the Italians, or that they were spies. …

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