Challenged by a respected and moderate Islamic scholar, Dr. Xhabir Hamiti, in an election for the top position in the Islamic Community of Kosovo, the Balkan republic’s radical chief cleric Naim Ternava has “amended” the Community constitution, which limited occupancy of the post to two five-year terms. Ternava won his first vote in 2003 and has come to the end of his second term, the maximum period in office. But on August 29, the Assembly of the Islamic Community of Kosovo (the BIK) revised its regulations to allow Ternava to run for a third term.

Balloting was to take place on October 15, which conflicts with this year’s dates for the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, so the election was moved to November.

The great majority of chief clerics or grand muftis in Muslim lands and communities are appointed or removed at will by government authorities, but are term-limited where they are elected. For instance in neighboring Bosnia, the chief cleric may serve only two four-year terms. The former functionary in Sarajevo, Mustafa Ceric, an open promoter of radical Islam, won the voting twice successively, beginning in 2005. His elected administration was preceded by his assumption of control over that country’s Islamic clerical apparatus during the Bosnian war in 1993. But Ceric retired this year, after 20 years in office and was succeeded by a moderate, Husein Kavazovic.

In Kosovo, Ternava does not want to leave office and especially not to be succeeded by Dr. Hamiti, his most articulate and credible critic. Hamiti was seriously injured in an assault by five masked men in his home in 2008 (not in 2009 as I mistakenly reported here), but has regained his health. He has served as president of the Assembly of the BIK and is extremely popular among the Kosovar Muslim majority. He might well win an election against Ternava.

Yet on August 20, Hamiti was discharged as president of the BIK Assembly. He was also one of a group of seven moderate Muslim theology professors thrown out of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, at the order of Ternava. Other conventional Islamic clerics and scholars have been physically attacked in Kosovo, and a series of anti-radical imams in major cities were dismissed. Physical aggression against traditional clerics included the 2010 beating of imam Hamit Kamberi in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica, divided by hostility between Albanians and intransigent Serbs attempting to maintain their hold over a major part of the independent state. The scholars and clerics victimized in such incidents blamed Ternava and his clique for them.

The BIK Assembly meeting at which Hamiti was deprived of his responsibilities as president was described in the Kosovo media as so tense that police were called to maintain order. The putative excuse for the ouster of Hamiti, a sophisticated and personable intellectual, was that he had left the meeting without permission, according to the online newspaper Express, known for its vigorous exposure of radical Islam.

Kosovo’s newspaper of record, Koha Ditore (Daily Times) quoted Sabri Bajgora, a fanatical assistant of Naim Ternava, who said Dr. Hamiti was thrown out of the meeting and relieved of his presidential duties for refusing to place on its agenda proposals by the extremist faction for changes to the Kosovar Muslim community constitution. These alterations included granting Ternava the right to a third term. Hamiti told the same paper that he had been removed from his post after he departed from the meeting. An official BIK statement said debate over the agenda had lasted six hours. Koha Ditore reported on August 29 that Hamiti had received new threats and is under police protection.

When he announced his candidacy for the job of chief cleric, Dr. Hamiti stressed his opposition to a third term for Ternava in a Koha Ditore and called for a state audit of the finances of Ternava’s office. Ternava has been accused of receiving funds from Saudi extremists operating through Western Europe. A valiant moderate imam from a southern Kosovo village, Adnan Vishi, charged Ternava with attempting to gain appointment to a life term as chief cleric, a position non-existent anywhere in the Muslim world or in any Muslim minority.

The turmoil in the Kosovo Islamic Community poses three questions: first, will moderate clerics and Islamic scholars in the country repudiate the BIK’s revision of its constitution; second, will Dr. Hamiti succeed in running against Ternava for the office of chief cleric; and third, if he were to defeat Ternava, can the moderate administration of Kosovar Islam be restored?

In a recent interview on the elections,Imer Mushkolaj, a columnist at Express, commented, “BIK today is an institution that has deviated from its mission. . . . Elections in BIK are really a battle between radical and moderate wings. . . . [R]adical groupa . . . want at all costs to promote a form of Islam that has no foundation in peace, but violence. . . . BIK should reconsider the appointments of imams . . . not giving any of them the opportunity to promote radical ideas, but to cultivate traditional Islam.”

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