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Moderate Clerics Purged from Kosovo Muslim Leadership

12:03 PM, Oct 5, 2011 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Kosovo’s top Islamic cleric, Naim Ternava, last month purged the two most outspoken anti-radical preachers from the local Sunni religious apparatus. The dismissal of Mullah Osman Musliu of the Drenas region and Imam Idriz Bilalli of the Podujeva municipality—both proven moderates—from the official Islamic Community of Kosovo followed the foundation by Musliu, Bilalli, and others of a Professional Association of Islamic Community Workers as a platform for their criticism of Ternava, whom they accuse of sympathy for extremist ideology.

Musliu was brutally attacked in 2009 by a gang of fundamentalist Wahhabis. The assailants were identified as strangers by Muslims in the locality. But they were easy to detect as Wahhabis, with characteristic unkempt beards and short breeches of a kind unknown in the Balkans except among Islamist fanatics. Wahhabis claim that Muhammad did not trim his beard, and did not let his garments touch the ground. Although these claims are matters of legend, the Saudi-financed and Pakistani-directed agitators claim that affecting distinctive facial hair and a peculiar costume are necessary to restore the purity of early Islam.

Neither the first nor the last moderate Kosovar Muslim representative to be physically assaulted by Islamist radicals, Musliu was a victim in an intimidation campaign that began in the small, Muslim-majority Balkan republic at the end of 2008. But the Wahhabis made a significant mistake in their aggression against Musliu, who is known among Kosovars for his willingness to serve alone as imam at the funeral in 1998 of Adem Jashari, the main early commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Jashari was killed by Serb soldiers, along with 57 of his relatives, in the burning of his home. When he was targeted by extremists in 2009, Musliu said forthrightly, “They can kill me, but I will not be intimidated. Their goal is simple. They want to take over the Islamic Community of Kosovo.”

Since then, the conflict between a minority of radical sympathizers in the Kosovo Islamic leadership and the moderate majority of Kosovar Muslims has widened. When the 2011 academic term began, the pro-Wahhabi Ternava removed seven respected professors from the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, putting radical ideologues in their places. On May 25, the seven expelled professors charged that the new appointees were “ ‘lecturers’ without the appropriate research credentials or with fake titles and degrees … influenced by foreign ideologies, with rigid and extremist orientations ... paid by foreign groups to promote their beliefs.”

Next, contentious Muslim demonstrations began unexpectedly in Kosovo, summoned by a movement called “Join!” to hold prayer sessions in public. Its leader, Fuad Ramiqi, had been involved in last year’s attempt by an Islamist flotilla to break the Israeli naval blockade at Gaza, and is associated with the Qatar-based fundamentalist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, as well as Al-Qaradawi’s academic partner, Tariq Ramadan.

“Join!” demanded the erection of a “mega-mosque” in Pristina, a city that already possesses 22 mosques. Albanian Catholics have also been the object of hate speech by a proud Wahhabi exponent, Imam Shefqet Krasniqi. “Join!” launched an unsuccessful offensive to allow Muslim girls to wear the headscarf (hijab) in public primary and secondary schools—an effort defeated because Kosovo is constitutionally defined as secular. The Kosovo parliament last month excluded protection of hijab and religious instruction of any kind from public schools.

Throughout these conflicts, Mullah Osman Musliu continued his blunt criticism of Ternava’s role as head of the Muslim community. At the beginning of September, when Musliu and Bilalli announced the foundation of their Professional Association, Ternava removed them from their posts as religious leaders. Musliu said he would continue to direct Muslim devotional practices in Drenas.

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