Away from the eyes of the world, ideological Islamists pursue infiltration of the moderate Muslim communities in Kosovo and Albania. But in nearly all cases, they continue to be rejected.
Secular, avidly pro-American Kosovo remains a major target. The northeast Kosovo town of Podujeva, which has seen ongoing conflicts between traditional clerics and radicals, was shocked by gunfire at a mosque in March. Podujeva has been a focus of confrontation between fanatics and conventional Muslims since 2011, when the pro-Wahhabi chief Islamic clerical official in Kosovo, Naim Ternava, dismissed imam Idriz Bilalli, an outspoken critic of fundamentalist Islam, as chairman of the Podujeva council of the Kosovo Islamic Community (known as BIK by its Albanian-language initials).
Bilalli nevertheless retained his position as imam of Podujeva’s main mosque. According to the March 24 issue of the daily newspaper Express, published in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, Bilalli’s deputy, Fahrudin Jashari, received a letter recently threatening him, Bilalli, and another anti-extremist imam in the region, Besim Llalloshi.
The letter, which had been left in a box for charity donations at the mosque, warned Jashari, who serves as muezzin or caller to prayer, “If you insist on following Bilalli you will come to a bad end. Better take your distance from him.”
Bilalli offered no probable suspects or motive for the threats, but turned the letter over to local police.
Earlier in the month, a man fired shots at Besim Arbanashi, who claimed to be the new imam of another local Muslim institution, the Llap Street mosque in Podujeva, while hundreds of believers were assembled for Friday prayer. The accused gunman, Sabri Berisha, was arrested for attempted murder, along with three other individuals, two of them from Albania. Berisha’s house was raided and four kilograms (almost nine pounds) of unspecified drugs were allegedly found in his car.
The mosque where the bullets were fired was closed for two weeks, but Arbanashi withdrew his claim to leadership of the congregation. Arbanashi and his competitor for the post of imam, Imri Llugaliu, both claimed backing from the official Islamic apparatus in Kosovo. The episode was murky, but, like other violent clashes involving Kosovo clerics, exposed the turbulence within the religious hierarchy.
The newspaper Express is well-known for its coverage of Islamist penetration in Kosovo, and, as in the past, the most interesting observations on the Podujeva incidents were inserted by readers in the comment section of the paper’s online edition. Individuals signing as “Dushi,” “Dardanija,” and “Arlind” called on the Kosovo authorities to protect the moderate clerics or to grant their right of self-defense. “Arlind” appealed for a law against Wahhabi activities.
Meanwhile, an official republic-wide ban, adopted in 2010, on wearing of headscarves (hijab) by girls in Kosovo schools has furnished a fresh pretext for disruption by the lately-formed Kosovo Islamist party “Join!” (Bashkohu!). This “movement” is directed by a radical agitator, Fuad Ramiqi, and aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Previously, the headscarf prohibition was effected locally and inconsistently. In 2009, for example, Arjeta Halimi, then 16, from the southeastern Kosovo town of Viti, which has a mixed population of Albanian Muslims, Albanian Catholics, and Orthodox Christian Serbs, was excluded from her school building for wearing hijab. But she was offered the option of taking her examinations separately from other students.