Last week, the Albanian Muslims of Kosovo, who have demonstrated their aversion to radical Islam in a series of recent clashes with extremist infiltrators, took another significant step toward ridding their new republic of Muslim fanatics. A self-proclaimed imam, Xhemajl Duka, who had come to Kosovo from his native Albania, was deported back there. The mosque he had erected in the village of Marina, near the central Kosovar city of Skenderaj, was closed by local authorities.
Shutting down mosques and religious schools to prevent their use for radical indoctrination is increasingly the local weapon of choice against the Wahhabi threat in the Balkans. Last month, the Bosnian government arrested the main Wahhabi leaders in their country, in another small village where the local residents had, in 2007, shut down a mekteb, or religious primary school.
Mekteb mischief was an important factor the Kosovar action against “imam” Duka’s presence. Duka appeared on the scene in the aftermath of the 1998-99 war in the territory, with support from an Islamist charity, Mercy International, based in Western Europe and linked to Al-Qaeda, according to U.S. and foreign investigators. Duka opened the mosque in Marina in 2002 and, among other activities, took in orphans, who are sadly numerous in the republic – folk songs about them are widely heard, and teachers mention how often pupils enrolled in the public schools lack parents. But in Duka’s religious lessons for children, as claimed by residents of the village and its surroundings, he forced girl children to put on niqab and the abaya – the face veil and full-body covering that, even in Saudi Arabia, are not imposed on prepubescent girls.
Duka tried to claim he had no sympathy for Al-Qaeda and that that his endeavors were purely humanitarian. But 6,000 local Muslims signed a petition enumerating their complaints against him. The radical preacher then argued that the signatures were collected in favor of the Kosovar secular intellectual Albin Kurti, now on trial for his opposition to European abuses in governing the republic, and had been misused to attack Duka and his mosque.
A copy of the petition was obtained by the enterprising staff of the Kosovo daily Express, which has stood out for its relentless reportage on the Wahhabi problem, and showed that the signatories specifically called for closure of Duka’s mosque, naming him and spelling out the abuses they wanted to end. Municipal officials added that Duka’s financing was foreign and under investigation.
The end of Duka’s fundamentalist campaign in Kosovo began at 9 AM on March 2, when the mosque in Marina was closed indefinitely by Kosovo police, acting on a warrant from municipal inspectors. Officers placed police tape around the building to bar any visitors. Notwithstanding the Wahhabi interloper’s claim of support from the villagers, the shutdown was accomplished without incident.
The next day, Duka was arrested for violating the country’s immigration law, since he is an Albanian rather than a Kosovo Republic citizen. He was immediately expelled to Albania. Opponents of the radicals remained discontented, however, because the official leadership of the Islamic Community of Kosovo had done nothing to deal with the radical agitator, even though his mosque had been established without their authorization, which is required by law; the Islamic bureaucrats had left it to the village and regional authorities to take action.
Express is known for the lively remarks Kosovars and Albanians in their large European and American diaspora contribute to its website comments section. A reader named Dini, living in the Kosovo capital of Prishtina, wrote, “A very good action by the authorities in Skenderaj. We do not need Wahhabis in Kosovo. Let the imam join his ‘brothers’ in Afghanistan or some other place. We do not need for our children and people to be manipulated by extremists.” Another reader, named Babloku, wrote, “Where were the police and the Islamic Community leaders before now? Something should have been done earlier. We defend our state and religious institutions but action should have come sooner rather than later.”
In Kosovo’s main daily, Koha Ditore, political writer Halil Matoshi called on all Kosovars to mobilize and defend Skenderaj mayor Sami Lushtaku for closing the Marina mosque, which Matoshi called an “impressive act of legal patriotism.” Wahhabi agents in Kosovo have targeted areas where Albanian nationalism runs high, and the Skenderaj district was an important center for recruitment by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of which Lushtaku was a founder, in 1998-99. Lushtaku is a combative type and has been the target of Serbian accusations of abuse.