The Balkan republic of Kosovo has not been spared infiltration by Islamist extremism. In June, Imam Irfan Salihu from the historic and multifaith southern Kosovo city of Prizren—the country’s second largest after the capital, Pristina—was relieved of his mosque duties after delivering a harangue in which he accused Kosovar Albanian women of being “prostitutes” and exhorted their husbands to abandon them. Salihu, it was noted, criticized only the behavior of women, and not of men.
Notwithstanding its overwhelmingly Muslim population, Kosovo is a constitutionally secular state in which women play leading political rules, none of them appearing in anything other than modern, Western-style clothing and hair styles. Fanatical Islamist moral standards are unpopular among them.
Imam Salihu’s diatribe was condemned by the three biggest political parties, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), led by the main figures in the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which preceded the appearance of the KLA and has always been committed to nonviolence and dialogue, and the “Self-Determination!” movement, known by its Albanian initials LVV.
“Self-Determination!” advocates an activist stance against apparently unending European control over Kosovo. Fourteen years after the NATO air operation there concluded in 1999, Kosovo continues to be administered legally by a European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX).
Two deputies in the Assembly of Kosovo, the country’s parliament, Alma Lama from LVV, and Teuta Sahatciu representing LDK, were joined by Vlora Citaku, the Kosovo minister for European integration and a former PDK deputy, and other women Assembly members, in denouncing Imam Salihu. All appear habitually in fashionable Western costumes, with uncovered hair.
Imam Salihu was, nevertheless, defended by a new Islamist minority party, the “Islamic Movement to Unite,” or LISBA, that as yet has no representation in the Assembly. When it began, under the title “Join!” LISBA’s leader, Fuad Ramiqi, led mass public prayers in the streets of Pristina calling for the erection of a “megamosque” as a response to the establishment in the municipal center of a Catholic cathedral dedicated to Mother Teresa. Kosovar sources suggested that participants in the religious demonstrations were mainly interlopers from the Albanian districts of neighboring Macedonia, where Arab radical influence is dominant in the state-recognized Islamic Community.
In view of the controversy his hateful remarks provoked, Imam Salihu of Prizren was discarded prudently by the authorities of the Islamic Community of Kosovo (BIK in Albanian). Nevertheless, the BIK, which is headed by a cleric of pronounced radical sympathies, Naim Ternava, will soon face a new test.
Ternava was elected to direct the BIK in 2003, after supporting a constitutional agreement for the Islamic institution that would ban its chief cleric from serving more than two five-year terms. The BIK will vote for its top leader on October 15, and Ternava is expected to run a third time, in violation of the charter he signed a decade ago.
Visar Duriqi, an independent Kosovar Albanian blogger, has noted on his site Gazeta Jeta ne Kosove (the title means “Journal of Life in Kosovo” but texts are posted only in Albanian) that Ternava was challenged for the post in 2008 by his predecessor, chief cleric Rexhep Boja, a confirmed moderate and critic of Wahhabi Islam. Ternava defeated Boja, who was then appointed Kosovo ambassador to Saudi Arabia, one of the few Arab countries to recognize Kosovar sovereignty.