On Friday, August 17, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ended, followed by Eid-Ul-Fitr, the “festival of fast-breaking” that usually involves three days of celebration. This year in Kosovo, Eid Ul-Fitr was accompanied by an impressive journalistic feat: a team of investigative reporters published a four-part dossier on the country’s Muslims, titled “Radicalization of Islam: Real Threat or Phobia?”
The first installment appeared in Kosovo’s most respected newspaper, Koha Ditore (Daily Times). It was re-reported by other print media in Kosovo and Albania, and posted on numerous websites, producing a considerable debate.
Bylined by Artan Haraqija and Visar Duriqi of the Kosovo Center for Investigative Reporting, the study vindicated critics of Islamist ideological incursion in the territory. It found a Saudi-based Wahhabi group operating in Western Europe exercises alarming financial influence over the highest Kosovo Islamic leadership. Kosovo’s chief Muslim cleric, Naim Ternava, has been accused of affinities with and backing from Wahhabi elements inside Saudi Arabia. The Kosovar investigative journalists showed that Ternava’s religious administration approved payments for local mosques by Al Waqf Al Islami (AWAI – The Islamic Foundation), based in Jeddah.
A private Muslim missionary entity maintained unofficially by figures in the Saudi government, AWAI has a minor profile in the U.S. but is well known in Europe. The Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) investigated AWAI in 2002-03 and linked it to one of the most notorious radical mosques in Holland, the Al-Fourkaan (Standard of Truth) mosque in Eindhoven. In 2010, the Bulgarian branch of AWAI was shut down by the authorities, and in June 2012, thirteen Bulgarian-Turkish members of the group were charged with illegal Islamist activities.
Representatives of the Islamic Community of Kosovo (ICK), the official Sunni religious institution directed by Ternava, admitted receiving money from AWAI, when questioned by the Kosovar reporters. In the most controversial example, AWAI transferred about $25,000—a considerable sum in a land where the average salary is $260 per month, according to the U.S. State Department—for erection of a mosque in the village of Bajqina near the northeastern city of Podujeva.
Ahmet Sadriu, director of media and publishing for the ICK, stipulated, “We have cooperation with Al Waqf Al Islami.” He said the Arab group’s Kosovo director, a Saudi doctor named Abdur Rezak, “allocated the money that was then sent to the Islamic Community local council in Podujeva. I don’t know anything about links to terrorism. These issues belong to the state,” Sadriu said. He added, “A lot of projects for construction and reconstruction of mosques have been undertaken with this organization.”
While $25,000 may not seem much, the subsidy provoked anger among Podujeva Muslims. The Bajqina mosque plan was temporarily blocked by the Podujeva head of the ICK, imam Idriz Bilalli, an outspoken moderate, who suspected it was intended as a center for extremist agitation. The ICK leadership then dismissed Bilalli from his post. The Bajqina mosque is to be led by imam Fadil Sogojeva, currently assigned to the mosque in Kodra i Diellit (Sunny Hill), a residential neighborhood in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. Imam Sogojeva confirmed that he had received money for his Bajqina mosque from AWAI indirectly, through the Islamic leadership in Pristina.
The moderate Bilalli, in an interview with the journalists, accused Sogojeva of going to the Podujeva district to “cause division and confusion,” leading to “destructive attitudes in the mosque.” Sogojeva, who studied in Saudi Arabia, admitted his retrograde attitudes candidly. He declared that in the past a Kosovar woman would not enter a room without permission from her husband, and stated that he would not shake hands with “any” woman to whom he was not related. On his Facebook page and in YouTube sermons, Sogojeva opined that Kosovar girls should not wear sandals without socks, since “the leg, as one of the body parts which stimulates emotion, should not be uncovered.”
Sogojeva told the investigative reporters he did not favor a sudden shift to fundamentalism, but, rather, “after some time, after having worked with the congregation, in order to properly explain the religion. Albanian Muslims in Kosovo currently are in the first grade,” he added patronizingly. Kosovar Albanians have been Muslim for more than 600 years, a matter Wahhabis disregard.
The reporters also reviewed the 2009 assault on Osman Musliu, a moderate cleric in the region of Drenas, known for its strong Albanian nationalism. Musliu characterized the Wahhabis at the time as “sick, psychotic people, who aim to destroy the Islamic Community of Kosovo.” The attack on Musliu was one in a spate of such incidents.
In the second part of their series, posted on August 18, Haraqija and Duriqi noted that Kosovo was defined as a secular republic in a legislative decision approved at the end of Ramadan last year. Atifete Jahjaga, president of the republic, is a woman of Muslim origin who does not wear an Islamic headscarf (hijab) or otherwise indulge in “religious” dress. As she told a Warsaw regional summit audience in May 2011, “Islam is a relationship of the individual with God, and not of the individual with the state.”
Wahhabis, of course, disagree loudly. Shefqet Krasniqi, imam of the main, Imperial Mosque in Pristina, and infamous for his vulgar attacks on Mother Teresa, has called for the Islamic formula “There Is No God But God” to be inscribed in Arabic on the Kosovo flag, as it is on the Saudi national banner and the Taliban equivalent. His cohort in Kosovo complain that, with Kosovo governed by a woman who does not wear hijab, the populace is destined to “hellfire.”
Similarly, a radical imam, Mazllam Mazllami from the major city of Prizren, who was expelled from the Islamic Community and then reinstated at the order of ICK chief Ternava, has warned that men and women should not go to the beach together, since they may socialize in swimwear.
The third article in the Haraqija-Duriqi investigative series disclosed that Kastriot Duka, alias Xhemajl Duka, a self-anointed cleric from Elbasan in Albania proper, had defied Kosovo law by returning to the republic after he was deported in 2010. Duka founded a mosque in the village of Marina near the north-central Kosovo city of Skenderaj in 2002 with money from a British-based Islamist charity, Rahma-Mercy. Established in 1999, Rahma-Mercy has targeted Albania and Kosovo specifically but is a paramilitary organization made up of South Asian British Muslims following Deobandism, the Wahhabi-aligned sect that inspires the Taliban. In Skenderaj, however, 6,000 citizens of the district signed a petition calling for closure of Duka’s mosque because of features including an Islamic primary school in which small girls were required to wear the Saudi-style face-veil (niqab) and full body covering (abaya).
Duka has, nevertheless, returned to Kosovo several times, while Rahma-Mercy continues to convey money to his admirers, through bank transfers as well as private couriers. One of Duka’s disciples, identified only as H.K., admitted, “Halil, with an Arab family name, came first from England. . . . There were times when the deposits passed through the bank . . . or were delivered in Kosovo.”
The work of Artan Haraqija and Visar Duriqi also includes a dismaying survey of Islamist indoctrination in the “new style” of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey. But above all, they have made a valuable and courageous contribution in tracing the influence of Islamist money in a vulnerable community.
According to the reporters, Kosovo judicial investigators have monitored Wahhabi activities to preempt terror plots, following the assaults on moderate clerics and other violent incidents over the past three years. The Kosovo police have prepared a three-page memorandum, to which the journalists gained access, warning, “Wahhabis can kill any Muslim that does not join their sect, and they are spreading across the republic.”
Unfortunately, anti-Islamist action by the Kosovo authorities has been blocked by the international community. Trials of Islamist conspirators by the Kosovo judiciary are quashed by the foreign administration. Bajram Rexhepi, the republic’s current interior minister, recalls that in 2003-04, when he was prime minister and “new and radical currents controlled no mosques and had no influence,” he proposed a draft law against religious extremism.
But, Rexhepi told the reporters plaintively, “I was told by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg we could be sued for denial of religious freedom. . . . I asked [the Europeans] ‘if your states were to consider their national security at risk because of this problem, would you maintain such abstract respect for human rights? Probably not. Then why experiment on us in Kosovo?’”