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How Radical Islam Infiltrates Kosovo

8:35 AM, Aug 30, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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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.”

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