Charity: Radical Islam Growing in Albania

Imams Promoting 'Purer' Religion Cause Tension in Muslim Community

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ROME, JULY 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- An official of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need says that in Albania, a strain of radical Islam is being promoted and causing tension.

Peter Rettig, head of ACN's Southeast Europe section, explained, "In Albania, young imams propagate a different form of Islam from what is customary there. This is leading to tensions. They are scholars who have been trained in Turkey and Saudi Arabia and demand a ‘pure,' stricter Islam."

He said this is causing conflict not only with some Christians but also within Muslim communities themselves.

The ACN official reported that two years ago, when visiting Albania, he received no reports of radical Islam, but during his most recent visit, he personally witnessed the growth of these ideologies.

Rettig described how he was sitting next to a priest of Tirana Archdiocese during a public screening of the Euro 2012 match between Germany and Netherlands when the minister was approached by two young teenagers – who he estimated to be 12 and 13 years old – who tried to convert the cleric. "He was wearing clerical clothes, they would have immediately seen that he was a priest."

He also described receiving a report about a Protestant pastor near the Greek border who was beaten by an imam for distributing children’s gifts despite having the permission of the local school.

Rettig stressed that while there were growing tensions with Christians, primarily the growth of radicalism affected Islam.

"This conflict is first of all a conflict in the Muslim community between the local open-minded easy-going Islamic tradition and the new fundamentalist 'purified' version," he said.

Rettig said there are no reliable statistics about religious affiliations in Albania, but it is estimated that some 60% of the 3.2 million Albanians belong to Sunni Islam. Some 8% are Bektashi, an Islamic sect which was influenced by Sufism.

Orthodox Christians make up 20% of the population and Catholics about 10%.