Islam in Albania

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Sunni and Bektashi Shia clergymen alongside Albanian patriots in the fustanella folk costume holding an Albanian flag in 1914

Islam by country


Islam in Albania mainly arrived during the Ottoman period when the majority of Albanians over time converted to Islam and in particular two of its denominations: Sunni and Bektashi (a Shia-Sufi order). Following the Albanian National Awakening (Rilindja) tenets and the deemphasizing of religion during the 20th century, the democratic, monarchic later the communist governments followed a systematic dereligionization of the Albanian nation and national culture. Due to this policy as with all other faiths in the country, Islam underwent radical changes. Decades of state atheism which ended in 1991 brought a decline in religious practice in all traditions. The post-communist period and the lifting of legal and other government restrictions on religion allowed Islam to revive through institutions that generated new infrastructure, literature, educational facilities, international transnational links and other social activities.[1] According to 2011 census, 58.79% of Albania’s population adheres to Islam, making it the largest religion in the country. For contemporary Muslims in Albania, Muslim religious practices tend to be minimal.[2] The remaining population belongs either to Christianity, which is the second largest religion in the country practiced by 16.99% of the population or are irreligious.[3]

Conversion and Consolidation (15th–18th centuries)
National Awakening (19th and early 20th centuries)
Balkan Wars (1912–13) and World War One (1914–18)
Interwar period (1919–39): State interference and reforms
World War Two (1939–45)
Communist period and persecution (1945–91)
Republic of Albania (1992 onward)
Revival of Sunni Islam
Sunni Islam, transnational links, education and administrative institutions
Revival of Sufi Islam
Sufi Islam: Bektashi and other Sufi Orders
Ethno-linguistic composition
Ethno-cultural Albanian identity and Islam
Islam and Interreligious relations
Religious observances, customs and culture
Food, Dress, Law and Burials
Contemporary Issues
Debates about Islam and contemporary Albanian identity
Religious establishment views of Islam in Albania
Conservative Islam and Muslim fundamentalism
Islam and Albanian geo-political orientation
See also
External links
Conversion and Consolidation (15th–18th centuries)[edit]
Main article: Islamization of Albania

Albania first came into contact with Islam in the 9th century when Muslim Arabs raided the eastern Adriatic.[4][5] Islam was first introduced to Albania in the 15th century after the Ottoman conquest of the area.[6][7][8] During the 17th and 18th century Albanians in large numbers converted to Islam, often to escape higher taxes levied on Christian subjects.[9][6] As Muslims, some Albanians attained important political and military positions within the Ottoman Empire and culturally contributed to the wider Muslim world.[9]
National Awakening (19th and early 20th centuries)[edit]
Main article: Islam in Albania (1800-1912)

Approximate distribution of religions in Albania during early 1900s, based on the 1908 Ottoman census and the 1916–18 Austro-Hungarian census. Sunni Muslims: Green. Bektashi Muslims: Blue-Green. Lighter areas denote either Sunni (grass green) or Bektashi (cyan) pluralities.

By the 19th century Albanians were divided into three religious groups. Catholic Albanians who had some Albanian ethno-linguistic expression in schooling and church due to Austro-Hungarian protection and Italian clerical patronage.[10] Orthodox Albanians under the Patriarchate of Constantinople had liturgy and schooling in Greek and toward the late Ottoman period mainly identified with Greek national aspirations.[10][11][12][13] Muslim Albanians during this period formed around 70% of the overall Balkan Albanian population in the Ottoman Empire with an estimated population of more than a million.[10] With the rise of the Eastern Crisis, Muslim Albanians became torn between loyalties to the Ottoman state and the emerging Albanian nationalist movement.[14] Islam, the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire were traditionally seen as synonymous in belonging to the wider Muslim community.[15] the Albanian nationalist movement advocated self-determination and strived to achieve socio-political recognition of Albanians as a separate people and language within the state.[16]

Wars and socio-political instability resulting in increasing identification with the Ottoman Empire amongst some Muslims within the Balkans during the late Ottoman period made the terms Muslim and Turk synonymous.[17] In this context, Muslim Albanians of the era were conferred and received the term Turk, despite preferring to distance themselves from ethnic Turks.[17][18] This practice has somewhat continued amongst Balkan Christian peoples in contemporary times who still refer to Muslim Albanians as Turks, Turco-Albanians, with often pejorative connotations and historic negative socio-political repercussions.[19][20][21][22][23][18] These geo-political events nonetheless pushed Albanian nationalists, many Muslim, to distance themselves from the Ottomans, Islam and the then emerging pan-Islamic Ottomanism of Sultan Abdulhamid II.[16][24] Another factor overlaying these concerns during the Albanian National Awakening (Rilindja) period were thoughts that Western powers would only favour Christian Balkan states and peoples in the anti Ottoman struggle.[24] During this time Albanian nationalists conceived of Albanians as a European people who under Skanderbeg resisted the Ottoman Turks that later subjugated and cut the Albanians off from Western European civilisation.[24] Albanian nationalism overall was a reaction to the gradual breakup of the Ottoman Empire and a response to Balkan and Christian national movements that posed a threat to an Albanian population that was mainly Muslim.[25] Muslim (Bektashi) Albanians were heavily involved with the Albanian National Awakening producing many figures like Faik Konitza, Ismail Qemali, Midhat Frashëri, Shahin Kolonja and others advocating for Albanian interests and self-determination.[16][26][27][28][29]

During the late Ottoman period, Muslims inhabited compactly the entire mountainous and hilly hinterland located north of the Himarë, Tepelenë, Këlcyrë and Frashëri line that encompasses most of the Vlorë, Tepelenë, Mallakastër, Skrapar, Tomorr and Dishnicë regions.[30] There were intervening areas where Muslims lived alongside Albanian speaking Christians in mixed villages, towns and cities with either community forming a majority or minority of the population.[30] In urban settlements Muslims were almost completely a majority in Tepelenë and Vlorë, a majority in Gjirokastër with a Christian minority, whereas Berat, Përmet and Delvinë had a Muslim majority with a large Christian minority.[30] A Muslim population was also located in Konispol and some villages around the town.[30] The Ottoman administrative sancaks or districts of Korçë and Gjirokastër in 1908 contained a Muslim population that numbered 95,000 in contrast to 128,000 Orthodox inhabitants.[31] Apart from small and spread out numbers of Muslim Romani, Muslims in these areas that eventually came to constitute contemporary southern Albania were all Albanian speaking Muslims.[30][32] In southern Albania during the late Ottoman period being Albanian was increasingly associated with Islam, while from the 1880s the emerging Albanian National Movement was viewed as an obstacle to Hellenism within the region.[33][34] Some Orthodox Albanians began to affiliate with the Albanian National movement causing concern for Greece and they worked together with Muslim Albanians regarding shared social and geo-political Albanian interests and aims.[34][35][36] In central and southern Albania, Muslim Albanian society was integrated into the Ottoman state.[37] It was organised into a small elite class owning big feudal estates worked by a large peasant class, both Christian and Muslim though few other individuals were also employed in the military, business, as artisans and in other professions.[37][38] While northern Albanian society was little integrated into the Ottoman world,[39] it was instead organised through a tribal structure of clans (fis) of whom many were Catholic with others being Muslim residing in mountainous terrain that Ottomans often had difficulty in maintaining authority and control.[39] When religious conflict occurred it was between clans of opposing faiths, while within the scope of clan affiliation, religious divisions were sidelined.[40] Shkodër was inhabited by a Muslim majority with a sizable Catholic minority.[39]

Main article: Islam in Albania (1913-1944)
Balkan Wars (1912–13) and World War One (1914–18)[edit]

Ismail Qemali on the first anniversary of the session of the Assembly of Vlorë which proclaimed the Independence of Albania.
Realising that the collapse of Ottoman rule through military defeat in the Balkans was imminent, Albanians represented by Ismail Qemali declared Independence from the Ottoman Empire on 28 November 1912 in Vlorë.[41] International recognition of Albanian independence entailed the imposition of a Christian monarch which alongside internal political power struggles generated a failed Muslim uprising (1914) in central Albania that sought to restore Ottoman rule.[42][43] During World War one, northern, central and south-central Albania came under Austro-Hungarian occupation. In the census of 1916–18 conducted by Austro-Hungarian authorities, the results showed that Muslims in the regions of Dibër, Lumë and Gorë were over 80% of the population.[44] In the western part of the mountainous areas, Shkodër and in the mountains east of the lake were areas that contained a large Muslim population.[44] In central Albania, the area from the Mat region to the Shkumbini river mouth toward Kavajë encompassing the districts of Tiranë, Peqin, Kavajë and Elbasan the population was mainly Muslim.[44] In the area of Berat Muslims were a majority population with an Orthodox minority, while south of Elbasan Muslims were a plurality alongside a significant Orthodox population.[44] In the region of Gramsh Muslims were a majority except for two people and in the southern Peqin area only Muslims were present.[44] Muslims also were a majority population in the Mallakastër region alongside a small Orthodox minority.[44] The experience of World War One, concerns over being partitioned and loss of power made the Muslim Albanian population support Albanian nationalism and the territorial integrity of Albania.[45] An understanding emerged between most Sunni and Bektashi Albanians that religious differences needed to be sidelined for national cohesiveness.[46] Whereas an abandonment of pan-Muslim links abroad was viewed in the context of securing support internationally for and maintaining independence, though some Muslim Albanian clergy were against disavowing ties with the wider Muslim world.[46]
Interwar period (1919–39): State interference and reforms[edit]

World Headquarters of the Bektashi Community in Tirana.
From the early days of interwar Albania and due to Albania’s heterogeneous religious makeup, Albania’s political leadership defined Albania as without an official religion.[47] Muslim Albanians at that time formed around 70% of the total population of 800,000 and Albania was the only Muslim country in Europe.[47] In the former Ottoman districts of Korçë and Gjirokastër forming southern Albania, the share of the Muslim population increased in 1923 to 109,000 in contrast to 114,000 Orthodox and by 1927 Muslims were 116,000 to 112,000 Orthodox.[31] From 1920 until 1925 a four-member governing regency council from the four religious denominations (Sunni, Bektashi, Catholic, Orthodox) was appointed.[48] Albanian secularist elites pushed for a reform of Islam as the process of Islamic religious institutions were nationalised and the state increasingly imposed its will upon them.[47] At the first Islamic National Congress (1923) the criteria for delegates attending was that being a cleric was unimportant and instead patriots with a liberal outlook were favoured alongside some delegates being selected by the state.[47][49] Government representatives were present at the congress.[47] Following the government program of reforms, the Albanian Islamic congress in Tirana decided to deliberate and reform some Islamic traditional practices adopted from the Ottoman period with the reasoning of allowing Albanian society the opportunity to thrive.[50] The measures adopted by the congress was a break with the Ottoman Caliphate and to establish local Muslim structures loyal to Albania, banning polygamy (most of the Muslim Albanian population was monogamous) and the mandatory wearing of veil (hijab) by women in public.[50][49] A new form of prayer was also implemented (standing, instead of the traditional salat ritual).[51]

As with the congress, the attitudes of Muslim clerics were during the interwar period monitored by the state who at times appointed and dismissed them at will.[47] Amongst those were the abolition of Sharia law and replacement with Western law that made Muslims in Albania come under government control while the Quran was translated into Albanian and criticized for its inaccuracies.[47][52][49] After prolonged debate amongst Albanian elites during the interwar era and increasing restrictions, the wearing of the veil in 1937 was banned in legislation by Zog.[53][54] Throughout the interwar period, the Albanian intellectual elite often undermined and depreciated Sunni Islam, whereas Sufi Islam and its various orders experienced an important period of promising growth.[55] After independence, ties amongst the wider Sufi Bektashi community in former Ottoman lands waned.[56] The Bektashi order in 1922 at an assembly of 500 delegates renounced ties with Turkey.[49] In 1925 the Bektashi Order whose headquarters were in Turkey moved to Tiranë to escape Atatürk’s secularising reforms and Albania would become the center of Bektashism where there were 260 tekes present.[52][56][57][49] In 1929, the Bektashi order severed its ties with Sunnism and by 1937 Bektashi adherents formed around 27% of the Muslim population in Albania.[52][58] Apart from Bektashis, there were other main Sufi orders present in Albania during the interwar period such as the Halvetis, Qadiris, Rufais and Tijaniyyah.[55]

World War Two (1939–45)[edit]

Former Sulejman Pasha Mosque and Muslim graveyard of Tiranë destroyed during World War Two and its minaret in 1967
On 7 April 1939, Italy headed by Benito Mussolini after prolonged interest and overarching sphere of influence during the interwar period invaded Albania.[59] Of the Muslim Albanian population, the Italians attempted to gain their sympathies by proposing to build a large mosque in Rome, though the Vatican opposed this measure and nothing came of it in the end.[60] The Italian occupiers also won Muslim Albanian sympathies by causing their working wages to rise.[60] Mussolini’s son in law Count Ciano also replaced the leadership of the Sunni Muslim community, which had recognized the Italian regime in Albania with clergy that aligned with Italian interests, with an easily controlled “Moslem Committee” organization, and Fischer notes that “the Moslem community at large accepted this change with little complaint”.[60] Most of the Bektashi order and its leadership were against the Italian occupation and remained an opposition group.[60] Fischer suspects that the Italians eventually tired of the opposition of the Bektashi Order, and had its head, Nijaz Deda, murdered.[60]

Communist period and persecution (1945–91)[edit]
Main article: Islam in Albania (1945-1991)

Mirahori mosque of Korçë in 2002 with destroyed minaret from communist times (left) and with rebuilt minaret in 2013 (right).
In the aftermath of World War Two, the communist regime came to power and Muslims, most from southern Albania were represented from early on within the communist leadership group such as leader Enver Hoxha 1908–1985), his deputy Mehmet Shehu (1913–1981) and others. [61] Albanian society was still traditionally divided between four religious communities.[62] In the Albanian census of 1945, Muslims were 72% of the population, 17.2% were Orthodox and 10% Catholic.[63] The communist regime through Albanian Nationalism attempted to forge a national identity that transcended and eroded these religious and other differences with the aim of forming a unitary Albanian identity.[62] Albanian communists viewed religion as a societal threat that undermined the cohesiveness of the nation.[62] Within this context, religions like Islam were denounced as foreign and clergy such as Muslim muftis were criticised as being socially backward with the propensity to become agents of other states and undermine Albanian interests.[62] The communist regime through policy destroyed the Muslim way of life and Islamic culture within Albania.[64]

Inspired by Pashko Vasa’s late 19th century poem for the need to overcome religious differences through Albanian unity, Hoxha took the stanza “the faith of the Albanians is Albanianism” and implemented it literally as state policy.[62][65] In 1967 therefore the communist regime declared Albania the only non-religious country in the world, banning all forms of religious practice in public.[66][67] The Muslim Sunni and Bektashi clergy alongside their Catholic and Orthodox counterparts suffered severe persecution and to prevent a decentralisation of authority in Albania, many of their leaders were killed.[67] Jumu’ah or communal Friday prayers in a mosque that involves a sermon afterwards were banned in Albania due to their revolutionary associations that posed a threat to the communist regime.[68] People who still performed religious practices did so in secret, while others found out were persecuted and personal possession of religious literature such as the Quran forbidden.[69][66][67] Amongst Bektashi adherents transmission of knowledge became limited to within few family circles that mainly resided in the countryside.[55] Mosques became a target for Albanian communists who saw their continued existence as exerting an ideological presence in the minds of people.[70] Through the demise of mosques and religion in general within Albania, the regime sought to alter and sever the social basis of religion that lay with traditional religious structures amongst the people and replace it with communism.[69][70][71] Islamic buildings were hence appropriated by the communist state who often turned into them into gathering places, sports halls, warehouses, barns, restaurants, cultural centres and cinemas in an attempt to erase those links between religious buildings and people.[70][66][67][72] In 1967 within the space of seven months the communist regime destroyed 2,169 religious buildings and other monuments.[70] Of those were some 530 tekes, turbes and dergah saint shrines that belonged mainly to the Bektashi order.[70] 740 mosques were destroyed, some of which were prominent and architecturally important like the Kubelie Mosque in Kavajë, the Clock Mosque in Peqin and the two domed mosques in Elbasan dating from the 17th century.[70] Of the roughly 1,127 Islamic buildings existing in Albania prior to the communists coming to power, only 50 mosques remained thereafter with most being in a state of disrepair.[73]
Republic of Albania (1992 onward)[edit]

Lead Mosque with minaret in Shkodër, circa late 1800s (left) and without minaret in dilapidated state and prone to flooding, 2013 (right).
Following the wider trends for socio-political pluralism and freedom in Eastern Europe from communism, a series of fierce protests by Albanian society culminated with the communist regime collapsing after allowing two elections in 1991 and then 1992. Toward the end of the regime’s collapse, it had reluctantly allowed for limited religious expression to reemerge.[67] In 1990 along with a Catholic church, the Lead mosque in Shkodër were both the first religious buildings reopened in Albania.[74][75][76] Muslims, this time mainly from northern Albania such as Azem Hajdari (1963–1998) and Sali Berisha, who later served multiple terms as president and prime minister were prominent leaders in the movement for democratic change and between 1992 and 1997 people part of the Albanian government were mostly of a Muslim background.[77] Areas that had been traditionally Muslim in Albania prior to 1967 reemerged in a post-communist context once again mainly as Muslim with its various internal complexities.[76][78] Due in part to the deprivation and persecution experienced during the communist period, Muslims within Albania have showed strong support for democracy and its institutions including official Muslim religious organisations.[1][79][80] Within this context Muslim Albanians have also supported the separation of religion from the state with faith being considered as a personal private matter.[1] Today Albania is a parliamentary secular state and with no official religion.[4][81][82]

Revival of Sunni Islam[edit]
In the 1990s, Muslim Albanians placed their focus on restoring institutions, religious buildings and Islam as a faith in Albania that had overall been decimated by the communists.[67][83] Hafiz Sabri Koçi, (1921–2004) an imam imprisoned by the communist regime and who led the first prayer service in Shkodër 1990 became the grand mufti of the Muslim Community of Albania.[74] During this time the restoration of Islam in Albania appealed to older generations of Muslim Albanian adherents, those families with traditional clerical heredity and limited numbers of young school age people who wished to qualify and study abroad in Muslim countries.[83][84] Most mosques and some madrassas destroyed and damaged during the communist era had by 1996 been either reconstructed or restored in former locations where they once stood before 1967 and in contemporary times there are 555 mosques.[83][85] Muslim religious teachers and prayer leaders were also retrained abroad in Muslim states or in Albania.[83] The Muslim Community of Albania is the main organisation overseeing Sunni Islam in Albania and during the 1990s it received funding and technical support from abroad to reconstitute its influence within the country.[83] Due to interwar and communist era legacies of weakening Islam within Albania and secularisation of the population, the revival of the faith has been somewhat difficult due to people in Albania knowing little about Islam and other religions.[2][86][75][4] Emigration in a post-communist environment of Albanians, many Muslim, has also hindered the recovery of religion, its socio-religious structures and organisation in Albania.[86] In contemporary times the Muslim community has found itself being a majority population that is within a socio-political and intellectual minority position with often being on the defensive.[75] Political links also emerged in the 1990s from parts of the Sunni Albanian community with the then new Albanian political establishment of whom some themselves were Muslim Albanians.[75] The Sunni community is recognised by the Albanian state and it administers most of the mosques while also viewed as the main representative of Muslims in the country.[87] As such it interprets its position as safeguarding an Albanian specific version of Islam which follows on institutional and ideological models established during the post-Ottoman state-building period and have gradually gained the status of an Albanian tradition.[88] There are a few prayer houses located throughout Albania and one masjid (mosque without a minaret) run by the Sufi Rifai order.[85]
Sunni Islam, transnational links, education and administrative institutions[edit]

Great Mosque of Tiranë under construction, December 2016
The Albanian Sunni Community has over time established links with oversees Muslims.[67] Due to funding shortages in Albania these ties have been locally beneficial as they have mobilised resources of several well funded international Muslim organisations like the OIC which has allowed for the reestablishment of Muslim ritual and spiritual practices in Albania.[67] Particular efforts have been directed toward spreading information about Islam in Albania through media, education and local community centres.[67] Around 90% of the budget of the Albanian Muslim community came from foreign sources in the 1990s, though from 2009 after the signing of agreements the Albanian government allocates funding from the state budget to the four main religions to cover administrative and other costs.[75][4] Some of these oversees Muslim organisations and charities coming from Arab countries, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and also the Muslim diaspora in Europe and America have at times exerted sway over the Muslim Albanian community resulting in competition between groups.[86][75][89]

The Gülen movement based on Muslim values of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen also is present from 1992 onward and its institutions are viewed as a counterweight to more conservative Muslim organisations from Arab countries in Albania, especially in the early 1990s.[86][90] Some 7 madrasas (Muslim colleges containing complementary religious instruction) were opened up in Albania by Arab NGO’s, although now 2 are administered by the Muslim Community and the Gülen movement runs 5 madrassas and other schools that are known for their high quality and mainly secular education based on Islamic ethics and principles.[75][85][90] In April 2011, Bedër University, Albania’s first Muslim university was opened in Tiranë and is administered by the Gülen movement.[89][91] The presence and influence of the Gülen movement in Albania has recently been a source of tension with the Turkish government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan since it has blamed the movement for attempting to destabilize Turkey.[92] The main state run Turkish Muslim organisation Diyanet has funded and started construction of the Great Mosque of Tiranë in 2015.[93][94] The mosque will be the Balkans largest with minarets 50 meters high and a dome of 30 meters built on a 10,000-square-meter parcel of land near Albania’s parliament building able to accommodate up to 4,500 worshipers.[93][95][96] International assistance from oversees organisations such as the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) have also helped finance the restoration of Ottoman era mosques, of which only nine survived the communist dictatorship.[87][97] In a post-communist environment the Muslim Community of Albania has been seeking from successive Albanian governments a return and restitution of properties and land confiscated by the communist regime though without much progress.[81]

Great Mosque of Durrës built in 1931

Ebu Beker Mosque in Shkodër

Mosque in Përmet

New Mosque in Kaninë

Revival of Sufi Islam[edit]
The Muslim Community of Albania in its statutes claims authority over all Muslim groups in Albania.[86] The Bektashi however have reaffirmed in their statutes and kept their post-communist era independence as a separate Muslim movement of a worldwide Sufi order.[86] A traditional reliance on hierarchy and internal structures the restoration of Sufi Islam, akin to Sunni Islam, has faced organisational problems in reestablishing and stabilising former systems of authority.[67] That stood in contrast with the activities of local people who were quick to rebuild the destroyed tyrbes and other mausoleums of Sufi saints by the end of 1991.[76] As Albanian migrants went abroad financial resources were sent back to fund other reconstruction projects of various Sufi shrines and tekkes.[76][78] The Bektashi order in the 1990s was only able to reopen 6 of its tekkes.[98] Other Sufi orders are also present in Albania such as the Rifais, Saidis, Halvetis, Qadiris and the Tijaniyah and combined they have 384 turbes, tekes, maqams and zawiyas.[87] In post communist Albania competition between the Sufi orders has reemerged, though the Bektashi remain the largest, most dominant, have 138 tekes[87] and have on occasion laid claims to Sufi shrines of other orders.[75] The Bektashi as the main Sufi order within Albania have attempted to appeal to a younger, urban and also intellectual demographic and placing itself within the wider socio-political space.[76]
Sufi Islam: Bektashi and other Sufi Orders[edit]

Bektashi teqe in Vlorë.
The Bektashi order in Albania views themselves as the centre of a worldwide movement and have reconnected with various Turkish educational and Iran religious organisations emphasising their common links, something that other Sufi orders in Albania have done.[75][76] Prominent among these have been Iranian Saadi Shriazi foundation who has funded numerous Bektashi cultural programs, while dervishes from the Bektashi have received educational training at the Theological faculty in Qom.[99] The Bektashi though are selective of outside influence, with sometimes for example editing texts of Iranian Shia thinkers in Bektashi literature or borrowing from others.[75] The Bektashi during most of the 1990s had no privileged links with the political establishment until 1997 when the Socialists came to power.[75] Members from the then Albanian government, some with Bektashi heritage in the late 1990s onward have favoured Bektashism as a milder form of Islam for Albanian Islam and it playing a role as a conduit between Islam and Christianity.[75][76] Bektashis also highlight and celebrate figures such as Naim Frashëri who was made an honorary baba because he was involved in the Albanian National Awakening and often referred to his Bektashi roots.[75][100] Bektashis also use Shiite related iconography of Ali, the Battle of Karbala and other revered Muslim figures of the prophet Muhammad’s family that adorn the interiors of turbes and tekkes.[75] The Bektashis have a few clerical training centres though no schools for religious instruction.[89] The Ahmadiyya movement has also established recently a presence in Albania and owns one mosque in Tiranë, the Bejtyl Evel Mosque.[85]

(2011 census)[101]
In 2011, a Pew Research Center population estimate in a global study based on growth rates put the percentage of Muslims in Albania at 82.1% (estimated number 2,601,000)[102] However, a Gallup poll gave percentages of religious affiliations with only 43% Muslim, 19% Eastern Orthodox, 15% Catholic and 23% atheist or nonreligious.[103][when?] In the 2011 census the declared religious affiliation of the population was: 56.70% (1,587,608) Sunni Muslims, 2.09% (58,628) Bektashis, 10.03% (280,921) Catholics, 6.75% (188,992) Orthodox, 0.14% (3,797) Evangelists, 0.07% (1,919) other Christians, 5.49% (153,630) believers without denomination, 2.05% (69,995) Atheists, 13.79% (386,024) undeclared.[104] Controversies surrounded the Albanian census (2011) over whether a religious affiliation option should be part of the count as people like some intellectuals in Albania feared that the results may make Albania appear “too Muslim” to Europe.[105] From previous pre-communist highs of 69.3% (1937) and 72% (1947) the official census of 2011 was the first to count religious affiliation after an absence of many decades that showed the Albanian Muslim population to have deceased to 56.70%.[4] The Muslim community of Albania objected to having the generic Muslim option split according to internal differentiation into categories such as Bektashi.[4][105] The census results overall have been criticized by the Muslim community of Albania and they have estimated the number of all Muslims in Albania to be 70%.[4] Owing to the large number of people in Albania not having declared a religion the census figures leave scope for other explanations and analyses of what is the actual religious composition of Albania.[86]
Ethno-linguistic composition[edit]

Most Muslims in Albania are ethnic Albanians. There are however small though significant clusters of non-Albanian (speaking) Muslims in the country. The Romani minority in Albania are mostly Muslims and estimated to number some 50,000 to 95,000 located throughout Albania and often residing in major urban centres forming a significant minority population.[67][106] The Romani community is often economically disadvantaged with at times facing socio-political discrimination and distance from wider Albanian society like for example little intermarriage or neighbourhood segregation.[67][107] Within the Romani community there exist two main divisions: the Gabels who speak the Romani language and those who self identify as Jevgs that consider themselves separate from the Romani, speak Albanian and are somewhat integrated in Albania.[108] The Romani in Albania were and are still known to be religiously syncretic often combining other elements of religions and nature in Islamic practices and pilgrimages to holy sites.[109]

Other Muslim communities are of a Slavic linguistic background. In the north-eastern borderland region of Gorë, the Gorani community inhabits the villages of Zapod, Pakisht, Orçikël, Kosharisht, Cernalevë, Orgjost, Orshekë, Borje, Novosej and Shishtavec.[110] In the central-eastern borderland region of Gollobordë, a Muslim Macedonian speaking community known as Gollobordas inhabits the villages of Ostren i Madh, Kojavec, Lejçan, Lladomericë, Ostren i Vogël, Orzhanovë, Radovesh, Tuçep, Pasinkë, Trebisht, Gjinovec, Klenjë, Vërnicë, Steblevë and three families in Sebisht.[111][112] In Albania people from the Gollobordas community are considered Albanians instead of Macedonians, even by the Albanian state, and they are known to intermarry with Muslim Albanians and not with Orthodox Macedonians.[111][113] Until the 1990s an Orthodox Macedonian minority who have since migrated used to live in some villages alongside the Gollobordas and the latter community in recent times numbers some roughly 3,000 people.[113] The Bosniak community of the Shijak area whose presence dates back to 1875 inhabits almost entirely the village of Borakaj and in the neighbouring village Koxhas they live alongside Albanians and form a minority.[114] Bosniaks from these settlements have also settled in Durrës, Shijak and in 1924 some went and settled in the village of Libofshë where they have mostly become linguistically assimilated.[114] There is a small Muslim Montenegrin speaking community near Shkodër whose presence dates back to 1878 and are known as Podgoriçani, due to their origins from Podgorica in Montenegro.[115][116] Podgoriçani inhabit the villages of Boriç i Madh were they form a majority alongside a few Orthodox Montengrins and some Albanians, while they live compactly in both Shtoj i Vjetër with 30 families and in Shtoj i Ri with 17 families and some families in Shkodër city.[115][116][117]

Ethno-cultural Albanian identity and Islam[edit]
Throughout the duration of the Communist regime, national Albanian identity was constructed as being irreligious and based upon a common unitary Albanian nationality.[118] This widely spread ideal is still present, though challenged by religious differentiation between Muslim Albanians and Christians which exists at a local level.[118] In a post communist environment, religious affiliation to either Muslim and Christian groups is viewed within the context of historical belonging (mainly patrilineal) and contemporary social organisation as cultural communities with religious practice playing a somewhat secondary to limited role.[2][119][120] Some contemporary Muslim Albanians in Albania see themselves as being the purest Albanians.[121] This view is based on the large contribution Muslim Albanians made to the National Awakening (Rilindja) and resistance to the geo-political aims of the Serbs.[121] Some Muslim Albanians, meanwhile, view Islam as a force that maintained Albanian independence from Christian countries like Greece, Serbia and Italy, and united Albanians.[75][122] Some Albanian Muslims also hold the view that unlike them, Christian Albanian communities of the Orthodox historically identified with the Greeks.[121] Some Muslim Albanians often refer to Orthodox Albanians as Greeks and attribute to them pro-Greek sentiments, while Orthodox Albanians view Muslim Albanians as having historically collaborated and identified with the Ottomans thereby earning the epithet Turk.[123] Some Muslim Albanians hold and have expressed negative views of Catholic Albanians, while some Catholic Albanians resent past political dominance held by Muslims in Albania and have expressed dislike of Islam and what they have interpreted to be its tenets, mores and values.[122]

Islam and Interreligious relations[edit]
In rural areas in northern Albania and southern Albania, relations between Muslim Albanians and Catholic Albanians or Muslim Albanians with Orthodox Albanians vary and are often distant with both Muslim and Christian communities traditionally living in separate villages and or neighbourhoods, even within cities.[118][122][124] Various pejoratives are in use today for different religious groups in Albanian, some based on the Ottoman system of classification: turk, tourko-alvanoi/Turco-Albanians (in Greek), muhamedan/followers of Muhammad for Muslim Albanians, kaur/infidel, kaur i derit/infidel pigs, for Orthodox Albanians, Catholic Albanians, Greeks, Vlachs and Orthodox Macedonians.[122][123][125][126] Among Muslims in Albania the term used for their religious community is myslyman and the word turk is also used in a strictly religious sense to connote Muslim and not ethnic affiliation, while Christians also use the word kaur to at times refer to themselves.[125] During the Albanian socio-political and economic crisis of 1997, religious differences did not play a role in the civil unrest that occurred, though the Orthodox Church in Albania at the time privately supported the downfall of the Berisha government made up mainly of Muslims.[77] Over the years minor incidents between Muslim Albanians with Christian Albanians have occurred such as pig heads thrown into mosque courtyards, Catholic tombstones being knocked down, an Orthodox church in Shkodër being bombed and damage done to frescoes in a church in Voskopojë.[127] An interreligious organisation called the Interreligious Council of Albania was created in 2009 by the four main faiths to foster religious coexistence in Albania.[128]
In southern Albania, urban centres of central Albania and partially in northern Albania, the status of Christianity dominates in contrast to Islam which is viewed by some Muslim Albanians as a historic accident.[75] A rejection of Islam has also been attributed to a divide that has opened up between older city dwellers and rural Muslim Albanian and somewhat conservative newcomers from the north-east to cities like Tiranë, where the latter are referred to pejoratively as “Chechens”.[75] Some young Muslim Albanians educated in Islamic Universities abroad have viewed their role as defending Islam in the public sphere over issues such as wearing of the veil, organising themselves socially and criticised the Muslim Albanian establishment.[75] Following the lead mainly of Albanian Christians obtaining visas for work into Greece there have been instances where Muslim Albanian migrants in Greece converted to Orthodoxy and changed their names into Christian Greek forms in order to be accepted into Greek society.[75][119][129][130] Some other Muslim Albanians when emigrating have also converted to Catholicism and conversions in general to Christianity within Albania are associated with belonging and interpreted as being part of the West, its values and culture.[86][75][131] A 2015 study estimated some 13,000 Christians exist in Albania who had converted from a Muslim background, though it is not clear to which Christian churches these people were affiliated.[132] Among Albanians and in particular the young, religion is increasingly not seen as important.[2][122][133] In a Pew research centre survey of Muslim Albanians in 2012, religion was important for only 15%, while 7% prayed, around 5% went to a mosque, 43% gave zakat (alms), 44% fasted during Ramadan and 72% expressed a belief in God and Muhammad.[4][134] The same Pew survey also estimated that 65% of Albanian Muslims are non-denominational Muslims.[135]

The leaders of Albania’s four main denominations in Paris, France, in a demonstration for interfaith harmony, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks from 2015. From left to right: Sunni, Orthodox, Bektashi, and Catholic.

Despite occasional issues, Albania’s “religious tolerance” (tolerance fetare) and “religious harmony” (harmonia fetare) are viewed as part of a set of distinctly Albanian national ideals, and said to serve an important part in Albania’s civic framework where sectarian communities ideally set aside their difference and work together in the pursuit of national interest.[136][137] Although considered a “national myth” by some,[138] the “Albanian example” of interfaith tolerance and of tolerant laicism[139] has been advocated as a model for the rest of the world by both Albanians and Western European and American commentators,[140][141] including Pope Francis who praised Albania as a “model for a world witnessing conflict in God’s name”[142] and Prime Minister Edi Rama, who marched with Christian and Muslim clergy on either side in a demonstration in response to religious motivated violence in Paris.[143] Meanwhile, Albania’s “example” has also drawn interest recently in the West, where it has been used to argue that “religious freedom and Islamic values not only can co-exist, but also can flourish together”, and is seen as a positive argument in favor of accelerating Albania’s accession to the EU.[144]

Interfaith marriages between Muslims and Christians are held to be “common” and “unremarkable” in Albania with little social repercussion, although there is little statistical data on their prevalence. During the communist period, it is known that during the period of 1950–1968, the rates of mixed marriages ranged from 1.6% in Shkodër, 4.3% in Gjirokastër to 15.5% among the textile workers in Tiranë.[145] In the district of Shkodër they reached 5% in the year 1980.[146] Most Albanian Muslims nowadays approve of mixed marriages, with 77% approving of a son marrying outside of the faith, and 75% for a daughter, the highest rates of all Muslim nationalities surveyed by Pew at the time.[147] Meanwhile, 12% of Albanian Muslims agreed that “religious conflict is a big problem in Albania”, though only 2% thought Christians were “hostile” to Muslims and 4% admitted that they thought Muslims were “hostile” to Christians.[148] 79% of Albanian Muslims said all their close friends were also Muslim, the second lowest number (after Russia) in the survey.[149]

Religious observances, customs and culture[edit]
Main article: Public holidays in Albania

In Albania a series of religious celebrations are held by the Muslim community. Two recognised by the state as official holidays are: Bajrami i Madh (Big Bayram, Eid al-Fitr) celebrated at the conclusion of Ramadan and Kurban Bajram (Bayram of the sacrifice) or Bajrami i Vogël (Small Bayram, Eid al-Adha) celebrated on 10 Dhu al-Hijjah.[150] During the month of Ramadan practicing Sunni Muslims in Albania fast and 5 nights are held sacred and celebrated.[150] These dates change per year as they follow the Muslim lunar calendar. In recent times during April the prophet Muhammad’s birthday is commemorated and the Muslim Community of Albania holds a concert in Tiranë.[150] It is attended by Albanian political and Muslim religious establishment representatives alongside Albanian citizens, many non-practising Muslims.[150] Other than the Sunni related celebrations, the Sufis such as the Bektashi have a series of holidays and observances. The Day of Sultan Novruz (Nowruz) on 22 March is an official holiday that celebrates the birth of Imam Ali.[151] Ashura, a day commemorating the massacre at Karbala is also held and multiple local festivals in various areas, some also observed as pilgrimages are held throughout the year at Sufi saints tombs and shrines like that of Sari Salltëk in Krujë.[151][152][153] Most prominent of these is the pilgrimage on 20–25 August to Mount Tomorr to commemorate and celebrate the Shi’ite saint Abbas Ali.[154]


Bejtyl Evel Mosque
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Tirana, Central Albania, Albania
Date established
2,500 worshipers
The Bejtyl Evel Mosque or Bejtul Evel Mosque (Albanian: Xhamia e Bejtyl Evel) is Ahmadiyya Mosque in Tirana, Central Albania, Albania.[1]
The Bejtyl-Evel Mosque or more commonly known as Baitul Awwal Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the country.[2] It was inaugurated by Mirza Tahir Ahmad in 1995 which makes this mosque the 1st Ahmadiyya mosque to be built in Albania. It also consists of a guest house called Darul Falah in the capital city. The mosque has a capacity of 2,500 people. It consists of 2 white minarets.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community[edit]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established since 1934.[3] The Ahmadiyya Mosque was financed primarily form Ahmadiyya community donations to build the mosque.




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