Radical Islam is being imported into Albania leading to growing tensions in the country, according to an expert on the region.
“In Albania, young imams propagate a different form of Islam from what is customary there. This is leading to tensions,” said Peter Rettig, head of the South-East Europe section of Aid to the Church in Need.
Mr Rettig, who has just returned from a project assessment trip to the country, described how the growth of extremist Islam is leading to tensions not only within Muslim congregations but also with some Christian congregations.
He said: “They are scholars who have been trained inTurkey and Saudi Arabiaand demand a ‘pure’, stricter Islam. The number of events shows a worrying trend.”
He said that when he visited the country two years ago he received no reports of radical Islam, but during his recent visit he was not only told about such incidents, he witnessed one himself.
Mr Rettig described how he was sitting next to a priest of Tirana Archdiocese during a public screening of the Euro 2012 match betweenGermany 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 said: “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.
Another report told of Muslim children near Lake Shkoder refusing sweets from religious Sisters because of their Christian faith.
Mr Rettig added: “A priest in charge of education told me that they are happy that ethics courses are taught instead of religious studies in state schools as they fear the infiltration of radical Islam.”
But Mr Rettig stressed that while there were growing tensions with Christians, primarily the growth of radicalism affected Islam.
He said: “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 pointed out that the vast majority of people in Albania live together in peace.
According to Mr Rettig there are no reliable statistics about religious affiliations in Albania.
But it is estimated that some 60 percent of the 3.2 million Albanians belong to Sunni Islam. Some eight percent are Bektashi, an Islamic sect which was influenced by Sufism.
Orthodox Christians make up 20 percent of the population and Catholics about 10 percent.