The country of Albania is located in Eastern Europe. Albania remains the only European country which has a Muslim majority population. The influence on the Albanian population in regards to Islam comes from the rule of the Ottoman Empire 1385-1876.After a civil war (1944) between the Communist and a nationalist group, the Communist and their leader Enver Hoxha took power. Hoxha banned all religion in Albania including Islam. The regime filled Albanians with nationalist propaganda, fears of foreign occupation, restricting travel abroad. Albania’s Muslim population was significantly impacted by the secular communist government.
The country of Albania is located in Eastern Europe. Albania remains the only European country which has a Muslim majority population. The influence on the Albanian population in regards to Islam comes from the rule of the Ottoman Empire 1385-1876.
The Albanian population did not convert to Islam in large numbers until the seventeenth century. Albania began to establish a cultural identity separate from their Ottoman rulers. Albania declared independence on November 28, 1912, and it was internationally recognized in 1913.
After the end of the Ottoman rule, Albanians developed a national unity and even a national language.
After a civil war (1944) between the Communist and a nationalist group, the Communist and their leader Enver Hoxha took power. Hoxha banned all religion in Albania including Islam. The regime filled Albanians with nationalist propaganda, fears of foreign occupation, restricting travel abroad. Albania’s Muslim population was significantly impacted by the secular communist government.
“As a result, knowledge in the practice of Islam was all but lost as the country’s religious leaders were murdered and arrested by the regime. The consequences of the communist government’s religion policies became glaringly evident when religious services were initially reinstated in 1990. Among those attending the service, it was clear that Islamic practices were virtually unknown to the youth, and only a few elderly actually could recall the formalities of their faith” (Coughlin, 17)
Politics in Albania
Albania is regarded as a democracy which operates under a parliamentary system. The current Prime Minister of Albania is Sali Berisha, head of the Democratic Party of Albania. The current political situation is tense, fraught with allegations of corruption and elections fraud. “Accountability (both for executive and parliamentary braches of the state) remains an alien concept.” (Bogdani, Loughlin, 177)
Politics in Albania is based on secular principles and Islam plays virtually no role in politics. A long era of communism has almost completely made it impossible to combine politics and religion. Even if people would want to create a political party based on the identity of Islam and its moral structures, it would be impossible. In Albania, religious political parties are illegal.
In contrast to Kosovo, political Islam is unlikely to become a significant force in Albania for many years. In Kosovo there has been already some significant development of Islam and politics.
The legal system in Albania is characterized by a total absence of Sharia law. Albania”s legal system is secular, with the courts in the country operating under a civil legal system. The constitution protects democratic freedoms and rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion etc. These rights are often not respected. In 2003 the Human Rights Watch documented widespread infringements on media freedoms. “The report detailed harassment and violent attacks against journalist, often intended to suppress critical reporting. Such violence went largely unpunished, and in a majority of cases the perpetrators were police officers.”.” (Human Rights Watch, 300) Law enforcement in Albania suppresses reporting which critiques the government. Forming opposition to rival the Democratic Party of Albania is protected under law, yet it is constantly violated by the government. The strongest opposition party in the country is the Socialist Party “Since 1992, the government has repeatedly violated the party’s right to peaceful assembly, freedom of the press and equal access to state media” (Fred Abrahams, 56)
Relationship with the West
Albania has very strong relations with the West, especially with other European countries. The predominantly Muslim nation of Albania has been seeking admission into the European Union. Albania has a secular political system, similar to those in the European Union. Albania is a member of NATO.
The United States and Albania also share strong relations. The United States supported Kosovo’s push for independence (from Yugoslavia in 1999). The strong relationship between Albania, Kosovo and the United States is demonstrated by funds provided by the American government in the rebuilding of Kosovo. “In 1999, the United States provided 333.7 million in reconstruction, humanitarian and other aid to Kosovo” (Watkins, 52) Albania’s attempts to join the European Union, has had negative effects on the vitality of Islam in the country. Albanians associate Christianity with Europeanization:
“Albanians of Muslim roots (especially those of the younger generation), have shown little desire to embrace the religion of their grandparents, and are more attracted to Christianity”(Bogdani, John Loughlin, 82)
Countries such as Macedonia have a large Albanian population which constitutes twenty-five percent of the population according to a Macedonian government census in 2002. In Macedonia political leaders, illustrate a form of “Albanization” occurring in the country through the use of Islam. Using propaganda, the government of Skopje attempts to portray Albanians in Macedonia as fundamentalist.
“The Skopje government has persistently framed the issue to the outside world, in particular since September 11, as one in which Macedonia faces a wave of political Islamic fundamentalism.”(Coughlin, 20)
This notion does not fit well with the reality associated with Albanians or even Albanian Muslims. Albanians are pluralist and largely secular. Religion for them is private and tolerance of religious differences is the norm.
In any case, most Muslim Albanians have a long secularist tradition, being very moderate and liberal.
Woman and Minorities in Albania
In urban areas Albanian women live their lives similar to women in Western nations. Women have been intergraded into the workforce. “Albanian society has extensive migration pressures, war, and state policies to integrate women into the workforce have transformed the traditional role of even rural woman.” (Coughlin, 20) There is no mandatory clothing, religious or non-religious, for women.
The treatment of Albania’s Greek minority population has been an issue. “…it is clear that the Greek minority in Albania is particularly vulnerable to government abuse. In part, this is because the Greek minority is considered closed to Greece and therefore is viewed as a potential security threat. (Human Rights Watch, 21) This issue is also present for Albanians in Greece, often having to change their Muslim last names to avoid discrimination
Abrahams, Fred. Human Rights in Post-communist Albania. Human Rights Watch, 1996 Bogdani, Mirela, and John Loughlin. Albania and the European Union: the Tumultuous Journey towards Integration. New York: L.B Tauris &, 2007 Coughlin, Kathryn M. "Albania." Muslim Cultures Today: a Reference Guide. Westport: Greenwood, 2006. Human Rights Watch World Report, 2003. United States: Human Rights Watch, 2003. Watkins, Clem S. "Kosovo and U.S. Policy." The Balkans. New York: Nova Science, 2003. Iwaskiw, Walter R., and Raymond E. Zickel, eds. Albania : a Country Study / Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1994