Islam in the People's Socialist Republic of Albania
Islam in the People's Socialist Republic of Albania covers a period of 1945–1991 when the Albanian Labor Party came to power under Enver Hoxha and exercised almost total control over the Albanian people. The communist government sought to radically overhaul Albanian society by realigning social, cultural and religious loyalties to the Labor Party through nationalism in the pursuit of achieving unitary Albanian identity.
Secularizing tenets borrowed from the National Awakening and Interwar period were continued and more radical approaches were adopted to sideline religion from the public sphere, allowing Albania by 1967 to declare itself an atheist state. Islam as practised by Muslims within Albania experienced profound changes and persecution under communism.
Muslim clergy became imprisoned, most minarets, mosques, tekkes and Sufi shrines were destroyed, Muslim religious practices banned, state surveillance of adherents and severe punishment of people who did not comply. The effects and legacy of persecution through forced de-Islamization of society led to post-war generations born under the Albanian communist regime having minimal to almost no knowledge of Islam.
Discrimination and emerging persecution (1945–1966)
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. Albanian society was still traditionally divided between four religious communities. In the Albanian census of 1945, Muslims were 72% of the population, 17.2% were Orthodox and 10% Catholic. The communist regime through the concept of national unity attempted to forge a national identity that transcended and eroded these religious and other differences with the aim of forming a unitary Albanian identity. Albanian communists viewed religion as a societal threat that undermined the cohesiveness of the nation. 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. The Bektashi order at a congress in May 1945 reaffirmed within their statutes its independence from the Sunni community in Albania. In 1949, a law was passed that required religious institutions to inculcate feelings of loyalty among their adherents to the Albanian communist party and that all religions had to have their headquarters in Albania. Akin to the Orthodox, the Bektashi's entered into agreements with the communist state without difficulties which defined what was considered acceptable activities of their religious clergy and the declaration of participation in communist propaganda campaigns. The communists during this time treated the Bektashi's somewhat differently as part of their clergy and adherents were casualties during fighting in World War Two while some Albanian communist elites had Bektashi heritage. Whereas of the Sunni Muslim clergy individuals such as Mustafa efendi Varoshi (mufti of Durrës), Hafez Ibrahim Dibra (former great mufti of Albania) and Xhemal Pazari (a prominent sheikh from Tiranë) were accused by the communists of collaborating with Axis occupying powers and imprisoned.
Religious leaders were selected by and acted as proxies for the communist party and the process was violent with Sunni Muslim leaders imprisoned and killed while the Bektashi head suffered a similar fate and by 1947 the communist regime had imprisoned 44 Muslim clergy. Unlike their Christians counterparts in Albanian jails, the Muslim clergy imprisoned by the communist regime received little to no attention internationally regarding their plight apart from diaspora Albanian organisations. The Sunni Albanian community by 1949 under grand mufti Hafiz Musa Ali attempted to attain some measures and conditions from Enver Hoxha. Some of those included financial assistance, the exemption of future Muslim clergy doing army service which was supported while a translation of the Quran into Albanian was rejected. In 1950, the communist government implemented Act 743 that outlined measures for negotiating the status of the four religions in Albania. The Sunni Community at this time was run by the Main Council and its finances came from budget subsidiaries and property donations. As the Bektashi order of Albania was the worldwide headquarters of Bektashism, contact with outside communities linked to them were allowed by the communists though denied for other religions in Albania. In 1955 Hafiz Suleyman Myrto became grand mufti of the Muslim community and from May 1966 to February 1967 Hafiz Esad Myftia was the last grand mufti of Albania of the communist era. After 1945, material wealth, institutional properties and land such as a Muslim vakëf (wakf) of the religious communities in Albania were confiscated by the state to limit the ability of the religious communities to be economically self-reliant. The madrasa at Tiranë was closed down in 1965. While mosques had until 1965 undergone a state of dilapidation due to meagre finances for repair.
Muslim architectural heritage was perceived by Albanian communists to be an unwanted vestige of the Ottoman period used for converting Albanians into Muslims. In 1965 the communist regime initiated a cultural revolution based on the Chinese model that saw the wide scale destruction of most mosque minarets due to them being a prominent feature of Islamic architecture. By 1967 only 60 Bektashi tekes were left functioning. Within the context of the communist regime's anti religion policies, from the 1960s onward parents were encouraged to give newborn children non-religious given names. These were considered proper Albanian names and often ascribed a supposedly "Illyrian" and pagan origin while given names associated with the Muslim or other religious traditions were strongly discouraged. The communist Albanian political establishment approached Islam as the faith of the Ottoman "invader". During communism numerous historians from Albania with nationalist perspectives (Ramadan Marmallaku, Kristo Frasheri, Skender Anamali, Stefanaq Pollo, Skender Rizaj and Arben Puto) intentionally emphasized "the Turkish savagery" and "heroic Christian resistance against" the Ottoman state in Albania. Few scholars that resisted those anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish propaganda trends were persecuted while the communist regime highlighted myths related to medieval Albanians by interpreting them as the "heroic Illyrian proletariat".
Secularization, iconoclasm and persecution (1967–1991)
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. In 1967 therefore the communist regime declared Albania the only non-religious and atheist country in the world, banning all forms of religious practice in public. The Muslim Sunni and Bektashi clergy alongside their Catholic and Orthodox counterparts suffered severe persecution and to prevent a decentralization of authority in Albania, many of their leaders were killed. 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. 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. Amongst Bektashi adherents transmission of knowledge became limited to within few family circles that mainly resided in the countryside. Mosques became a target for Albanian communists who saw their continued existence as exerting an ideological presence in the minds of people. 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. 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. The communist regime through policy destroyed the Muslim way of life and Islamic culture within Albania.
In 1967 within the space of seven months the communist regime destroyed 2,169 religious buildings and other monuments. Of those were some 530 tekes, turbes and dergah saint shrines that belonged mainly to the Bektashi order. Pilgrimage thereafter amongst Bektashi adherents to those shrines became limited occurring only in certain locations and indirectly through gatherings like picnics near those sites such as the Sari Salltëk tyrbe in Krujë. While 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. 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. Some number of mosques that were deemed structures of cultural importance and historic value by the communists did survive such as the Muradiye mosque in Vlorë, the Lead mosque in Shkodër, Naziresha Mosque in Elbasan, the Lead, Beqar, Hynkar and Hysen Pasha mosques of Berat, Fatih mosque in Durrës, Bazar mosque of Krujë, Allajbegi mosque of the Dibër area, Mirahor mosque in Korçë, Teke mosque in Gjirokastër and the Gjin Aleksi mosque of the Sarandë area. Declared also a monument of culture, the Ethem Bey mosque of Tiranë was allowed to function as a place of prayer and Islamic ritual, though only for foreign Muslim diplomats. In Tiranë during 1991, only two mosques were in a position to be used for worship and only nine Ottoman era mosques survived the communist dictatorship. Some Albanian Muslims from southern Albania became quickly urbanised alongside the Orthodox and integrated into the state after the war. Alongside the Catholics, the Sunni Muslim Albanian population of central and northern Albania was mainly marginalised and little integrated by the Albanian state that in the 1970s and 1980s experienced overpopulation and economic hardship. As such during the late communist period, the proportion of Catholics and Albanian Muslims of these regions grew larger than the Orthodox community of southern Albania. Due to the deemphasizing of religion, some mixed marriages of Muslims with the Orthodox or with Catholics occurred in the late communist period and mainly among the elite.
- Jelavich 1983, p. 379.
- Duijzings 2000, p. 163.
- Czekalski 2013, p. 120. "The census of 1945 showed that the vast majority of society (72%) were Muslims, 17.2% of the population declared themselves to be Orthodox, and 10% Catholics."
- Blumi & Krasniqi 2014, pp. 480–482.
- Crampton 2013, p. 46.
- Czekalski 2013, p. 121. "The communist relations with particular religious communities differed and depended on the degree of loyalty towards the new government. The Orthodox and Bektashi's succeeded without difficulties in entering into agreements with the communist authorities, defining the acceptable range of clerical activity and declaring participation in propaganda campaigns organized by the communists... The Bektashi's were helped by the fact that, during wartime, 28 of the community's clergymen, as well as a few hundred of the faithful, were killed in fighting."
- Czekalski 2013, p. 122. "To a lesser degree, the repression also touched the Muslim community, as some of the clergy were accused of collaboration with the occupants. Among those imprisoned were the mufti of Durrës – Mustafa efendi Varoshi, Hafez Ibrahim Dibra – the former great mufti of Albania and sheh Xhemal Pazari from Tirana. In 1947, there were 44 Muslim clergymen, 36 Catholic priests, 16 Orthodox priests and one nun in Albanian prisons."
- Lederer 1994, p. 344."In the Western press, Amnesty International, and other accounts on the horrors of the Albanian Gulag and religious persecution, there are many more mentions of Catholic and 'Greek' clergymen prisoners than Muslims who represent the overwhelming majority of the population. (Actually, I could find, after 1947, the name of only one imprisoned Muslim 'cleric' to whom I will return later.) The fact that Catholicism was considered by Hoxha, in the early period, as his main enemy is only one of the reasons. While Muslim leaders suffered probably as much as Christians their names were barely recorded by others than the Albanian emigrant organizations. Only the Muslim origin of certain detainees was referred to in a few Amnesty publications. The Western world has always been inclined to forget Muslim East Europeans. Religious persecution meant that of the Christians whose coreligionists in the free world could speak up for them. During those decades of oppression, even the Islamic world did little for its brothers tortured by Enver Hoxha."
- Czekalski 2013, p. 124. "In June 1949 there was a meeting between Enver Hoxha and the leader of the Albanian Sunni Muslims – Hafis Musa Ali, who presented his requests to the Albanian government. The mufti's main postulates were to financial aid for the Muslim community, and to make those who wished in the future to become hodjas or mullahs exempt from military service. Hoxha reacted positively to the exemption of clergymen from military service, but did not support the idea of translating the Koran into Albanian, which the mufti requested."
- Czekalski 2013, p. 124. "Act 743 became the basis for negotiations concerning the legal status of religious communities. On May 4, 1950... On the same day, statutes concerning the Muslim communities were also approved. The highest power in the Sunni Muslim community was the Main Council, and the budget was to consist of income from property donations and budget subsidiaries. The statute also regulated the activity of the Community of Albanian Bektashi's (Komuniteti Bektashian I Shqipërisë). Owing to the fact that the leader of the community in Albania controlled the world community of Bektashi's, he obtained the right to maintain contact with communities active outside the country (other community leaders did not obtain such rights)."
- Lederer 1994, pp. 338–341.
- Nurja 2012, p. 200.
- Bogdani & Loughlin 2007, p. 81.
- Lederer 1994, pp. 346–348.
- Nurja 2012, pp. 204–205.
- Czekalski 2013, p. 133. "Out of the 60 Bektashi temples (tekke) open before 1967, at the beginning of the 1990s only six were successfully reopened."
- Vickers 2011, p. 196. "One by-product of the regime's anti-religious policy was its concern with the question of people's Muslim and Christian names. Parents were actively discouraged from giving their children names that had any religious association or connotation. From time to time official lists were published with pagan, so called Illyrian or freshly minted names considered appropriate for the new breed of revolutionary Albanians.
- Waardenburg 2003, p. 387. "Since the late 1960s, newborn Albanians of any religion had to receive non-religious names, and Muslims here had to change their names to properly Albanian names."
- Barbullushi 2010, p. 158.
- Kopanski 1997, p. 192. "The sophisticated culture, literature and art of Islam were ignored by the generality of historians who hardly even tried to conceal their anti-Muslim bias. Their ferociously anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish attitude not only obscured and distorted the amazing process of mass conversion of entire Christian communities to Islam, but also provided an intellectual prop for the ultra nationalist policy of ethnic and religious cleansing in Bosnia, Hum (Herzegovina), Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. For against the backdrop of the history of the Balkans, as generally portrayed, what appeared as a kind of historical exoneration and an act of retaliation for the 'betrayal' of Christianity in the Middle Ages. The policy of destroying Islamic culture and way of life in Albania after the World War II is the primary reason why the history of medieval Islam in this land has not been properly studied. And when it was studied, it was studied within the parameters of the Stalinist ideology which emphasized only the mythical image of medieval Albanians as the 'heroic Illyrian proletariat'. The handful of Muslim scholars in the Communist Eastern Europe who resisted the anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish propaganda were ostracized and often penalized. Albanian nationalist historians like Ramadan Marmallaku, Kristo Frashëri, Skender Anamali, Stefanaq Pollo, Skender Rizaj and Arben Puto in their books deliberately emphasized ad nauseam only 'the Turkish savagery' and the 'heroic' Christian resistance against the Osmanli state in Albania."
- Trix 1994, p. 536.
- Duijzings 2000, p. 164.
- Buturovic 2006, p. 439.
- Poulton 1995, p. 146.
- Füsun & Hunter 2013, p. 143.
- Akhtar 2010, p. 240.
- Clayer 2007, pp. 33–36.
- Clark 1988, p. 514.
- Czekalski 2013, p. 129. "The capital's Et’hem Bey Mosque was recognized as a monument. This place later served as a place of prayer for diplomats working in Tirana, but Albanians were forbidden from praying in this place. A few Bektashi temples, including the sacral buildings were changed into cultural centres, warehouses and restaurants."
- Jordan 2015, p. 1590.
- Ramet 1998, p. 220. "Of the 1,127 mosques in Albania before the communist takeover, only fifty survived that era, most of them dilapidated. As of 1991, only two mosques in Tiranë were fit for use by worshipers."
- Manahasa & Kolay 2015, p. 70, 79.
- Clayer 2003, pp. 14–24.
- Clayer 2003, pp. 2-5, 37. "Between 1942 (date of the last census taking into account the denominational belonging) or 1967 (date of religion's banning) and 2001, the geographical distribution of the religious communities in Albania has strongly changed. The reasons are first demographic: groups of population, mainly from Southern Albania, came to urban settlements of central Albania in favour of the institution of the Communist regime; during the 1970s and 1980s, Northern Catholic and Sunni Muslim areas have certainly experienced a higher growth rate than Southern Orthodox areas. Since 1990, there were very important population movements, from rural and mountain areas towards the cities (especially in central Albania, i.e. Tirana and Durrës), and from Albania towards Greece, Italy and many other countries".
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