Has Islam lost to atheism

AlbaniaFrom atheism to Islamism

You don't see veiled women on the streets of Tirana, headscarves every now and then, the vast majority of Albanians dress in western style. 57 percent describe themselves as Muslims, two percent belong to the Alevi Bektashi, 17 percent are Orthodox and Catholic Christians.

The small churches with their modest minarets are drowning in the sea of ​​houses in the Albanian capital. The so-called Erdogan Mosque is completely out of the way.

Two of the future four minarets are already rising high into the sky. The Erdogan Mosque is being built with money from the Turkish government, hence the name, and next summer it will offer space for 4,000 believers.

"Before communism there were 1,000 mosques in Albania, they have all been destroyed. At that time Tirana had 80,000 people and 30 mosques. Now Tirana has 800,000 inhabitants and there are only ten small mosques. This new mosque is therefore a necessity, not a status symbol. "

Gazmend Aga from the Albanian Muslim Community: "Mosque is a necessity, not a status symbol" (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

Gazmend Aga of the Albanian Muslim Community has a good view of the construction site from his office. The 35-year-old - in a white shirt with an open collar, his face clean-shaven - is more reminiscent of a young banker or civil servant than an imam. All religious communities were allowed to practice again after the end of the communist dictatorship in 1992, but had to create a new start on their own.

"Religion was abolished, forbidden in Albania"

A decision that Agron Sojati considers extremely questionable. Sojati is the Prime Minister's Counter-Terrorism Officer, an office that was established in Albania just two years ago. "Religion was abolished, forbidden in Albania. Every religion, not just Muslim. From 1992 the government allowed the religions again, but they left them to their own devices. They didn't want to be misunderstood that they might control the faith communities. But that lasted too long, more than 25 years. And you know that there is no vacuum. We left them alone, others didn't. "

Agron Sojati is the national coordinator organizing the fight against extremism in Albania. The fact that Sojati immediately connects the fight against terrorism with Islam can confidently be interpreted as an admission of state failure in matters of religion. In several ways. When building mosques, for example. Without official approvals or requirements, the Muslim communities did what everyone in the country did: They just started building, financed by wealthy Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, but also Turkey.

The entire Western Balkans is becoming increasingly radicalized

With the money, Islamist influences came to Albania, which have been vastly underestimated for too long, because in the decades of so-called Stone Age communism, the country lost any understanding of the role of religion.

"There was no religious education here. That is why many Albanians went abroad for it: to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, the Gulf states. As a non-religious country, we knew each other with the differences between them different Islamic directions. "

A total of eight and a half million Muslims live in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. The entire Western Balkans are being hit by increasing radicalization - including Albania, as political scientist Enri Hide found out.

"Between 600 and 900 fighters of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq come from the Western Balkans. This includes family members. 145 people come from Albania, also with partners and children. 45 to 48 have returned. 76 are still with their families There."

Defense lawyer Roland Islami represents returnees from Syria in Albania (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)
Roland Islami is a well-known criminal defense lawyer in Albania who lets himself be driven through the capital Tirana in an expensive black limousine. As a lawyer, he represented nine returnees from Syria, former fighters of the so-called Islamic State. Among them are two imams. The one, Bujar Hysa, is what is called a hate preacher.

"Bujar Hysa is a person with a high criminal potential. In the courtroom he did not shy away from statements such as: 'The leadership of the Islamic State will come and make Albania a real state.' Albania must not stand by when someone spreads such ideas. "

Growing radical scene in Albania

Albania has got an Islamist scene that is getting bigger and bigger, says Enri Hide. He has been studying radicalization in Albania and the Balkans for years. "We have some mosques, for example in some of the outskirts of Tirana, that are clearly under the influence of radical people. One of the biggest hot spots is the place Cërrik, with one of the fastest growing radical scenes in Albania. Or the village of Rëmenj, for example, from which nine fighters went to IS. The young people have not only been radicalized in mosques, but also in other buildings that are not used for religious purposes. "

The Prime Minister's anti-terrorist officer, Agron Sojati, also sees a need for action here. Radicalization often happens as an attempt to escape poverty and lack of opportunities. "Mainly there are economic reasons. A community of Sinti and Roma lives in a small town 60 kilometers from Tirana. Five people went to Syria from there alone because they were promised that they would each get 1,500 euros. In fact, they got 150 Euros. Everyone has returned. "

Now everyone would be monitored. But unfortunately nobody is interested in their economic situation, says Sojati, because above all these men need vocational training, work and an apartment.