New data claim as many as 200 of the 727 mosques in Albania operate outside legal standards and Muslim Community regulation - raising fears about the potential growth of radical Islamist ideas.BIRN Tirana
|A representative of KMSH | Photo: BIRN/ Ivana Dervishi.|
The number is far higher than it was previous estimates and has fuelled concern about the aims of those setting them up.
The data came from the head of the State Committee on Cults, Ilir Dizdari, during a conference on the risk of terrorism that Muslim-majority Albania faces and who also made an interview with BIRN.
"Our process of identification up to now tell us that 200 mosques out of 727 don’t fulfill at least one of the required legal standards or Muslim Community regulations," he told BIRN.
"They might be closed, have lost ties with the community, might be illegal buildings, might not have the proper documentation, and so on," he said.
It has not been specified how many of the 200 mosques are, in fact, open, as the full report of the State Committee on Cults will not be released until next year.
Dizdari said that not all of these mosques had exhibited problems regarding extremism, but that uncontroled mosques could not exist any longer.
"This kind of situation... cannot continue. Controls and proper documentation should exist for every of them and we are working in this direction," Dizdari said.
Dizdari blamed the KMSH in part for the growth in freelance mosques, saying it was not just unable to control these mosques but had contributed to this situation.
"The Albanian Muslim community should stay away from sectarianism. It should be inclusive and above all increase the level of theology," he said.
The KMSH was also urged to attend to its role in containing extremist preachers within the mosques.
"The Albanian Muslim Community should openly criticise forms of preaching that lead to the development of terrorist ideas. It also has to form regulations in this regard and distribute them to all the mosques. These things are not being done," Dizdari continued.
The former deputy head of the KMSH, Ermir Gjinishi, also blamed the current leadership of this community for not doing its job.
"If the KMSH does not intervene immediately to change this situation next year, half of the mosques in Albania will pass out of its control," Gjinishi said.
Concerns about Islamist extremism in Albania rose on March 2014 when two self-appointed imams heading mosques independently from the KMSH were arrested for recruiting jihadists to fight for radical Islamist groups in Syria.
The KMSH is the only Muslim organization that the state recognizes and collaborates with.
Having this exclusive position, it claims the right to administer and oversee every mosque in Albania, as no other Muslim religious organisation is officially registered in the courts and approved by the State Committee on Cults.
The head of the Islamic community in Tirana, Ylli Gurra, told BIRN that he shared the concerns of the state institution in charge of cults.
"The situation could become dangerous if it continues the same way. A mosque outside the community's control can be an open window for extremism," he said.
Gurra urged the KMSH to reflect on the situation and take measures to fix it by increasing its influence within Albania's mosques.