CAIRO - The growing religiosity in Kosovo is raising a hot debate in Europe's youngest Muslim-majority country, a trend attributed by some Kosovars to the growing impact of Muslim charities in the country.
You see more women wearing hijab and more men wearing beards, Brikena Hoxha of the Kosovo Stability Initiative, a Pristina-based think tank, told The Irish Times on Thursday, April 12.
This is new for us.
Kosovars say that their nascent country is drifting toward more conservatism.
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They argue that this trend runs counter to what they described as Islam-lite in the country.
We are Muslims but we think in the European way, said Xhabir Hamiti, a professor of Islamic studies and president of the Assembly of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an official regulatory body that selects and trains imams.
Opponents cite efforts by the conservative Justice Party last summer to amend the constitution, which declares Kosovo a secular state, to allow hijab in public schools.
The scarf in Kosovo is not an element of our identity, deputy foreign minister Vlora Citaku told the BBC in 2010 in defense of the government's decision to ban hijab in schools.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
Opponents also cite a controversy over calls for building a large mosque in the capital Pristina to absorb the growing numbers of worshippers in the country.
Pristina is home to 22 mosques, but most are too small and are straining at the seams, forcing worshippers to pray on the streets on Fridays.
We do not see Islam as an obstacle to joining the EU, said Hamiti.
Muslim Albanians make up more than 95 percent of Kosovo's two million population.
The province, which was run by the UN since a 1999 NATO campaign ended ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops, declared independence in 2008.
Some Kosovars attribute the growing piety to the impact of Muslim charities in the state.
Some of the Islamic NGOs misused their mission by dealing with religious issues based on their own specific interpretation, thinking that the people here do not understand the real Islam, said Hamiti.
There are several Muslim NGOs operating in Kosovo to help rebuild the country after NATO's bombing campaign that forced Serb forces in 1999.
They are helping rebuild mosques destroyed during the war as well as offering financial help to the war orphans.
The Muslim NGOs are also engaged in health and educational projects in the newly-established state.
But critics say that the NGOs are using their influence to draw poor Kosovars to their ideology.
My neighbors told me they were given â¬300 a month to do this, said Hoxha.
They said it was the only way they could survive.
Two years ago, an Albanian imam was expelled for preaching views that irked locals.
Those who claim that they are bringing the real Islam to Kosovo do not represent the official and traditional Islamic teachings in our society, says Prof Hamiti.The majority of Muslims here are against any kind of extremism and radicalism based on religion.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net