CAIRO - A call by a Kosovar imam for Muslim men to abandon women who had engaged in pre-marriage relationships is sparking a heated controversy in the Muslim-majority province.
"In Islam, if someone regrets wrongdoings, even God forgives it, Merita Borovci, an activist and student in the Faculty of Islamic Studies at the University of Pristina, told SETimes newspaper.
But if it continues without regret, I am in favor of having a different approach toward it, not in a way that imam said, but such a woman should not have the same privileges as moral women.
A controversy has engulfed Kosovo this week after an imam described women who had been in a relationship before marriage as whores.
The imam, Irfan Salihu, said that these women should be abandoned by Muslim men.
But the speech invited the fury of women groups, who described the remarks as contradicting with Islamic teachings.
"It's a call for violence inside families, and it is absolutely unacceptable," said Teuta Sahatqija, chairwoman of the Women's Caucus.
She insisted that women should not be expelled from their families even if they deviated from the right path.
Adile Zeqiri, who lives in Gjilan, said that the imam's speech amounted to accusing women of immorality.
"It's such an outrageous claim," Zeqiri told SETimes.
Author Agim Gjakova described the speech as an attack on Kosovar society.
"This approach is not just a kind of extremism, it is like being commissioned by the biggest enemy of the Albanian people to speak in that way.
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.
Downplaying the impact of the speech, Muslim leaders criticized the imam for delivering the message in a way not allowed by Islamic teachings.
"We do not think that women's morality in Kosovo is at a level that requires such negative comments, Ahmet Sadriu, a spokesman of the Muslim community, told SETimes.
But of course we are concerned with the presence of some new negative phenomena in society, such as drugs and prostitution, which undoubtedly are a fact that made Imam Salihu use inappropriate comments.
The Islamic community said it is reviewing the imam's speech and will respond in accordance with internal procedures and regulations.
"Imam Salihu has apologized to those who might have been offended by his comments, Sadriu said.
But his intention was not to hurt anyone, rather it was a manifestation of his concern with the rapid expansion of some negative phenomena in Kosovo society.
Xhabir Hamiti, a professor in the Faculty of Islamic Studies at Pristina University, opines that the imam's speech was emotional rather than an attack on women."Irfan, but also other religious leaders of all communities without exception, must be aware that [public statements], sometimes even spoken right but not well elaborated, can have negative connotations.