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**Islam in Albania**
Albanians are the biggest Muslim nation of Europe. Located at the western part of the Balkans they are believed to be descendents of the ancient Illyrians, which inhabited Europe some 2500 years ago. While in the ancient times they were pagans, with the advent of the Christian teachings of St. Paul among Romans, they converted in Christianity. Albania’s total territory is 28,000 Sq kms. Its capital city is Tirana, founded in the 17th century by an Albanian Pasha, who, as the legend says, originally named it Teheran.
Historically, the Albanians are the only Balkan people whose national consciousness has not been shaped or identified by their religious affiliation. Instead, Albanians have defined their national identity through language. Throughout their turbulent history, Albanians have shifted with relative ease from one religion to another – being Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim according to how this best served their interests at the time. In the late Middle Ages, their lands became the battlefield between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East. Whenever the West was advancing, the Albanian feudal lords adopted Catholicism; whenever Byzantium was the victor and the West retreated, they embraced Orthodoxy.
Albania is a self-proclaimed secular state that allows freedom of religion. There are 3 main religions: Islam, Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. The percentage of Muslims remains the majority at more than 65%. More than 20% of the population are Orthodox and about 10% are Catholic. The Muslim population is further divided between the 85% who followed the Hanafi school of the Ahli-Sunnah wal Jama' and the 15% who were affiliated with the highly syncretic Bektashi sect.
History of Islam.
The contacts of Albanians with the Islamic world are relatively new compared to other countries. Islam appeared for the first time in the old continent at the end of the first millennium (9th-10th centuries). Historically, inter-religious contacts between Christian Albanians and Islamic preachers belong to the 13th -14th century. During the 15th and 16th centuries, a number of mosques which are important Islamic culture centres were established in the main cities of Albania.
The Albanians embraced Islam nearly as a whole, which is remarkable when seen in the light of Albanian history. The rugged terrain of this region served as a natural barrier against outside invaders and greatly slowed the spread of foreign ideas, such as Christianity and linguistic borrowing. Before the outlawing of religion in 1967, Albania's population was 75% Muslim, 15% Orthodox Christian and 10% Roman Catholic.
Albanians were the first nation who embraced Islam massively in Southeastern Europe and cooperated with the Turks for building their Islamic empire in Asia, Africa and Europe. Until 1913, the country was part of the Ottoman Empire, being more or less the last major Balkan territory to be held by the Turks. Many Albanians served the Ottoman Empire with distinction. It was part of the Ottoman tradition to recruit conquered peoples and co-opt them into government. Albanians constituted the bulk of the Osmanli armies,· and the majority of the janissari corps were manned by them.· People from Shemsedin Sami, who contributed to the modernization of the Ottoman state during the 19th century, most of the bodyguards of sultan Abdülhamid II, as well as the grand vizier of sultan Selim one, were Albanians.
Mosques in Albania.
However the mosque building process did not manage to recover the country’s thirst for rediscovering their prohibited religion. If until 1967 in Albania some 1666 mosques existed, nowadays, after the communist destruction, Albanians have managed to rebuild only around 500 mosques throughout the country, even that some Christian fundamentalist organizations in the United States claim that the country has over 3000 mosques.· At present the country has around 350 imams and 500 mosques around the country, which means 1 imam for 10,000 people and 1 mosque for 70000 people. Turkey currently is building 18 large Islamic religious centers around the world. The projects include a mosque in Tirana, Albania which will hold more than 4,000 worshippers.
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