Starting with demographics and religiosity, Dr. Alibašić stated that there are about 9 million Muslims in the Balkans. Most of them are of Albanian and Bosniak origin, and they are mainly found in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Macedonia, with smaller communities in Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. Islam came to the Balkans with the Ottomans, which shapes the perception of and about the Balkan Muslims both positively and negatively. The positive aspect is that Muslims of the Balkans are an indigenous population; the negative is that, because of the Ottoman legacy and the view in which it is viewed by various Balkans nationalisms, Muslims of the Balkans tend to be viewed as outsiders.
In terms of religiosity, Pew Research Center’s survey on global religions shows that the Balkans Muslims tend to be less religious than other Muslims, based on surveys about basic attitudes toward religious practices. Because of specific historical circumstances, they have transformed Islamic teachings from legal code to an ethics code. Only about 2% of all Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo belong to Sufi orders.
In the 1970s, the Balkans Muslims started experiencing religious revival. This was evidenced by construction of new mosques, in education, publications, personal religiosity, and the revival of Sufi orders. Currently, there is one mosque per about 1,000 Muslims in the Balkans. Education has traditionally been conducted through maktabs. Since the fall of communism, religious instructions have entered into public education systems. In Bosnia, for instance, 95% of Muslims in primary schools attend religious education in public schools. Islamic publications are primarily disseminated in Bosnian and Albanian languages. The most translated author is Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, then other classical and contemporary authors, like Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Sufi orders have witnessed a significant revival since they were banned under communism, but on the whole are still a minor phenomenon.
Dr. Alibašić highlighted the fact that most Muslims in the Balkans are of traditional orientation, even though there are some other tendencies that are traditionally not associated with the Balkans Muslims that have found some acceptance more recently. With regard to religious revival, main agents and factors behind the revival are Imams in mosques, madrasahs (Islamic schools), Islamic institutions of higher education, students who studied abroad, and – most recently – some foreign agencies, mostly from Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also from Turkey.
An interesting aspect of Dr. Alibašić’s presentation was a discussion on the Islamic traditions of Balkan Muslims (while mostly focused on Bosnia, he emphasized this is probably true of most other Balkan countries). Using the framework developed by Dr. Fikret Karčić of the University of Sarajevo, Dr. Alibašić mentioned six main elements of Islamic tradition in the Balkans:
As a final note, Dr. Alibašić talked about recent genocide and ethnic cleansing over Muslims of the Balkans. These events have entered into Muslim collective consciousness, and have become a cornerstone of their modern identity.
Dr. Alibašić is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is also Director of the Center for Advanced Studies, a research think-tank based in Sarajevo. Dr. Alibašić is author of many research articles, published in various international journals. He is also one of the editors of Yearbook of Muslims in Europe and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Muslims in Europe, both of which are published by Leiden in the Netherlands. He holds a PhD from the University of Sarajevo, an MA in Islamic Civilization from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) in Malaysia, and two BAs, one in Fiqh and Usul al-Fiqh, and the other in political science, from the International Islamic University Malaysia.
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