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Sacking blamed on leadership of Albanian Muslim Community's intolerance of more Arab-influenced followers.
|The mosque of the madrasa in Tirana|
Albania’s Muslim community is embroiled in a row following the dismissal of Lulzim Plloci, imam of the "Mosque of the Madrasa" in Tirana, and its khatib, or preacher, Ferid Piku.
The move is perceived as part of an attack by the leadership of the Muslim Community, MCA, which favours a so-called Turkish brand of Islam, on clerics educated in Arab countries.
Reacting to the dismissal of the two religious leaders, their followers have taken to the social networks questioning the decision.
Condemnation of the dismissals has also come from the League of Albanian Imams, a splinter group from the MCA, which favours an Arab brand of Islam.
The MCA was founded in 1991 following the collapse of Albania’s Communist regime, which had banned religious organization for 34 years, proclaiming Albania the world's first atheist state.
The split between the two groups started in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on America, when the government was forced to examine the background of foreign Islamic charities operating in the country.
While Arab organizations propped up the cash-starved resurgent Islamic community in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Communism, Turkish religious doctrines have gained favour since.
Turkish Islam is regarded as culturally more in step with Albania’s Muslims and less vulnerable to radicalized religious interpretation.
Private Islamic Turkish charities have established religious and non-religious schools in Albania that have become known for good discipline and high academic standards.
The madrasa of Tirana, like others in Albania, is controlled by the SEMA, the religious foundation run by the Turkish Gulen movement, which is known for building internationally educational systems.
According to observers of Albania’s religious communities, Turkish influence is definitely on the increase, while Arab influence is on the wane.
The MCA ruling removed the mosque from the authority of the mufti of Tirana and placed it under the authority of the madrasa, leading to the dismissal of the two clerics.
“Imam Luli [Plloci] is not a bad imam and in this mosque he has done a lot of good work,” one of his supporters wrote on Facebook.
“Now we are learning that his problem is that does not wear a Western suit and won’t cut his beard in exchange for a moustache,” the same supporter added, criticizing the decision.
“These Nursist are taking over the whole Muslim Community,” said another, referring to the Turkish religious scholar Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, which is considered the inspirational figure of the Gulen Movement.
Confirming his dismissal, Plloci told Balkan Insight that his supporters were organizing a group to oppose the decision. Meanwhile, the MCA declined to comment, arguing that the decision was not newsworthy.
The League of Albanian Imams said the dismissals were based on "clan" interests, which aim to destroy the multi-cultural nature of Albania’s Islamic community.
“The dismissive tendencies transmitted by the MCA leadership, will only bring conflicts among believers, disturbing social peace among them, while brewing unnecessary hatred,” the League said in a statement.
“Imams are guides and educators for their followers and cannot be treated as mosques administrators, which can be moved around, dismissed or transferred as they were working for a private company,” the League added.
A Turkish brand of Islam now dominates the country’s religious institutions, as local Muslims struggle to find their own spiritual path.
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