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The new mosque dominates the skyline of Marina, a village of narrow streets and high-walled houses in Kosovo’s central region of Drenica. I travelled there recently to meet the followers of Xhemajl Duka, a cleric who had overseen the mosque’s construction.
|Jusuf Mziu says the village would not have accepted aid from an extremist.|
A young man who had been working outside his house guided me, walking through cobbled lanes on his worn-out shoes. The village was quiet, except for the barking of dogs. Curious eyes followed us, peering from through half-open wooden doors.
Xhemajl Duka, also known as Imam Kastriot, moved to Kosovo in 1999, shortly after the war. Ten years later, he was deported to his native Albania amid accusations that he was promoting Islamic radicalism. The mosque he had built was shut down on the grounds that it had operated outside the control of Kosovo’s central Islamic authority.
Hamid Kelmendi, the owner of a house near the mosque, said Duka had been his guest. He said the cleric, or imam, had also helped build several wells to improve the water supply.
“He only wanted to help the poor people in this village,” says Kelmendi. “He did a lot for us.”
Jusuf Mziu, an old man sitting in his garden with his cousin and his son, said he admired Imam Kastriot and had seen no evidence of his rumoured radicalism.
“Of course, if he really had anything to do with extremism, we would not accept his help,” he said.
I approached some of the village’s widows, who had lost their husbands during the war. They were reluctant to speak to me without the permission of a male head of the family, in keeping with their strict conservative mores. However, they acknowledged that they had received financial aid from the mosque. The women also said their children had attended Islamic lessons there, and that there was nothing untoward in what they were taught.
Outside the village however, the cleric’s message provoked alarm. In the nearby town of Skenderaj, Ajnishahe Halimi spearheaded a petition against Imam Kastriot that attracted thousands of signatures two years ago.
As the head of a local NGO that campaigns for women’s rights, Halimi was particularly concerned by reports that the imam was urging young girls to wear the Islamic veil.
Two years after the deportation of Imam Kastriot, his legacy remains divisive. While some followers in Marina praise his charitable work, his conservative message is regarded by others as a threat to a more secular way of life.
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