Madrassas in the Balkans: “schools of jihad” in the heart of Europe?

By on June 7, 2017

As the latest events in Europe showed, it is more and more likely for a terrorist attack to be carried out by a home-grown jihadist rather than an ‘imported’ one. In most of the cases, the perpetrators of the recent atrocious acts in Germany, France and the UK were born in those countries: Western citizens with a history of social and economic difficulties who, at a specific point in their lives, came in contact with an Islamist/Salafi narrative, from which they got inspiration and a sense of purpose, radicalizing themselves and bringing terror and death to the very same societies they had grown up within. Home-grown terrorist have thus become the focus for the preventive actions carried out by several intelligence and security agencies: such efforts, however, might fail to grasp another, more subtle form of “domestic radicalization” which is currently taking place in a region already figuring as Europe’s top provider of ISIS foot soldiers: the Balkans.

Dire economic conditions especially among the youth, growing disillusionment towards European integration and an ongoing strong influence from Islamic heavyweights as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are some of the elements of a worrisome mix turning Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia and the Sandzak into an area of rising Islamist radicalization. Part of the picture is provided by the role of local Islamic institutions, both official and unofficial, and the madrassas they run. Recent episodes highlight the role Islamic schools in the Balkans play in violent radicalization. Last January, Albanian police arrested Emine Alushi, a teacher from the Haxhi Sheh Shamia Madrassa in Shkoder. A video leaked to a local TV station showed Ms. Alushi replying to one of her pupils’ question on ISIS that the latter was “a Muslim organization that seeks to provide protection to the Muslim people of Syria, of Palestine and Egypt”, adding that “they are good, but the state wants to fight them” (Gazeta Shqiptare, January 20th). The Albania’s Muslim Community (KMSH), which is in charge of the school in Shkoder, was quick in reacting, saying that the teacher did not represent the official line of the madrassa “as an educative institution of the KMSH”. Interestingly enough, the madrassa in Shkoder was built thanks to the contribution of the controversial Turkish official aid agency TIKA, and was inaugurated by President Erdogan himself through a video-conference in March 2016 (Sıtkı Özcan’s Twitter account, January 20th). According to sources, Ms. Alushi’s Facebook profile showed the teacher’s “adoration” for the Turkish president.

Further worrisome trends come from the Sandzak, the Muslim-majority region split between Serbia and Montenegro. Reis Rifat Fejic, leader of the Islamic Community in Montenegro, is increasingly issuing warnings over the activities of the Gazi Isa-beg madrassa in Rozaje – a small town in the Montenegrin portion of the Sandzak. The madrassa is run by the Muftiate of Novi Pasar, on the Serbian side of the Sandzak, in the person of Mufti Abdurrahman Kujevic, who has been openly accused of promoting a radical, ISIS-leaning version of Islam. Kujevic, himself a Montenegrin from Rozaje, was expelled by the official Islamic Community in 2014 because of his proximity to the more radical Novi Pasar-based Sandzak Muftiate, led at the time by the controversial Mufti Muamer Zukorlic (Sana Press, May 23th ).

Madrassas in the Balkans increasingly look as the “exit points” of a very dangerous entanglement, where internal and external drivers can potentially lead entire generations to violent radicalization and terrorism. Islamic schools in the Balkans, their teaching staff and funding, need to be under stronger state and international scrutiny: it is the only way to prevent domestic “schools of jihad” to foster in the heart of Europe.

Author: Staff Analyst
Europe Next Staff Analysts conduct research and analytical studies providing analysis using openly available sources of information. Staff Analyst are responsible for systematically collecting publicly available information in a given region or a subject area to meet readers needs. The information includes traditional mass media, the internet, specialized journals, studies, conference proceedings and more.

One Comment

  1. Enver Vrenozi

    June 13, 2017 at 2:35 am

    Jihadist terrorists are not salafi/wahhabi. Terrorists are Khawarij, not salafi.

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