Most Westerners, myself included, know little about Albania. Over the last few years I’ve picked up a few tidbits of knowledge, but Albania is still largely terra incognita for me.
When I posted the Albanian translation of Geert Wilders’ speech the other day, I mentioned that many Albanians who are officially Muslims consider themselves Christians, and that the tradition has been passed down secretly within the families for centuries, but I didn’t realize how extensive this phenomenon was. Our Albanian translator, Ilia Toli Ph.D., has left a comment on the post giving more details:
I’m a Christian Orthodox Albanian. Now there’s a census in Albania and the religion will be one of the check-boxes. The biggest opposition to this are the Muslim authorities. They know that people by the millions will declare themselves Christians if given a chance, and that they’ll not be able to brag as they do now that Albania is 70% Muslim. Intermarriages are rampant and children declare themselves Christians. A strong motivation to do so is the fact that Turkey is the pariah of Europe. At every major terroristic event, Albanian Muslims denounce their faith by the hundreds of the thousands. In the northern, mountainous, sparsely inhabited part of the country there are still some oases of fanaticism.
There have been for centuries some Jews of Muslim outlook in Albania. They’re heirs to Shabetai Zevi and live in the countryside of Berat. By now they have no interest on Israel and Israel has no interest on them. They regard themselves just like another Muslim tribe. They’re called Donmeh.
There are a colorful variety of traditions among Albanian Muslims that point to their Christian non-distant past. For example, many have two names, one Christian at home and one Muslim in public. The point is that these all have been very diluted with time. There’s no special designation for these people.
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There’s a great divide between Albanian Muslims of Albania and of the other neighboring countries. All terrorist groups caught in USA were from the latter. They’re more arrogant and assertive.
Sometimes Albanian Christians are even more assertively anti-Serbian, if not at a rhetorical level, because we’re suspicious patriots. By the way, personally I am not a patriot at all, I’m pro-Serbian.
These are the optimistic notes. On the pessimistic side, I don’t want Albania to be template for the future France. Islam is leaving Albania but not the Muslim ways. They’ll be around for the centuries to come. That can be easily noticed on what Albanians reproach themselves. Just an example. Albanians do not ask God to “please give me a horse”, they ask him to “please make the horse of my neighbor die.”
Among friends we try to totally avoid the topic of religion, and if it unfortunately happens, we all recite in chorus “but we’re grown up without religion.”