Albania, security & religious education

 by Paula Sullaj


Albania Pope 2


Albania, as a rather new NATO member, has been contributing to an international battle against violent extremism by sending troops to Afghanistan and collaborating with other member countries to the fight against ISIS.  Efforts to resist the so-called Islamic State of Syria and Iraq have only intensified after key events in 2015. The ones most significantly impacting the public were a hostile e-mail sent to the Albanian Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri, signed by members of a terrorist group called the Red Brigade and a YouTube video threatening the Balkan region and Albania made by a jihadist named Almir Daci, a former Albanian Imam.  Daci is being tried in absentia for advocating terrorism and for recruiting persons to conduct terrorist acts.  This is not the only case of an Albanian citizen fighting with ISIS.  According to a report by The Soufran Group, the official count of Albanian citizens joining the Islamic State is ninety, whereas the non-official number ranges anywhere from one hundred to two hundred.

Yet, Albania is known and has been praised recently for the tolerance and acceptance that exists between religious communities.  The Albanian government has convened a number of meetings with the head of the Muslim community to consider together how to address the latest developments in regions where jihadists are committing violent atrocities. This collaboration, however, results from the need for measures to ensure internal and regional security. In fact, in his first three years of governing Albania, Prime Minister Edi Rama has been implementing reforms that do not explicitly concern either religion or terrorist attacks. It seems like the religious tolerance already existing in the country leads the government to worry less about the potential for violence done in the name of religion.

As a result, government reforms and strategies that address university and pre-university education do so without specifically involving religion or security for that matter.  This is particularly the case in pre-university education where schools are considered to be a place where students should only receive a general knowledge about religion from textbooks.  Albanian Law 69/2012 “On the pre-university education system in the Republic of Albania” does express the protection of human rights and the rights of the child more specifically, but the freedom of expression in matters of religion is not treated separately.  And the situation fails to improve with the proposed draft of the “Dokumenti i Strategjisë së Zhvillimit të Arsimit Parauniversitar 2014-2015” (The Document of the Strategy of Developing the Pre-University Education 2014-2020) which considers the empowerment of parents in decision-making about their children’s education to be the only necessary legal change.  However, this modification could lead to changes in the curriculum that even impact the study of religion in the future.  For now, children must wear uniforms at school and are specifically prohibited from wearing religious clothes. Nonetheless, there have been no recorded cases of parents complaining about this rule.

Even though the majority of the population in a 2011 census is declared Muslim (56,7%), with large groups of Catholics (10%), Orthodox(6.75%) and Bektashi(2%) as well, it seems that a significant number of Albanians do not consider religion to be a key element of their social life.  There have been legal attempts to include religion in education before, but it was refused with the argument that Albania is a secular state.  The biggest part of the population agreed and the issue has never again been raised.  It could be said that neither the Albanian state or its citizens find it necessary to include religion in schools because of the connotation that devout religious people are associated by the media with a violent extremist group like ISIS and others. This is how a secular state justifies attempts to counter religious terrorism with only security measures.  However, states today function in a globalized world wherein protecting oneself includes protecting one’s neighbors.  Collaboration that accounts for different religions and education about them is therefore necessary.  A collaboration based in trust and good will would be an investment for the entire region.

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