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General Information/Religion
Albania is Europe's only predominantly Muslim country

 
 
CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ALBANIA
CHAPTER II--PERSONAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS


Article 24
1. Freedom of conscience and of religion is guaranteed.
2. Everyone is free […]to express them (religion and beliefs) individually or collectively, in public or private life, through […] education, […].
[…]



Religion in Albania

Albania has a largely homogeneous ethnic population, consisting of Ghegs in the north and Tosks in the south. The ethnic Greek communities, the largest minority group in the country, are located in the southern part of the country. Other small minorities include the Roma, Egyptian community (an ethnic group similar to the Roma which does not speak the Roma language), Vlachs, Chams, and Macedonians.

Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%
note: percentages are estimates; there are no available current statistics on religious affiliation

The majority of Albanians today are either atheists or agnostics. According to an official US Government Report: "No reliable data were available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates ranged from 25 to 40 percent", leaving 60 to 75 percent of the population non-religious (or, at least, not practicing a religion in public).

The country does not have a history of religious extremism and takes pride in the harmony that exists across religious traditions and practices. Religious pragmatism continued as a distinctive trait of the society and interreligious marriage has been very common throughout the centuries, in some places even the rule.

There is a strong unifying cultural identity, where Muslims and Christians see themselves as Albanian before anything else. This has been solidified historically by the common experience of struggling to protect their culture in the face of various outside conquerors.

For generations, religious pragmatism was a distinctive trait of the Albanians. Adherence to ancient pagan beliefs also continued well in the 20th century, particularly in the northern mountain villages, many of which were devoid of churches and mosques. An Albanian poet named Pashko Vasa (1825-1892), known also as Vaso Pasha, made a trenchant remark, later co-opted by Enver Hoxha in an failed attempt to justify the "spiritual approach" of his communism, that the religion of the Albanians is Albanianism. Based on observations and opinion polls only 30-40% of Albanians actively practice a religion.


History of Religion in Albania

Antiquity

The two main Illyrian cults were the Cult of the Sun and the Cult of the Snake. The main festivals were the seasonal summer and winter festivals during the solstices and the spring and autumn festivals during the equinoxes. An organic system of assigning human personifications to natural phenomena was culturally developed and remnants of these still appear in everyday Albanian folklore and tradition.

Christianity was adopted in the region of Albania during Roman rule by the middle of the 1st century AD. At first, the new religion had to compete with Oriental cults such the worshiping Mithra - the Persian God of light, known in the region due to Rome's growing interaction with eastern regions of the Roman Empire. For a long time, it also competed with gods worshiped by Illyrian pagans.

The steady growth of the Christian community in Dyrrhachium (the Roman name for Epidamnus) led to the creation of a local bishopric in 58 AD. Later, episcopal seats were established in Apollonia, Buthrotum (modern Butrint), and Scodra (modern Shkodra). After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania fell under the umbrella of the Eastern Roman Empire, but remained ecclesiastically dependent on Rome.

During the final schism in 1054 between the Western and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north under the purview of the Papacy in Rome. The arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasion of the 14th century, when the Islamic faith was imposed.

Albanian Catholicism

Albania was once mostly Roman Catholic, with eighteen episcopal Sees, some of them having a ceaseless activity from the dawn of the Christian faith until today. Albania was the last Roman Catholic bridgehead in the Balkans. For four centuries, the Catholic Albanians defended their faith with bravery, aided by the Franciscan missionaries, starting by the middle of the seventeenth century, when the persecutions of their Ottoman Turkish lords started to result in conversions of many villages to the Islamic faith, particularly among the Greek population.

The College of Propaganda at Rome played a significant role in the religious and moral support of the Albanian Catholics. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the College contributed in educating young clerics appointed to service on Albanian missions, as well as to the financial support of the churches. Good work was done by the Austrian Government at the time, which offered significant financial aid in its quality of Protector of the Christian community under Ottoman rule.

The Church legislation of the Albanians was reformed by Clement XI, who convoked a general ecclesiastical visitation, held in 1763 by the Archbishop of Antivari, by the end of which a national synod was held. The decrees formulated by the Synod were printed by the College of Propaganda in 1705, and renewed in 1803. In 1872, Pius IX convoked a second national synod at Shkoder, for the revival of the popular and ecclesiastical life.

Thanks to Austrian interest in Albania, the institution of the Catholic bishops of Albania was obtained through a civil decree released by the Vilajet of Berat.
Albania was divided ecclesiastically into several archiepiscopal provinces:
1.Antivari
Since 1878 part of the principality of Montenegro. Since 1886, without suffragan, separated from Scutari, with which it had been united in 1867 on equal terms.
2.Scutari, with the suffragan Sees of Alessio, Pulati, Sappa and (since 1888) the Abbatia millius of St. Alexander of Orosci.
Durazzo
Uskup.
The last two archiepiscopal provinces did not have any suffragans, and depended directly on the Holy See. A seminary, founded in 1858 by Archbishop Topich of Scutari, was destroyed by the Ottomans, but was later re-established on Austrian territory and placed under imperial protection. In Scutari women belonging to both the Catholic and Islamic faiths used to go veiled.

Albanian woman worked unceasingly in agriculture and in home care; men were in frequent absence due to either regular or irregular fighters in the Ottoman forces. The women dressed in tight skirts of light colour striped with black, and their heads and shoulders were covered on feast days with masses of gold and silver coins.

In the Catholic churches, the women appeared unveiled, and the humbler class generally removed their shoes at the entrance. The service in the Cathedral of Scutari was impressive, although classified as primitive. It was described as quiet, for the congregation rasps out the responses with a fervour that precludes either modulation or rhythm, and the incessant rattle of the coins on the women's breasts and heads as they bend forward and again kneel upright accompanying every intonation.

The scarlet colour predominates in the altar decorations, as well as in the clothes of the worshipers. There is evidence of admirable work done by Catholic friars in dispelling the old vendetta custom, especially in Northern Albania. Even today, the Catholic Albanians maintain their steadfastness, and no bribes or threats have succeeded in drawing them from their first allegiance. While others in the Balkans, with the exception of the Croats, became Orthodox Christians, the Roman Catholic faith remained secure in the fastnesses of northern Albania.

Albanian Orthodox Christianity in Albania

Metropolitan Theofan Fan Noli established the Albanian Orthodox Mission under the American diocese. Although Orthodox Christianity has existed in Albania since the 2nd century AD, and the Orthodox historically constitute 20% of the population of Albania, the first Orthodox liturgy in the Albanian language was celebrated not in Albania, but in Massachusetts. Subsequently, when the Orthodox Church was allowed no official existence in communist Albania, Albanian Orthodoxy survived in exile in Boston (1960-1989). It is a curious history that closely entwines Albanian Orthodoxy with the Bay State.

Between 1890-1920, approximately 25,000 Albanians, the majority of them Orthodox Christians from south-eastern Albania, emigrated to the United States, settling in and around Boston. Like many other Orthodox immigrants, they were predominantly young, illiterate, male peasants. Like so many other Balkan immigrants, a large number (almost 10,000) returned to their homeland after World War I. Since the 2nd century AD, the liturgical services, schools and activities of the Orthodox Church in Albania had been conducted in Greek.

Those Albanian Orthodox, who, in the fashion of 19th century Balkan nationalism, sought to recreate their church as an Albanian rather than Greek body, were frequently excommunicated by the Greek-speaking hierarchy.

Nationalist fervour ran high in Albanian immigrant communities in North America. When, in 1906, a Greek priest from an independent Greek parish in Hudson, Massachusetts, refused to bury an Albanian nationalist, an outraged Albanian community petitioned the missionary diocese to assist them in establishing a separate Albanian-language parish within the missionary diocese. Fan Noli (Theofan (Fan) S. Noli) (1882-1965), an ardent Albanian nationalist and former parish cantor, was subsequently ordained in February 1908 by a sympathetic Metropolitan Platon to serve this new Albanian parish.

Noli went on to organize five additional Albanian parishes, mainly in Massachusetts, as an Albanian Orthodox Mission in America under the auspices of the American diocese. Noli later emigrated to Albania, served as the Albanian delegate to the League of Nations, was consecrated Bishop and Primate of the independent Orthodox Church in Albania in 1923, and even served briefly as Prime Minister of Albania (came in power with the so called The Revolution of 1924) but was overthrown in a coup by Ahmet Zogu on the same year.

After years in exile in Germany, Noli returned to the United States in 1932, studied at Harvard, translated Shakespeare into Albanian and Orthodox Scriptures and services into English, and led the Albanian Orthodox community in this country until his death in 1965.

Albanian Islam

One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman occupation and rule was the conversion of up to 60% of the Albanian population to Islam through tax penalties. Therefore, the country emerged as a partly Muslim nation after its independence from Ottoman rule on 12 November 1912. Muslims make up the majority of the religiously observant in Albania, sharing the first place in number of religion adherents with the Orthodox Christians and followed by Roman Catholics.

Statistics as of 1930 estimated that 65 to 70 percent of Albanians were of Muslim affiliation (Sunni and Bektashi). Like other religions, Islam has seen some limited revival since the official ban on all religious practice was lifted.[citation needed] Since Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire for almost five centuries the integration of Albanians into this empire went hand by hand with the gradual spread of Islam and the abdication of Paganism and Christianity.

When Albania was declared an independent country in 1912, it emerged as the only Muslim-majority state in Europe. In the North, the spread of Islam was slower due to Roman Catholic Church resistance and the mountainous terrain contributed to trim down the Ottoman influence. In the South, however, Catholicism was not as strong and by the end of the seventeenth century the region had largely adopted the religion of the growing Albanian Muslim elite.

The existence of a growing Albanian Muslim class of pashas and beys who played an increasingly important role in Ottoman political and economic life became an attractive option career for most Albanians. In 1923, the Albanian Muslim congress convened at Tirana decided to break with the Caliphate. During the monarchy religious institutions of all confessions were put under state control.[citation needed] This trend was taken to extreme during the totalitarian regime, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether.

Distribution The Muslims of Albania were divided into two main communities: those associated with Sunni Islam and those associated with the Bektashi, a mystic Dervish order that came to Albania through the Ottoman Janissaries. The order resembles Sufi mystic orders, but contains elements quite distinct from orthodox Islam.

After the Bektashis were banned in Turkey in 1925 by Atatürk, the order moved its Headquarters to Tirana and the Albanian government subsequently recognized it as a body independent from Sunnism. Sunni Muslims were estimated to represent approximately 50% of the country's population before 1939, while Bektashi represented another 20%.

Sunni Muslims have historically lived in the cities of Albania, while Bektashi Shias mainly in remote areas whereas Orthodox Christians mainly in the south, and Roman Catholics in the north of the country. However, in the modern times this division is not strict, particularly in the case of many urban centers, which have mixed populations.

People's Republic

During 45 years of absolute and obscurantist rule of the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, the religions were banned officially, and Albania was proclaimed as the first and the only atheist state in the world. Today, back to the the freedom of religion and worship, Albania has become a multi-religious society.

March 2007, Summer Day celebrations in Tirana
The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized most property of religious institutions, including the estates of monasteries, orders, and dioceses. By May 1967, religious institutions had relinquished all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people.

Many Muslim imams and Orthodox priests were forced to heavy works. More than 200 clerics of various faiths were executed and imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture. As the literary monthly "Nëndori" reported the event, the youth had thus "created the first atheist nation in the world." From 1967 to 1992, religious practices were banned and the country was proclaimed officially atheist, marking an event that happened for the first time in world history.

Albanians born during that time were never taught religion, so they grew up to become either atheists or agnostics. Old non-institutional pagan practices in rural areas, which were seen as identifying with the national culture, were left intact. As a result the current Albanian state has also brought pagan festivals to life, like the lunar Spring festival (Albanian: Dita e Verës) held yearly on March 14th in the city of Elbasan, which is a national holiday.

Current Status of Religion Freedom in Albania

Constitution of Albania

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion and all religions are equal; however, the predominant religious communities (Bektashi, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians) enjoy a greater degree of official recognition (e.g., national holidays) and social status based on their historical presence in the country.

All registered religious groups have the right to hold bank accounts and to own property and buildings. No restriction is imposed on families regarding the way they raise their children with respect to religious practices. The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The Ministry of Education has the right to approve the curricula of religious schools to ensure their compliance with national education standards, and the State Committee on Cults oversees implementation.

There are also 68 vocational training centers administered by religious communities.
Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The government is secular and the Ministry of Education asserts that public schools in the country are secular and that the law prohibits ideological and religious indoctrination. Religion is not taught in public schools.

Foreign missionaries in Albania

Foreign religious missionaries who have come to Albania since 1991 include Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons who come mainly from the USA, Muslims from Arab countries and Turkey, Bahá'ís, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, and many others freely carry out religious activities.

According to the State Committee on Cults, as of 2002 there were 31 Christian Societies representing more than 45 different organizations, about 17 different Islamic Societies and Groups and 500 to 600 other Christian and Bahá'í missionaries. The largest foreign missionary groups were American, British, Italian, Arab and Greek.


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