Author: Tejinder Singh
Islam has flourished in the Balkans over the centuries with a peaceful and modern outlook but over the last decade, especially now with the talk of Kosovo independence, there are questions being raised about the external influence in once-tranquil religious relations.
Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam with origins in Saudi Arabia has been rearing its ugly head of intolerance in the Balkans starting from Bosnia a decade ago. With the recent manifestation of its hardcore modus operandi in Kosovo, which has more than a 90 percent Muslim population, the ongoing impact of Wahhabism demands serious attention. First, lets look at origins of Wahhabism. In the deserts of the Middle East, Muhammad al-Saud, a tribal leader, had in 1750 formed an alliance with Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, a religious leader and al- Wahhabs name defines the Islamic interpretation that remains the Saudi Arabian kingdoms ideology. The present Saudi Arabia was formed in 1902, when Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud captured the town of Riyadh but its greatest victory came in 1924, when it captured Mecca from the Hashemite dynasty that had controlled the city for centuries.
With the arrival of the 70s, the mud houses and camel caravans in Saudi Arabia started coexisting with the ultra-modern infrastructure. The newly found wealth of Petro-dollars brought phenomenal changes in a few decades. But like every gift, this one also came with a package and that has thrown young Saudis to face many nontraditional problems.
According to official estimates, the last two decades have seen the native-born population in Saudi Arabia doubling to nearly 18 million but on the other hand the per-capita income during the same period dwindled to almost half of what it was. Add to that unemployment figure of about 30 percent in the adult male population with no chance of finding a job in sight. Now, compare that to the average monthly stipend of about USD 30,000 for a low ranking hierarchy prince in the Saudi ruling family, and, according to rough estimates the number of them is as high as 25,000. In the process, the Saudi government gets about 50 percent of the oil revenue as the rest is pocketed by the Saudi royal family at source. Ironically, most Saudis are aware of this fact and that fuels the unhappiness in the Vox Populi.
It is thus not the lack of wealth but a disproportionate distribution system that is one of the major factors that attracts Saudi youth to terrorism which according to sources has the silent support of most people under 30. Getting uncomfortable with domestic unrest, the Saudi ruling family in 1980s decided to export this home-grown militancy to Afghanistan to fight Soviets and the rest is history.
Today, Wahhabism needs new breeding grounds along with training and survival fields. It will not be long after the independence of Kosovo that the Kosovoan version, of Muttawa, the religious police since 1926 of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia that enforces prayer five times a day, monitors mobile SMS and arrests women for failing to cover themselves completely, will be a reality on the streets of Kosovo. One look at the local media reports in Kosovo and neighbouring arena will suffice to convince any sceptic about the dangers of Wahhabism form of Islam. The UN and Kosovo police in the southern part of the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica on September 19 arrested one of the leaders of the Wahhabite movement in southern Serbia and Kosovo, according to local media reports. According to these reports the arrested man was Bajram Aslani, allegedly the main Kosovo connection with the recentlyarrested Wahhabi group in Novi Pazar, Southern Serbia. The local reports suggested that the Belgrade Special prosecution for Organised crime on September 14 pressed charges against a group of 15 Wahhabites from Novi Pazar for terrorism and unlawful possession of arms.
Some of the defendants were arrested near Novi Pazar on March 16 and large quantities of weapons, ammunition and explosives were found during the operation. Moreover, in late April reports stated that in the village of Donja Trnava near Novi Pazar, the police had a clash with two Wahabis, which resulted in the killing of one of them, Ismail Prentic, and the wounding of one police officer.
Two recent explicit cases involving Wahhabis in Kosovo can be put forward in addition to every day media reports of Wahhabis being arrested, exchanging fire with law-enforcing agencies or simply taking over mosques that have been there for hundreds of years in Turkish style and converting them to conform to Wahhabi way of architecture and worship. The first case is in the Gazimestan area which has historic values with a famous medieval battlefield dating back to 1389, stretching from Pristina to Mitrovica. In addition to the remains of Serbian Prince Lazar and Ottoman Sultan Murad, there in the vicinity are two shrines called Turbe existing for hundreds of years and have never got disturbed until recently when these were vandalised.
According to local reliable sources who wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, it was allegedly the work of Wahhabis as they believe tombs should not be kept as shrines. The allegations are strengthened by the fact that even in Saudi Arabia there have been such cases like the Jannatul- Baqi, the famous cemetery in Medina, also known as the Tree garden of Heaven, which is alleged to have been destroyed in order to keep up with the Wahhabi ideal of not worshipping graves.
Another important case that did stir strong local resentment happened in Prizren, an old historic town that has a history of multiethnic population represented by an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church and a Mosque, more than 350 years old from the days of Ottoman Empire. According to local sources, the mosque was getting refurbished with Saudi money and the new Imam allegedly preaches Wahhabism. The local Muslim population is disgruntled with the actions of the new Imam who without consultations first made living quarters for himself as an extension of the ancient Mosque and then replaced irreplaceable decorative wooden work on the inside ceiling and other parts with new aluminium frames thus the Mosque lost forever its historic heritage.
Another practice that is prevalent in Kosovo today is Wahhabis allegedly paying poor people to wear visible signs of Islam. According to local sources the alleged rate today varies from 100 Euro to 300 Euro per month depending on how much of face or body is covered in Islamic clothing.
Money talks and it sure does as is evident with its contribution to the replacement of moderate Islam in Kosovo with the financing of Islamic studies trips for youngsters. After a stint of such religious learning abroad in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, lasting around six to 12 months, the youngsters upon returning back in Kosovo sport Islamic beards and robes instead of their jeans.
Watching those alarming signs in Kosovo, socio-religious pundits and political observers warn that slow but steady moderate Islam with its Turkish roots is on its way out and with the talk of independence in Kosovo picking up, soon the days when girls sport western clothes will be history. The mix of Saudi Wahhabism with their oil money is proving dangerous to the world.
The question that comes to mind is: Was it a coincidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11 terrorist attacks on the US were Saudi citizens and so is the mastermind Osama bin Laden? In a Catch- 22 situation, the West is financing for spread of fundamental Islam in the form of Wahhabism which will boomerang to hurt them. By supporting the UN envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaaris plan for Kosovos independence, many Western governments are unwittingly working to carve out a safe haven for criminality and fundamentalist Islam in the heart of Europe.
Its time to rethink Kosovo independence: another Taliban in the making and this time right in the heart of European Continent from where it will be easier not only to strike in Europe but also travel across the Atlantic.