Strengthening Religious education should be at the core of anti-radicalization efforts, AIIS report concludes

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 30, 2019 17:54

Strengthening Religious education should be at the core of anti-radicalization efforts, AIIS report concludes

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  • Participants welcomed the discussion and suggested that this should be an ongoing dialogue between stakeholders. Foreign ambassadors present in Tirana highlighted the positive model of Albania as a country where interreligious harmony prevails and called for more publicity about his particular feature of the country.

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TIRANA, May 30 – “Investing in strengthening religious education to meet contemporary demands is an investment in the future,” was one of the important conclusions presented during an event that the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) organized with the participation of multiple diverse stakeholders’ engagement in countering radicalization and violent extremism in Albania.

AIIS has conducted for about a year a comprehensive research project to map the ideological roots and factors that affected the religious radicalization of Albanians, most visibly manifested in the high number of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria between 2012 and 2014.

The event was opened by National Coordinator of the Centre against Violent extremism, operating at the Prime Minister’s office who focused on the need to keep all stakeholders not only informed but also very well coordinated in their efforts to better understand and counter similar phenomena. In addition, he underlined the need to make foreign financing of religious institutions and activities in the country more transparent, adding that the initiative is currently being considered by relevant institutions.

Dr. Albert Rakipi, Executive Director of AIIS and lead author of the report “Religion and Doctrine: Ideological roots and causes of radicalization in Albania”, presented briefly the findings of the research based on multiple interviews, focus groups, examination of literature and of the functioning of the Albanian Muslim Community, etc.

Rakipi went through the historical phases of the development of Albanian Islam highlighting the issues and factors that influenced the emergence of radicalization. He focused on the first ten years of the post-Communist transition and the chaotic situation when all religious communities faced incredible difficulties in their struggle to be revitalized after the harsh ban of the Communist dictatorship during the mid-sixties. Rakipi brought to the attention of the audience the needs of the religious communities particularly in the field of education and finances mentioning also some of the relevant report recommendations for policymakers.

The key findings were discussed by a distinguished panel composed of academics, religious teachers and civil society experts. Head of the Islamic Sciences department of the Beder University, Genti Kruja mentioned the example of their department collaborating intensively with the other two theological schools in Albania, Catholic and Orthodox as an example of structured and systemic interreligious dialogue and cooperation. “The students of today will be the religious preachers and teacher so tomorrow and they will remember having collaborated together since their school desk times,” Kruja said.

Head of the Tirana Madrasa, Ali Zaimi focused on the need to clarify myths and misunderstandings about religious and doctrine as well as to have a more nuanced view of the religious schools present in Albania. He said that by developing critical thinking and an honest appreciation of diversity they could reach the necessary results with the pupils to be resilient against radicalization.

Head of the Interreligious Collaboration Center of Elbasan and member of the Council of Theologians, Arben Ramkaj spoke about the Albanian Islam as being adapted to the context of social realities on the ground as well as about the impact of competing geopolitical actors in the region. Ramkaj mentioned the conflicts of the 90s as a space in which competing religious but also geopolitical streams made their mark also in Albania. To underline the uniqueness of Albania’s Islam, he emphasized it saw itself as part of the Albanian nation rather than a part of umma, also known as the community of Muslims.  

Philosophy professor and human rights expert, Gjergji Sinani, focused on the importance and the strength of religion in shaping individual and collective conscience and the vulnerability of societies in times of crisis. Sinani therefore called for a careful examination of recent initiatives about religious education and for them to be in line with the guidelines and models offered by international institutions such as OSCE.

AIIS researcher Alfonc Rakaj highlighted the contextual factors which played an important role for the ideas to take root. Among them, he highlighted the presence of high informality, poor education, lack of or weak institutions and dismal public services. In addition, he added that the ensuing chaos resulting from the collapse of the communism, and the ideological vacuum it created, must be considered as potential variables that have contributed to the appeal of religious doctrine.

Participants welcomed the discussion and suggested that this should be an ongoing dialogue between stakeholders. Foreign ambassadors present in Tirana highlighted the positive model of Albania as a country where interreligious harmony prevails and called for more publicity about his particular feature of the country.

All panelists underscored the importance of education as a key factor in helping reduce malicious ideological influences. In this regard, they reiterated that much could be learned from the pre-WWII period when Muslim education attained a highly regarded, and well respected standard for quality.  

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 30, 2019 17:54