Two Unregulated Mosques in Vitia Raise Concern in Kosovo

Two mosques in Vitia are currently operating independently, outside the jurisdiction of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. The management of these mosques, including their lecturers and facilities, is not under the purview of any institutional authority.

Between the years 2008-2012, several mosques in Kosovo operated independently from the Islamic Community of Kosovo. The language and ideology preached in some of these mosques were considered to be a catalyst, motivating over 400 Kosovar Albanians to participate in conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The mosques were closed down only after the intervention of the police and the imprisonment of some of the imams who were preaching in them.

Ten years after those events, Vitia has once again become the center of attention. Two mosques in this area have emerged outside the umbrella of the Islamic Community, and as a result, their lecturers and spaces are not managed by this community. The mosques in Skifteraj and Ramnishtë are now managed by Mubarek Misini and Ilir Emini.

The lecturers are unavailable for the media, and meeting them is problematic, as villagers advise journalists not to get involved in this matter. When the team tried to talk to some residents in Ramnishtë, as soon as they saw the equipment and the topic of the mosque was discussed, they demanded that cameras, microphones, and phones be left in the car, as they do not want to speak about this issue.

In response to the issue raised about the two mosques in Vitia, the Kosovo Police informed BIRN that they have not received any complaints from the representative of the Islamic Community Council in Viti. They consider that the control and management of religious objects in Kosovo exclusively belong to the competent authorities, namely the Islamic Community of the Republic of Kosovo and the Islamic Community Council in each municipality, including the Vitia region. Any construction matters are also under the jurisdiction of the relevant local institutions.

“The police treat all information received from various sources, whether closed or open, seriously and maintain the highest confidentiality, forwarding them to the appropriate units to verify whether any illegal activities are occurring. This process applies to both criminal and non-criminal elements,” the Police told BIRN.

How was the problem identified?

The problem was identified a few days ago during a meeting of the Public Security Council in Vitia municipality, where the chairman of the Islamic Community Council, Husamedin Hoxha, raised the alarm that the mosques in Skifteraj and Ramnishtë were operating outside the jurisdiction and without the management of the Islamic Community of Kosovo.

In the meeting attended by local institution leaders, including security personnel, the issue of individuals who do not meet the criteria “self-declaring” themselves as imams of these two mosques in these villages was also brought up. In a conversation with BIRN, Husamedin Hoxha, the chairman of the Islamic Community Council in Vitia, stated that this issue has been a concern for years.

He says that they have problems with the old mosque in Skifteraj for almost three years, while for the one in Ramnishtë, the problem was identified since last year when the construction started without permission from the Islamic Community of Kosovo, ICK, and continued to function without proper authorization.

“Skifteraj has been an issue for over two and a half years, and Ramnishtë since last year during Ramadan. This mosque’s construction started without ICK’s approval, and it was opened without completing the necessary paperwork, and it continues to function for Friday and daily prayers without our management,” says Hoxha for BIRN, adding that religious objects are public places where residents perform their religious rituals.

According to Hoxha, unknown individuals are attending the mosques in Skifteraj and Ramnishtë, which has been a concern raised earlier as well. “We have attempted to bring them under our umbrella by opening contests, but threats from these people do not allow us to deal with these mosques properly,” Hoxha added. He stated that the imams refused to lead the mosques because they were not accepted, and he says, “As an imam, I cannot force them to go.”

“People come to the office asking if I know what is happening there, why I’m not doing anything, and I have explained all the procedures. We cannot work or cause problems,” he says.

In the municipality of Vitia, there are 30 mosques that operate under the management of the Islamic Community of Kosovo.

While Kosovo is listed among the countries that have faced issues with radicalization and extremism, the chairman of the Islamic Community Council in Vitia says that this issue still exists today. “We have been facing radicalization and extremism in Kosovo for years. I don’t know which groups they belong to, but we can see it in Kosovo,” Hoxha expresses. When asked if this phenomenon takes place within these mosques, he answers shortly, “Until they allow confrontation and integration under the council’s umbrella…”. “Suspicious activities are taking place there,” Hoxha continues.

The BIRN team has traveled to the villages of Ramnishtë and Skifteraj. The residents in these two places declined to speak about this issue. The team even met with one of the council leaders who refused to reveal anything or talk about the problem. The team was instructed not to record the residents or the conversation with them and was asked to leave the village.

“What are you doing here?” one of the villagers asks, and the BIRN team responds, “We are working on an article about the mosque case.” Another resident immediately intervenes, asking, “What about the mosque?” Then they requested the equipment to be sent to the car. One of the villagers was asked about the whereabouts of Imam Ilir Emini, and he said that his house was in the part where the BIRN team was traveling. “Down there, but he’s not here; he’s abroad,” the villager says.

Similarly, in Skifteraj, the citizens declined to speak. BIRN contacted the imam of the old mosque there, Mubarek Misini, over the phone, but he said he does not want to talk about this issue. “No, I can’t, not at all, forgive me,” Misini replies shortly over the phone, and as soon as the question is further explained, he hang up and became unreachable.

Similarly, in Ramnishtë, Ilir Emini was also unreachable over the phone.

Husamedin Hoxha, the chairman of the Islamic Community Council in Vitia, says that competitions are in place, but they are not able to communicate with the residents to choose the right imam, as two of them have “self-declared” as imams and do not meet the criteria.

“The support for these people with grudges is a private matter. I say, well, BIK should guarantee fairness to the competition. If they are open to holding the mosque with our rules, we are open and ready to go if they want a legal imam who fits ICK’s leadership,” he explains.

From the municipality of Vitia’s perspective, the Islamic Community of Kosovo is considered incapable of managing the mosques, specifically those for which the issue was raised, the old mosque in Skifteraj and the collapsed one in Ramnishtë.

“I cannot say it’s a failure, but it’s an inability to manage,” says Hasan Aliu, the deputy mayor of Vitia, in a conversation with BIRN.

Deputy mayor of the municipality of Vitia, Hasan Aliu, giving an interview for BIRN.

Aliu says that he asked Hoxha not to label the mosques as illegal just because they are unable to manage them. “As far as I know, initially, he dismissed the imam in Skifteraj due to inadequate schooling, and it was shown that he was hindered from choosing a new imam,” he explains what was discussed at the Security Council meeting in the Community.

The Deputy Mayor says that BIK should employ all means of dialogue to then decide on the appointment of this matter. “Here, there is a lack of dialogue that I consider should be organized by ICK, and they should engage in a dialogue with the citizens of the two localities and accurately identify the problem,” Aliu explains further.

He adds that “as long as we don’t have any incidents, we cannot ascertain what problems exist.”

What Hoxha said to BIRN, Aliu says the opposite. “I asked the Police, but they said they have no information about unknown individuals going there,” says Aliu.

According to Aliu, the Municipality does not have the competence to discuss this issue with the citizens. “If there is any issue, we need to work with the police commander, but so far, we have not reported any incidents,” he says.

Moreover, Aliu says that epithets of extremism cannot be given for an issue that is not clear. “In Skifteraj, where it’s a big village with two mosques, the old mosque, which is the problem faced by the chairman of the Islamic Community Council, is a mosque with a long tradition, and as a resident, I know they don’t fit the epithet they give to problematic or extremist types. Somewhere there is fault, and the fault lies with the management,” Aliu explains.

The Islamic Community of Kosovo, ICK, takes management over the mosques based on the regulations of the organization. For the construction of mosques, a permit must be obtained beforehand, and the mosques are legalized after their opening. The formal inauguration should take place when the mosque council is selected, and according to ICK, the council should also make a request for the appointment of its imam, and the imam should then make a request to start work and can be contracted accordingly.

According to Husamedin Hoxha, the chairman of the Islamic Community Council in Vitia, there are 30 mosques under the management of ICK in this municipality, and only two, namely the one in Ramnishtë and the old mosque in Skifteraj, are not under their management.

“So, the mosque serves for activities for which we obtain permits beforehand, even from security institutions, so any activity that takes place secretly at night is suspicious,” says Hoxha. Regarding the imams who are currently performing their functions there, Hoxha says that as long as they do not respect ICK, they are not considered regular.

“When an imam is not known where he is receiving the salary from, these are concerns about who funds that imam,” Hoxha says.

“An imam must meet the requirements to be able to represent”

When an imam in Podujevë, Zeqir Berisha, reported that some individuals were conducting different religious rituals, he was suspected to have been brutally beaten and received medical treatment for bodily injuries for several weeks.

Imams of mosques and the chairpersons of the Islamic Community Councils in different municipalities report the situation on a monthly basis to the higher management of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. If imams observe any unusual phenomena, they report them to the authorities if necessary.

The problem of selecting imams for mosques has not arisen recently, it has existed in the past as well. However, traditionally, the imam was chosen among the mosque attendees and the Islamic Community of Kosovo.

“The imam was not chosen by himself,” says Mulla Osman Musliu, who has been an imam in Drenas for several years. “When I went to Suharekë in 2004, I first made an agreement with the mosque, and then the mosque made a request to the Council,” Musliu explains in a conversation with BIRN.

A similar situation occurred when Mulla Osman was appointed as an imam in Drenas. “I think it’s entirely wrong to assign an imam to the mosque when the mosque does not want that imam, or it is also considered wrong if the imam goes on his own without being chosen by anyone,” says Imam Osman. He criticizes the way religious communities function in Kosovo.

“Unfortunately, religious communities in Kosovo are completely unregulated because there is no law. The state is at fault because it has left religious communities outside the state, outside the law, and outside the constitution, and we function completely unregulated for everything,” he explains.

According to him, it is not just about selecting an imam; it should also be considered what the imam represents. “Even the mosque should look at who the imam is choosing because if the imam does not meet the criteria, then he cannot be there. If he meets the criteria, the mosque can make a request to ICK,” he says.

According to him, an imam who must meet the criteria should first have the proper education and then be acceptable both to the mosque attendees and ICK.

The problem, he says, is that neither party admits fault and who should deal with this issue. “Here is the problem, no one takes the blame, and when there is no law, this is how things are done. It is a disgrace to the world that for 23 years religious communities have been operating outside the law,” Osmani says.

According to him, conflicts arise when there is no order within the mosque. “In such cases, people are also educated with different Islamic beliefs, and then everything is taught without any rules. In short, no one knows what is happening inside. Extremism has been sown in Kosovo; the state says there is none,  ICK says there is none [extremism], but it’s obvious from the airplane ,” he says.

Enes Goga, the chairman of the Islamic Community Council in Peja, told BIRN about a case when an attempt was made to turn a private house into a mosque in a village in his municipality. “In Peja, in a village, there was an attempt to improvise a private house as a mosque. I don’t know in which year it happened, but they were not successful because there is an old mosque in that village, so they failed. I don’t know if they are still in Kosovo or not,” says Goga.

Goga said that every mosque outside the management of the Islamic Community of Kosovo is unacceptable and even harmful from a security perspective. “Because we don’t know who is appointed as the imam there, what is being preached, and on what premises the religious life continues,” says Goga. He oversees 28 imams in the mosques of Peja, and if there is any case, he calls them to account and thus manages the mosques in this municipality based on the ICK’s regulations.

Goga says that the best way to guarantee unity among citizens and society is for mosques to operate in an orderly manner. “Any other form can cause and create space for those with malicious agendas,” he adds.

Challenges of Reopening the Mosque in Podujeva

In February of this year, BIRN published an article about how a mosque in the village of Halabak, in the Municipality of Podujeva, was closed as a result of a physical altercation that occurred there. On February 18th, an altercation took place within the premises of the mosque, leading to its closure for several days upon the request of the Islamic Community Council in Podujeva.

The ICK did not comment on whether this conflict was due to internal tensions within the Islamic community or simply because the community did not accept the imam appointed by ICK in Podujeva, Hyzdri Murseli. Some residents in the village had decided to refuse to perform religious rituals under the authority of the imam authorized by ICK.

According to a group of residents, the imam was not considered suitable to perform the religious rituals. BIRN tried to obtain a statement from ICK regarding this issue. When contacted, the Secretary of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, Ahmet Sadriu, directed us to contact Imam Vedet Sahiti. However, Imam Sahiti was unreachable via phone.

So far, ICK has not provided a clear version or comment regarding the incident that occurred in Podujeva.

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