In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. All praise is for Allah, Lord of the worlds; and peace and blessings be on our master Muhammad, his family and Companions.
During Ramadan 1440/May 2019, I was invited by the UK based charity called Muslim Welfare Institute (MWI) to undertake a three day tour of Albania. The idea behind the tour was to meet local Albanian Muslims, understand their needs particularly from a da’wa and Islamic education perspective, and deliver a few lectures during the blessed month of Ramadan. It was an opportunity I could not refuse, and thus decided to travel. I was joined by my colleague Mawlana Hudhayfa (of Leicester, UK), as well as some brothers from Blackburn (UK) who were travelling to distribute aid to the poor and needy locals.
Although I visited Bosnia last year (as part of the group-tour organized by MWI which included my beloved teacher Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani – details of which can be read here), this was my first visit to neighbouring Albania. All these Balkan countries – such as Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia – sadly suffered a lot at the hands of the communist regime, which ruled for over forty years. Practising Islam was banned, and Muslims were punished for simple acts of worship such as praying and fasting. Despite such testing and incredibly bleak times for Muslims in the Balkans, many of them struggled and still managed to somehow preserve their faith (iman), Al-Ḥamdulillāh.
Their suffering was both from an economic as well as religious perspective. Muslim Charities have been catering for the “economic” needs of the residents of these countries since their independence, Al-Ḥamdulillāh, but there is also a great need to cater for their religious needs. Without judging them given what they have been through – and it is even a blessing that they identify themselves as Muslims – time spent under communism has undeniably impacted negatively on the Muslims. Many are not aware of even the basics of Islam such as how to pray or fast. However, the good news is that in recent times there has been a shift in people expressing a genuine interest in religion (dīn), and there seems to be a genuine desire within them to learn and practice Islam. The responsibility now lies with us to help them on their journey and try and bring them closer to the dīn.
The Capital Tirana
We first visited Tirana – the capital and largest city of the Republic of Albania. The city is located in the centre of Albania and enclosed by mountains and hills, with Mount Dajt elevating on the east and a slight valley on the northwest overlooking the Adriatic Sea in the distance. After landing at the airport and prior to reaching our hotel, we paused briefly at the local jamā’ah tablīgh centre (markaz) on the outskirts of the city and offered our Maghrib prayers. The road outside the Markaz is named after the previous Europe head of the jamā’ah Hafidh Patel (may Allah have mercy on him).
The next morning, a meeting had been arranged with representatives of the “Muslim Community of Albania” (Al-Mashyakhaal-Islamiyya) at their headquarters in central Tirana. The organization was founded by the famous late Albanian scholar Shaykh Sabri Kuchi (may Allah have mercy on him) and recognized by the government as the official organization representing Muslims. Some 800 Mosques and madrasas across Albania operate under them. The main Mufti was out of the country, so we met with his representatives and engaged in some interesting discussions.
After Ẓuhr, I delivered a talk in Arabic with simultaneous English translation at the Dār al-Arqam building (MWI headquarters), with approximately some 70/80 Imams and teachers (male and female) in attendance. It was pleasing to see the work of MWI in the country and what they have achieved over the past twenty five years or so. It seems the locals have really taken to them and have a lot of trust in them. The two scholars employed by MWI – Shaykh Mawlana Siraj and Mawlana Maqsud – are doing wonderful service (khidma); they remained with us throughout our trip, may Allah bless them. Although I departed with the thought of delivering lectures in English, I ended up delivering every lecture in Arabic – at least three per day. Many of these lectures and talks were aimed at the various Imams and teachers that the MWI sponsor. With simultaneous translation into Albanian, my talks ranged on topics ranging from the importance of seeking sacred knowledge to the upbringing of children.
There was a large audience at my post-fajr talk at one of the most populated Mosques of Tirana: the Dīna Hoxha Mosque. It was a privilege to meet the Imam of the Mosque Shaykh Ahmad Kalaja (who studied in Syria amongst other places); he translated my talk into Albanian. He mentioned that at times up to 2000 attendees fill the Mosque for Jumu’a prayers and sometimes people are forced to pray on the road outside.
We also toured the city and visited the beautiful large Mosque being built in Tirana, adjacent to the parliament building. The project is being financed by the Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan and his government. Designed similar to the ‘Blue Mosque’ in Istanbul, the Mosque when completed will dominate the Tirana skyline and become an important centre for the Muslims, In shā Allah.
We also visited the city of Elbasan – the third largest city in Albania. It is relatively calmer than the Capital Tirana and somewhat more scenic. Here, we toured a school operated by the UK based charity ‘Rahma Mercy’ and met with the staff and pupils. A talk was arranged for the staff as well as those who had gathered from around the city including many teachers. Al-Ḥamdulillāh, I delivered a talk in Arabic with simultaneous Albanian translation on the topic of “Raising and Tarbiya of children.”
I particularly liked “Belsh” – a lovely scenic town, where MWI manages a beautifully built Mosque and also the adjacent madrasa which has a small lodging facility. I was informed that my dear and beloved teacher Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (may Allah protect him) delivered a talk at this Mosque in 2006, and thus to follow in his footsteps some thirteen years later was an honour! My talk here, before various Imams/teachers in Arabic (with Albanian translation), was on the ‘importance of sacred knowledge.’ It was great to meet and greet the various attendees and locals who had come. We enjoyed strolling around the river located just outside the Mosque and the beautiful surrounding scenery.
The Town of Cerric
We visited the lovely small town of Cerric, where I delivered a talk afterʿAsr prayers at the purpose-built Kuwaiti funded Mosque. The topic for the Arabic lecture was “achieving happiness and tranquillity” which I feel the locals took well. After the talk, we toured the town and the beautiful surrounding hills wherein we visited a fruit orchard. The hosts then treated us to traditional Albanian food for iftar.
Our final day in Albania was spent in the beautiful coastal city of “Pogradec” which lies on the banks of Lake Ohrid. The lake is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes; and parts of Macedonia are visible on the other side. If you ever travel to Albania, this is a must-visit place. I delivered a talk at the local Abu Bakr Mosque in Arabic (with Albanian translation) on the importance of Knowledge and conveying that knowledge to others (da’wa). A jamā’ah tablīgh group visiting from Saudi Arabia was also in attendance, hence it felt good to have brothers in attendance who understood the talk directly in Arabic. It was also an honour to greet the local Muslims of the area after the talk.
We departed Pogradec in order to return to the capital city Tirana, and thereafter to the airport for our return to the UK. The two-hour return journey comprised some breath-taking scenery, Ma Sha Allah. We drove along the banks of Lake Ohrid and thereafter over the surrounding hills – the views were some of the best I had witnessed. Marvelling at Allah’s creation is also an act of worship, and it made me think how this act of worship is enjoyable at the same time. In the car, I and my colleagues began listing acts which are considered as worship and virtuous, and at the same time are enjoyable. I made an intention to maybe compile an article/book sometime in the future listing such deeds under the title “Enjoyable Good Deeds” Al-Ḥamdulillāh.
Albania is a beautiful country in terms of scenery and the locals are also lovely people. I noticed that many Albanians have real love within them for Islam and a deep desire to learn and reconnect with their faith. So many came up to me and asked questions pertaining to Islam which showed their desire to practice Islam. It is now our duty to help them in their quest to become better Muslims and teach them the various aspects of Islam. There is a need for learned scholars (ulamā’) to visit this country as much as possible, and for regular Islamic lessons (durus) to be conducted. May Allah grant us the ability (tawfīq), Āmīn.
A short few minutes documentary clip relating to the trip can also be seen here: Albania Visit Documentary.
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari