Sufis Under Fire in Macedonia

Damage from an arson at the Harabati Baba teqe, a Sufi Muslim religious complex in Tetova, Macedonia. Photo: Bektashi Community of Macedonia

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (2002) and The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (2008). He is the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

As an informed global media audience should know, traditions of pluralism that were long established in Islamic statecraft, law, and public institutions today face a mortal threat from adherents to radical, fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam. The latter mainly comprise Saudi-financed Wahhabis, who masquerade as “Salafis,” and South Asian Deobandis, who support the Taliban. In the Balkans, the front line between Sufism and Wahhabism runs through the Albanian- and Muslim-majority – and in the past, Sufi-identified – city of Tetova in eastern Macedonia.

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Tespihe in Albania

Man with Prayer Beads Photo: Colin Christopher

From Tirana to Tetova, they can be seen in public and in private, hanging from the rear view mirrors of taxis, and lying atop intricate prayer rugs. For some, tespihe (“prayer beads” in Albanian) are used as religious, intentional acts of worship and remembrance of God–zikr. For most Albanians however, sliding the 33 circularly attached beads through one’s fingers has been stripped of its religious significance. Now, tespihe represent a tradition or habit Albanian men saw their father’s fathers pass time with while sipping small cups of thick, muddy-colored coffee in the town square.

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