UN religious freedom expert hails Albania interfaith harmony

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The U.N. expert on religious freedom has praised Albania’s interfaith tolerance, considering it to be an example for other countries.

Ahmed Shaheed says that Albania is a model for interfaith harmony, with a Muslim majority, and Orthodox and Catholic communities among its 3 million people.

The communist regime banned religion from 1967 until its collapse in 1990, turning churches, mosques and other places of worship into shopping centers, sports halls and theaters.

Shaheed ended an eight-day trip to Albania on Wednesday to prepare a report on its policies and practices on religion, including unresolved issues or new challenges.

“Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” said Shaheed.

Post-communist Albania made “a rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructure and the revitalization of spiritual leadership.”

Shaheed had learnt only three cases of religious discrimination and considered their solution “a healthy response.”

Shaheed said in his preliminary finding that such a “unique co-existence and mutual respect between and among various religious groups should not be taken for granted … (as) the situation could change more quickly and unexpectedly than many think.”

Mainstream religious leaders also have urged believers not to join rebel groups but scores of Albanians are believed to have done so.

Preliminary data shows that no one from Albania has joined any extremist group in Syria and Iraq recently.

“The problem of ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ religious groups now appears effectively to be under control,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ABC NEWS 

Albania’s lesson in Muslim-Christian tolerance

8960916883601262MALBARDH, Albania: Perched up an Albanian mountain, the medieval church of St. Nicolas was rebuilt from a crumbling ruin with help from local Muslims after the fall of communism, a symbol of the religious tolerance Pope Francis will be celebrating here on Sunday.

Majority Muslims and the tiny Catholic and Orthodox communities all faced persecution under the ruthless regime of Enver Hoxha, who in 1967 declared Albania the first atheist country in the world.

Countless churches and mosques were destroyed at the time — as many as 1,820 Catholic and Orthodox places of worship according to the Vatican — with scores of clergymen executed or dying in detention.

Nobody in the Muslim village of Malbardh, 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Tirana, remembers exactly who built St. Nicolas church or when. Already in a poor state when the communists took power, it was left to crumble to ruins.

But after the fall of the regime in 1992, Malbardh’s Muslims took ecclesiastical authorities by surprise by asking together with their Catholic “brothers” for permission to rebuild the church on its foundations.

“They did not take us seriously. They thought we were trying to get noticed, but we wanted at all costs to rebuild this church,” said Hajdar Lika, a sprightly 77-year-old Muslim.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ARAB NEWS (SAUDI ARABIA)