Religion in Albania

Religion in Albania

The majority of Albanians today are either atheists or agnostics. According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 [U.S. Department of State - International Religious Freedom Report 2007 - [] ] : "No reliable data were available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates ranged from 25 to 40 percent.", leaving 60 to 75 percent of the population non-religious. ["Instantanés d’Albaníe, un autre regard sur les Balkans", 2005 - [] Etudiants en Tourisme et Actions Patrimoniales. (Plus de 72 % irréligieux ou non pratiquants. 28 % se répartissent en 21 % musulmans, 6% orthodoxes, 3 % catholiques.)] [Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns ", chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005) [] ] [O'Brien, Joanne and Martin Palmer. 1993. The State of Religion Atlas. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster ("Over 50% of Albanians claim 'no religious alliance.'")] ] [Goring, Rosemary (ed). Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs & Religions (Larousse: 1994); pg. 581-584. Table: "Population Distribution of Major Beliefs" [] (Nonreligious 74.00%)] The country does not have a history of religious extremism and takes pride in the harmony that exists across religious traditions and practices. Religious pragmatism continued as a distinctive trait of Albanian society and interreligious marriage has been very common throughout the centuries, in some places even the rule. There is a strong unifying cultural identity, where Muslims and Christians see themselves as Albanian before anything else. This has been solidified historically by the common experience of struggling to protect their culture in the face of various outside conquerors.

Adherence to ancient pagan beliefs also continued well in the 20th century, particularly in the northern mountain villages, many of which were devoid of churches and mosques. A Northern Albanian intellectual and poet, Pashko Vasa (1825–1892), made the trenchant remark, later co-opted by the totalitarian regime, that ""Churches and mosques you shall not heed / The religion of Albanians is Albanism" ( _sq. Mos shikoni kisha e xhamia / Feja e shqyptarit âsht shqyptaria). Skanderbeg is also misquoted as saying this, though he held a similar view.



The two main Illyrian cults were the Cult of the Sun and the Cult of the Snake.Aleksandar Stipčević - Iliri: povijest, život, kultura, Zagreb, Školska knjiga, 1989] Mark Tirta, "Mitologjia ndër shqiptarë", Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë, Tirana, 2004] The main festivals were the seasonal summer and winter festivals during the solstices and the spring and autumn festivals during the equinoxes. An organic system of assigning human personifications to natural phenomena was culturally developed and remnants of these still appear in everyday Albanian folklore and tradition.

Christianity was imposed in urban centers in the region of Albania during the later period of Roman invasion. It had to compete up to the Middle Ages with the native Illyrian paganism and culture. The steady growth of the Christian community in Dyrrhachium (the Roman name for Epidamnus) led to the creation of a local bishopric in 58 AD. Later, episcopal seats were established in Apollonia, Buthrotum (modern Butrint), and Scodra (modern Shkodra).

Middle Ages

After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania fell administratively under the umbrella of the Eastern Roman Empire, but its Christians remained ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. During the final schism on 1054 between the Western and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north under the purview of the Pope in Rome. This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasion of the 14th century, when the Islamic faith was officially imposed upon the Pagan and Christian populations of Albania.


Albania once numbered eighteen episcopal Sees, some of them having uninterrupted activity from the dawn of the Christian faith until today. The country was the last Roman Catholic bridgehead in the Balkans.

For four centuries, the Catholic Albanians defended their faith, aided by Franciscan missionaries, beginning in the middle of the seventeenth century, when persecution by Ottoman Turkish lords in Albania started to result in the conversion of many villages to the Islamic faith, particularly among the Orthodox population.

The College of Propaganda at Rome played a significant role in the religious and moral support of the Albanian Catholics. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the College contributed in educating young clerics appointed to service on Albanian missions, as well as to the financial support of the churches. Work was done by the Austrian Government at the time, which offered significant financial aid in its role as Protector of the Christian community under Ottoman rule.

Church legislation of the Albanians was reformed by Clement XI, who convoked a general ecclesiastical visitation, held in 1763 by the Archbishop of Antivari, by the end of which a national synod was held. The decrees formulated by the Synod were printed by the College of Propaganda in 1705, and renewed in 1803. In 1872, Pius IX convoked a second national synod at Shkodër, for the revival of the popular and ecclesiastical life. Owing to Austrian interest in Albania, the institution of the Catholic bishops of Albania was obtained through a civil decree released by the Vilajet of Berat.

Albania was divided ecclesiastically into several archiepiscopal provinces:
*Antivari Since 1878 part of the principality of Montenegro. Since 1886, without suffragan, separated from Scutari, with which it had been united in 1867 on equal terms.
*Scutari, with the suffragan "Sees of Alessio, Pulati, Sappa" and (since 1888) the Abbatia millius of St. Alexander of Orosci.

The last two archiepiscopal provinces did not have any suffragans, and depended directly on the Holy See. A seminary, founded in 1858 by Archbishop Topich of Scutari, was destroyed by the Ottomans, but was later re-established on Austrian territory and placed under imperial protection.

Orthodox Christianity

Metropolitan Theofan Fan Noli established the Albanian Orthodox Mission under the American diocese.

Although Orthodox Christianity has existed in Albania since the 2nd century AD, and the Orthodox historically constituted 20% of the population of Albania, the first Orthodox liturgy in the Albanian language was celebrated not in Albania, but in Massachusetts. Subsequently, when the Orthodox Church was allowed no official existence in communist Albania, Albanian Orthodoxy survived in exile in Boston (1960-1989). It is a curious history that closely entwines Albanian Orthodoxy with the Bay State.

Between 1890–1920, approximately 25,000 Albanians, the majority of them Orthodox Christians from southeastern Albania, emigrated to the United States, settling in and around Boston. Like many other Orthodox immigrants, they were predominantly young, illiterate, male peasants. Like so many other Balkan immigrants, a large number (almost 10,000) returned to their homeland after World War I.

Since the 2nd century AD, the liturgical services, schools and activities of the Orthodox Church in Albania had been conducted in Greek. Those Albanian Orthodox, who, in the fashion of 19th century Balkan nationalism, sought to recreate their church as an "Albanian" rather than "Greek" body, were frequently excommunicated by the Greek-speaking hierarchy. Considering that identity during the Ottoman centuries was gauged exclusively through ecclesiastical affiliations, religious questions in the post-Ottoman period loomed large in the burgeoning national and cultural identities. After the loss of its ecumenical status in 1870 with the establishment of the Bulgarian exarchate, the Greek Church did not desire further schisms within its ranks. Indeed, so strong was the rivalry of Greece with Orthodox Albanians who opted for separate cultural activities, that many of the latter category such as Papa Kristo Negovani, a priest educated in Greek schools, Sotir Ollani, Petro Nini Luarasi, Nuci Naco and others were murdered for their patriotic efforts.

Patriotic fervor ran high in Albanian immigrant communities in North America. When, in 1906, a Greek priest from an independent Greek parish in Hudson, Massachusetts, refused to bury an Albanian nationalist, an outraged Albanian community petitioned the missionary diocese to assist them in establishing a separate Albanian-language parish within the missionary diocese. Fan Noli (Theofan (Fan) S. Noli) (1882–1965), an ardent Albanian nationalist and former parish cantor, was subsequently ordained in February 1908 by a sympathetic Metropolitan Platon to serve this new Albanian parish. Noli went on to organize five additional Albanian parishes, mainly in Massachusetts, as an "Albanian Orthodox Mission in America" under the auspices of the American diocese. Noli later emigrated to Albania, served as the Albanian delegate to the League of Nations, was consecrated Bishop and Primate of the independent Orthodox Church in Albania in 1923, and even served briefly as Prime Minister of Albania (came in power with the so called "The Revolution of 1924") but was overthrown in a coup by Ahmet Zogu on the same year. After years in exile in Germany, Noli returned to the United States in 1932, studied at Harvard, translated Shakespeare into Albanian and Orthodox Scriptures and services into English, and led the Albanian Orthodox community in this country until his death in 1965.


One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule was that the majority of Albanians, according to Ottoman data, had converted to Islam. Therefore, the nation emerged as nominally Muslim-majority after Albania's independence in November 1912.

In the North, the spread of Islam was slower due to Roman Catholic Church resistance and the mountainous terrain contributed to curb Muslim influence. In the center and south, however, Catholicism was not strong and by the end of the seventeenth century the region had largely adopted the religion of the growing Albanian Muslim elite. The existence of an Albanian Muslim class of pashas and beys who played an increasingly important role in Ottoman political and economic life became an attractive option career for most Albanians.

In the 20th century, the Muslim clergy, following suit with the Catholic and Orthodox clergy, was first weakened during monarchy years and afterwards eradicated during the 1940s and 1950s, under the state policy of obliterating all organized religion from Albanian territories.

The Muslims of Albania during the Ottoman invasion were divided into two main communities: those associated with Sunni Islam and those associated with the Bektashi, a mystic Dervish order that came to Albania through the Albanian Janissaries that served in the Ottoman army and who practiced Albanian pagan rites under a nominal Islamic cover. After the Bektashis were banned in Turkey in 1925 by Atatürk, the order moved its headquarters to Tirana and the Albanian government subsequently recognized it as a body independent from Sunnism. Sunni Muslims were estimated to represent approximately 50% of the country's population before 1939, while Bektashi represented another 20%. Muslim populations have been particularly strong in eastern Albania and Macedonia.

Sunni Muslims have historically lived in the cities of Albania, while Bektashis mainly in remote areas, whereas Orthodox Christians mainly in the south, and Roman Catholics in the north of the country. However, this division does not apply nowadays.


During the 20th century after Independence (1912) the democratic, monarchic and later the totalitarian regimes followed a systematic dereligionization of the nation and the national culture. Albania never had an official state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom after its founding in 1912. [Stavro Skendi, ed., Albania (New York: Published for the Mid-European Studies Center of the Free Europe Committee, Inc. by Frederick A. Praeger, 1956), p. 287.] Religious tolerance in Albania was born of national expediency and a general lack of religious convictions. [John Hutchinson, Anthony D. Smith, "Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science"]


Originally under the monarchy, institutions of all confessions were put under state control. In 1923, following the government program, the Albanian Muslim congress convened at Tirana decided to break with the Caliphate, established a new form of prayer (standing, instead of the traditional salah ritual), banished polygamy and did away with the mandatory use of veil (hijab) by women in public, which had been forced on the urban population by the Ottomans during the occupation. [ [,9171,727115,00.html Albania dispatch, Time magazine, April 14, 1923]

In 1929 the Albanian Orthodox Church was declared autocephalous. [ [,9171,881789,00.html Swiss Laws, Greek Patriarch - TIME ] ]

A year later, in 1930, the first official religious census was carried out. Reiterating conventional Ottoman data from a century earlier which previously covered double the new state's territory and population, 50% of the population was grouped as Sunni Muslim, 20% as Orthodox Christian, 20% as Bektashi Muslim and 10% as Catholic Christian.

The monarchy was determined that religion should no longer be a foreign-oriented master dividing the Albanians, but a nationalized servant uniting them. It was at this time that newspaper editorials began to disparage the almost universal adoption of Muslim and Christian names, suggesting instead that children be given neutral Albanian names.

Official slogans began to appear everywhere. "Religion separates, patriotism unites." "We are no longer Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, we are all Albanians." "Our religion is Albanism." The national hymn characterized neither Muhammad nor Jesus Christ, but King Zogu as "Shpëtimtari i Atdheut" (Savior of the Fatherland). The hymn to the flag honored the soldier dying for his country as a "Saint." Increasingly the mosque and the church were expected to function as servants of the state, the patriotic clergy of all faiths preaching the gospel of Albanism.

Monarchy stipulated that the state should be neutral, with no official religion and that the free exercise of religion should be extended to all faiths. Neither in government nor in the school system should favor be shown to any one faith over another. Albanism was substituted for religion, and officials and schoolteachers were called "apostles" and "missionaries." Albania's sacred symbols were no longer the cross and the crescent, but the Flag and the King. Hymns idealizing the nation, Skanderbeg, war heroes, the king and the flag predominated in public-school music classes to the exclusion of virtually every other theme.

The first reading lesson in elementary schools introduced a patriotic catechism beginning with this sentence, "I am an Albanian. My country is Albania." Then there follows in poetic form, "But man himself, what does he love in life?" "He loves his country." "Where does he live with hope? Where does he want to die?" "In his country." "Where may he be happy, and live with honor?" "In Albania." [Edwin Jacques, The Albanians, an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present]

Totalitarian regime

The trend was taken to extreme during the totalitarian regime, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether. This policy was mainly applied and felt within the borders of the present Albanian state, thus producing a nonreligious majority in the population.

The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized most property of religious institutions, including the estates of monasteries, orders, and dioceses. By May 1967, religious institutions had relinquished all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. Many Muslim imams and Orthodox priests renounced their "parasitic" past. More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture. As the literary monthly "Nëndori" reported the event, the youth had thus "created the first atheist nation in the world." From year 1967 to the end of the totalitarian regime, religious practices were banned and the country was proclaimed officially atheist, marking an event that happened for the first time in world history. Albanians born during the regime were never taught religion, so they grew up to become either atheists or agnostics.

Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, "The State recognizes no religion, and supports and carries out atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people."

The article was interpreted as violating The United Nations Charter (chapter 9, article 55) which declares that religious freedom is an inalienable human right. The first time that the question of religious oppression in Albania came before the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights at Geneva was as late as 7 March 1983. A delegation from Denmark got its protest over Albania's violation of religious liberty placed on the agenda of the thirty-ninth meeting of the commission, item 25, reading, "Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief." There was little consequence at first, but on 20 July 1984 a member of the Danish Parliament inserted an article in one of Denmark's major newspapers protesting the violation of religious freedom in Albania. But according to the official Albanian stance religion served anti-Albanian interests, thus the prohibition of religious propaganda was not a violation of human rights, but was necessary to protect human rights within the country.

Old non-institutional pagan practices in rural areas, which were seen as identifying with the national culture, were left intact. As a result the current Albanian state has also brought pagan festivals to life, like the solar Spring festival ( _sq. Dita e Verës) held yearly on March 14 in the city of Elbasan, which is a national holiday.

Current status of religious freedom


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion and all religions are equal; however, the predominant religious communities (Bektashi, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians) enjoy a greater degree of official recognition (e.g., national holidays) and social status based on their historical presence in the country. All registered religious groups have the right to hold bank accounts and to own property and buildings. No restriction is imposed on families regarding the way they raise their children with respect to religious practices. The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. [ The Ministry of Education] has the right to approve the curricula of religious schools to ensure their compliance with national education standards, and the State Committee on Cults oversees implementation. There are also 68 vocational training centers administered by religious communities.

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The government is secular and the Ministry of Education asserts that public schools in the country are secular and that the law prohibits ideological and religious indoctrination. Religion is not taught in public schools.

Foreign missionaries

Foreign religious missionaries who have come to Albania since 1991 include Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons who come mainly from the USA, Muslims from Arab countries and Turkey, Bahá'ís, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, and many others freely carry out religious activities. According to the State Committee on Cults, as of 2002 there were 31 Christian Societies representing more than 45 different organizations, about 17 different Islamic Societies and Groups and 500 to 600 other Christian and Bahá'í missionaries. The largest foreign missionary groups were American, British, Italian, Arab and Greek.

Places of worship

According to recent statistics from the religious communities in Albania, there are 1119 churches and 638 mosques in the country. The Roman Catholic mission declared 694 Catholic churches. The Christian Orthodox community, 425 Orthodox churches. The Muslim community, 568 mosques (half of which built without construction license [Korrieri, "Kultet: Gjysma e xhamive, pa leje" [] ] ), and 70 Bektashi tekkes. [ [ Tirana Observer Report - August 16, 2008] ]


While there is no law restricting the demonstration of religious affiliation in public schools, there have been instances when students were not allowed to do so in practice. In December 2003, a male Muslim student was prohibited from having his diploma photograph taken because he had a beard. The student was eventually permitted to graduate through the intervention of the Office of the Ombudsman (a government institution tasked with investigating citizens' charges of human rights violations and protecting their fundamental freedoms). Fact|date=March 2007

In 2002, some Bektashi communities outside of Tirana experienced intimidation, vandalism, and threats of violence. Subsequently, the Albanian authorities identified those responsible (non-Albanian citizens) and expelled them for immigration laws violations. There were no new reports of vandalism during the period covered by this report. Bektashi leaders believe that foreign religious influences seeking to undermine the country's efforts to maintain religious tolerance and freedom were at the root of these incidents. Other religious leaders have expressed similar concerns about the potentially divisive role played by non-citizen religious extremists. []

The General Secretary of the Islamic Community of Albania, Sali Tivari, was shot and killed at the Community's headquarters in January 2003. The General Prosecutor's Office returned the case to the authorities for further investigation and it has remained unsolved by the end of the period covered by this report. []

In October 2003, police arrested Kastriot Myftari, author of the book "Albanian National Islamism" on charges of inciting religious hatred against Islam. The book contained the author's opinions on Islam and how the religion has impacted Albanian life. According to the prosecutor's office, several statements in the book demeaned Islam. The prosecutor had asked the court for 6 months imprisonment for the author. In June, the court acquitted Myftari of all charges. []

During year 2004, representatives of the Orthodox Church expressed concerns that churches, crosses, and other buildings were targets of vandalism. []

In November 2005 a speech [] from [ Albania's president] in London, aroused public protests from The Muslim Forum of Albania that accused the president of insulting Islam. []

In April 2008, a novel from the Socialist MP, Ben Blushi was condemned by a number of Muslim NGO's [] as racist and Islamophobic. According to the NGO's the author shows signs of racism against the Turks, Gypsies and Albanian Muslims in the novel, and portrays the prophet Muhammed in a very disrespectful way.

Propaganda & misinformation

Western European countries (but Germany and Austria) considered Albania as a Turkish colony for almost five centuries (1400-1900), mainly because they wrongly believed, some still do, that Albanians are Muslims.

Albania's perception in the West as an 'Islamic' country has also been reinforced because of the Serbian propaganda since the end of the nineteenth century onwards to present the Albanians as 'fanatic adherents' of the Islamic faith and as such as 'non-Europeans'.

Documents made public recently by the US government reveal that during the Cold War the West as well as the USSR often referred to Albania as a 'Muslim' country in spite of the officially atheistic stance of the Albanian government. [Gëzim Alpion, Western Media and the European "Other": Images of Albania in the British Press in the New Millennium]

The trend of declaring Albanians as 70% Muslims and 30% Christians, both of different denominations, and thus as a 100% religious people, or of declaring Albania as a Muslim Country or religious country, still carries on in international media, press, tv and the internet, thus perpetuating misinformation, outdated perceptions and distortion of reality.


External links

* [ Albanian Atheists]
* [ Pagan & Atheist Forums]
* [ Atheist Forum]
* [ Albanian Protestants]
* [ Christian Portal]
* [ Catholic Youth Forum]
* [ Kisha Katolike Shkodër, Shkodra Catholic Church]
* [ Famullia Gjakovë, Gjakova Catholic Church]
* [ Magazine "Jeta katolike"]
* [ Catholic Church in Albania]
* [ Albanian Orthodox Forum]
* [ Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania]
* [ Arbëresh Christian Eparchy]
* [ The Bektashi Community]
* [ Myftinia Shkodër, Mufti of Shkodra City]
* [ The Muslim Forum of Albania]
* [ Newspaper "Drita Islame"]
* [ Magazine "Familja"]

ee also

*State atheism
*History of Atheism
*List of atheists
*Religion by country
*Christianity by country
*Islam by country
*History of the Jews in Albania

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