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Religious Education in Kosova - by Dr. Jabir Hamiti
Friday, 04 June 2010 17:09
An Ottoman Madrassa built by the famous architect Sinan
Islamic education in the Balkans and in Kosova dates back to the introduction of Islam in this part of the world – starting with the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the region. For this reason the educational institutions in this part of the world emerged alongside other governmental institutions during the first days of expansion of the Empire. Throughout the various epochs religious schools of the region were named variously ‘Turkish schools’, ‘Turkish educational institutions’, ‘Islamic schools’, ‘Muslim schools’ etc. Apart from the education of Muslim children, children of other religious communities such as the Macedonian and Serbian, attended these educational institutions .
During the Era of Tanzimat (Period of Regulations and Reforms) the Ministry of Public Schools of the Ottoman Empire carried out reforms between 1845-1866 which resulted in a complete change of the educational system. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is therefore known as the most developed period of common and religious education during the Ottoman rule.
The most famous religious education was carried out through the old classical institution known as ‘Mekteb’. Mektebs represented the lowest Islamic religious education for males and females. Such schools were established in the villages and cities, and aimed at educating children in religious character. The mektebs usually functioned inside or next to the mosques. The Qur’an, Arabic script and religious fundamentals were taught. In addition to these teachings, Persian and mathmatics were also taught in schools that had better educational facilities.
IBTIDAIYA Schools: These schools were the primary schools and offered four years of study. They started operating in the second half of the 20th century. In addition to religious subjects, students were taught Turkish language, history of the Ottoman Empire, geography, principles of ethics etc. According to a Turkish document (almanac) Kosova Vilajet Salnamesi of 1318 (1900-1901), there were five primary schools and 12 mektebs (Sibjan Mektebe) in Prizren for example.
RUSHDIYAH Schools: These schools were lower secondary schools and first introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Completion of ibtidaiya schools were a precondition to enrolling in Rushdiyah’s schools. Students attending these schools were between 10 and 15 years of age. In addition to oriental languages and religious studies, students were also taught history, mathmatics, geometry, gymnastics, painting and art, and in some instances French. In Kosova there were up to seven schools of this kind.
MEDRESAS: These schools were upper secondary religious educational institutions serving to educate imams, religious teachers and judges. Besides of Shariah, oriental languages, philosophy, comparative religions and other scientific subjects were also taught.
During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, there were schools for Christian religious communities as well as the Islamic religious schools. Sami Frasheri, for example, – a prominent Albanian thinker and writer - informs us in his Kamusul al-A’lam that there were three schools in the region of Dibra dedicated to the Christian religious community, and in Gjakova/Djakovica alongside the Islamic schools there were also special schools teaching Eastern Orthodox and Catholic theology . Such schools for non-Muslim communities existed in various places in the Ottoman Empire.
In addition to mixed schools there were also specialized religious schools, Dar al-Qur-ra, which focused on the reading and learning by heart of the Noble Qur’an, and Dar-al-Hadith where the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions (peace be upon him) were studied in depth.
In 1912, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in Kosovo, the Serbian monarchy took over responsibility for religious education. Initiating rigorous sanctions towards Islamic religious education, many schools were either closed down or were taken under the strict control of the Serbian monarchy. This intolerable situation continued until 1951 when the Madrasa Alaud-din – an upper secondary school – started working with the aim of preparing imams and religious educators. This madrasa has been working in Kosova up until today - with expanded capacity and additional branches in several cities around the country.
1.1. Islamic Religious Education in Kosova Today:
After the ending of the bloody war in Kosova in 1999 caused by Milosevic’s regime, new conditions and circumstances emerged for Kosova and the whole Balkans. Nine years after the UN administration in Kosova, Kosova declared its independence from Serbia 17th February 2008, and four months later adopted its new constitution, thus becoming the youngest state in Europe. Based on its constitution, Kosova is a secular, democratic state providing full guarantees for religious freedom to all religious communities. According to the constitution, the state schools of the country are not permitted to propagate any religious viewpoint in their teaching. However, the situation is totally different regarding Serbian schools in Kosova where the teaching of Eastern Orthodox studies to students of lower and upper secondary classes is mandatory. The Kosovan Ministry of Education justifies this fact by arguing that Kosova’s Serbian schools work according to the plans and programs of the Republic of Serbia and not according to the Kosova Educational structure. At least this is the argument of the Ministry of Education responding to the demand of Islamic Community of Kosova for the commencing of religious education in Kosova’s state schools.
Islamic religious education in Kosova remains mostly but not entirely under the supervision of the Islamic Community of Kosova. After the end of the war in 1999, many non-governmental organizations -- local and international -- apart from their humanitarian activities, have been carrying out religious education particularly focusing on the youth. Sadly, many of these organizations lack expertise in modern methodologies of education, and hence fail to fulfill the academic standards of this time necessary for a fruitful and effective education. As a result, Islamic religious education outside of ICK jurisdiction differs largely from the traditional religious teaching of the country - which dates from previous centuries. These forms of religious education are new, not only on account of their methodology, but also to the understanding of the local population. Hence, they were unsuccessful and unproductive for Kosova’s Muslim community. Due to this new method of education, a confusion among Muslim believers emerged not only in matters of theology, but also in the practice of their daily rituals and prayers.
It can be said that the Islamic Community of Kosova has not been efficient enough in preventing these new religion-based movements acting under the umbrella of Islam and causing confusion among people. However, the ICK is not the only body responsible. Since 1999 the legal status of the ICK is not officially regulated nor it is synchronized with the country’s constitution. The ICK has not been registered with the state authorities as a community, NGO or a foundation. It continues to function without any official tie to Kosova’s official institutions. The ten years passed without official recognition rendered ICK incapable of gaining full control over Islamic religious life in Kosova. Such a situation has resulted in different organizations being able to freely carry out any kind of religious activity in the name of Islam. These groups and organizations have produced a new type of Islamic literature which lacks any kind of academic standard. To those unfamiliar with Islamic teachings – a very large part of the population - this type of literature is perceived as rigid and very strict. In many books and articles that are sponsored by these organizations and translated inadequately by different authors you may find texts that are very awkward and intolerant, and moreover full of revulsion toward other religious communities and Islamic traditions of the local population. Such literature not only does not contribute positively to the education of the people at large but is damaging interfaith relations and endangering the harmony among different peoples of the country that is centuries old.
1.1.1 Religious education means:
1.2 .1.1 The Mosque:
Mosques -- in addition to the praying facilities -- provide Islamic religious teachings that are applicable in Kosova today. Members of the Muslim faith are taught the fundamentals of Islamic faith in mosques. Study in mosques is undertaken voluntarily by the believers and has a great following among people, regardless of their gender and age. Nevertheless, due to the lack of coordination between ICK and mosques in the field, the current situation of Islamic teachings leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, since not all mosques have enough tutorial rooms, religious instructions are held either inside the mosques or in outbuildings that are not very adequate for the educational purpose. The learning process is defined with curriculum prepared by ICK based on the Hanafi legal school. According to the Constitution and Rule of Procedures of the ICK, the imams are required to serve all believers, regardless of their ethnic background. Imams are also responsible for raising awareness of tolerance and respect towards all human beings regardless of their racial, gender or religious background. The religious tolerance of Albanian imams has been a tradition throughout history in all Albanian territories and is considered a cornerstone of inter-religious tolerance and coexistence with others. Therefore, apart from the other problems mentioned above, the ICK should get state support to advance tolerance and peace among all communities in order to preserve this noble tradition. Such an opportunity should be also guaranteed to other religious communities as well.
Madrasa Alaud-din in Prishtina is an upper secondary professional religious school where students are prepared to serve as imams and religious educators.
The madrasa was established by ICK in 1951. Until 1993 both Albanian and non-Albanian students from different parts of the Former Yugoslavia attended it. After the fall of the communist regime in 1990 the school’s activities were expanded by establishing branches in other Kosova cities such as in Prizren in 1993, and in Gjilan in 1994. Besides the male branch of the madrasa, there are also two female branches, one in Prishtina and one in Prizren, both opened in 1997. The total number of students is ..... Madrasa Alaud-din has a modern and up-to-date teaching curriculum, accepted by the Ministry of Education Science and Technology of Kosova which is also paying the salaries of the educational staff and covers its technical expenses. After completion of the studies in the madrasa, students are eligible to pursue university studies in Kosova’s state university or any other university in the country or abroad. In addition to religious professional courses, there are courses on social sciences and other fields that are taught in other national high schools. The curriculum is prepared in coordination with other madrasas of the region, such as the Madrasa of Sarajevo and Skopje, which also operate on the Hanafi legal system. The teaching staff is very well prepared, having obtained their higher educational degrees either in the country or overseas.
22.214.171.124 The Faculty of Islamic Studies:
The Faculty of Islamic Studies is the highest Islamic educational institution in the country . The Faculty was founded by the Islamic Community of Kosova in 1992. Students attending this institution are from various Albanian areas in Balkans: Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, Preshevo Valley and Monte Negro. The aim of the Faculty is to provide Albanian speaking people with the opportunity of studying Islam in their own country – that is, for Kosovars -, in their own language and their own environment. The Faculty has a private status and is not part of the Public University of Prishtina. The Islamic Community of Kosova finances the Faculty. After graduation, students are prepared to serve as imams and educators of Islam; they serve in the country or in the diasporas where Albanian communities live. Large numbers of students continue their graduate studies in different universities -- in the country or abroad -- by studying in different fields, such as law, history, psychology, paedagogy etc. The studies in FIS last four years or eight semesters. The educational curriculum is drafted on curricula of other similar faculties in the region and abroad. The Faculty consists of a single department, the department of theology. The academic work is conducted on the same academic principles as the University of Prishtina. The lecturers in the Faculty are native Kosovars with higher academic degrees. In addition to Islamic religious courses, students also attend courses of English, Albanian and Turkish languages, history of religions, sociology of religions and psychology. Up to today, 156 students, males and females, have graduated. Kosova’s Ministry of Education until 2009 has recognized diplomas of this Faculty, but due to deficiency of legal clarification of ICK status by the Kosova government, the recognition of the diplomas by the Ministry has been frozen for now.
The graduates of the Faculty of Islamic Studies, either working as teachers or imams, have proved to be very successful in their careers. Sharing the society’s mentality enables them to better comprehend the needs of people and respond accordingly to their requirements and understanding. This important aspect may not always work in the same way with students who completed their religious studies in other universities abroad; they actually face many obstacles in adopting themselves to the environment and the own tradition after spending a few years abroad.
126.96.36.199.: Print and electronic media:
As part of its educational activities, the Islamic Community of Kosova publishes printed and electronic media:
1. Monthly Informational and Educational : ‘Dituria Islame’ published since 1986
2. Annual publication of ‘Takvim’ published annually since 1970
3. Quarterly publication of ‘Edukata Islame’ since 1971
4. ‘Zgjimi’ quarterly magazine published by students of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Prishtina
5. Annual newspaper ‘Nur’ published by the students of the Madrasa Alaud-din in Prishtina.
Apart from those stated above, there are other magazines and newspapers with a religious character published by different non-governmental associations and organizations.
There are many religion-based websites, with a variety of topics. Some may be considered moderate and some not. Such websites are managed by individuals or certain groups without any official institutional control. Apart from these, the ICK also has its own website www.bislame.net which is mainly of an informative character regarding important events of the Muslim community around the country.
188.8.131.52.3. Radio and Television:
There are a few local TV and radio stations in different cities of Kosova broadcasting weekly religious programs. The space for broadcasting on these stations is ensured by private donations. Kosova Public Broadcaster (RTK) covers the activities of ICK only during the two major feasts; Eid-al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. During the month of Ramadan, RTK offers room for broadcasting two or three interviews with any Islamic scholar.
Recent efforts of ICK to introduce religious studies in state schools sparked a huge debate between Kosova’s secular forces and believers. The daily press has been publishing different opinions on this matter. Kosova Ministry of Education is not ready to consider the request of ICK claiming that the Ministry is obliged to implement the law on public education which does not prescribe any religious education in Kosova’s state schools. This request of ICK was not welcomed by any large political party of the country although PDK - who are now in power by coalition -- showed a readiness for cooperation on this matter.
One of the small parties however ‘Partia e Drejtësisë’ (The Justice Party) is running its local election campaigns nowadays with the slogan of introducing religious education in Kosova’s public schools. What the outcome of this debate will be remains to be seen in the future.
One thing that should be kept in mind is the fact that Kosova is a new state - “a new born country” with problems of all kinds. It must be understood that it will take some time to deal with all of these problems properly and to decide what is best for the national interest. We hope and we believe that religious education will not be ignored by the state officials and the request of the people will eventually be considered.