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Macedonian Muslims call for unity August 23, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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Despite tensions within the Muslim community, many believers say they want to spend the month of Ramadan in peace and tranquility.

photoIsa Beg Mosque in Skopje.

Muslims in Macedonia observe Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the lunar calendar, by engaging in fasting and prayer and showing solidarity and mercy.

The celebratory spirit is palpable on sidewalks and in marketplaces, while candy stores and butcher shops are busy with holiday shoppers.

According to Muslims here, Ramadan is a period when the door to heaven opens and the door to hell closes. All are encouraged to be spiritual and shun impure thoughts, trivial and obscene conversations, as well as violence. Respect shown to the elderly, symbolically expressed by kissing their hand, is especially encouraged.

Nearly 30% of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million are Muslim; the majority are Albanians and Turks, though sizeable numbers of Macedonians and Roma also practice the faith.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and President Gjorge Ivanov addressed the Muslim community on August 11th, the first day of the holiday month, and reaffirmed Macedonia’s policy of interethnic and interreligious co-existence.

“From dawn to dusk … let these days of fast increase mercy, love and good deeds in your families, towards your neighbours, friends and compatriots, but also towards the poor, sick and destitute,” Gruevski said.

“Those are the human and civilisational values for which Macedonia and our society are recognised … values that we should protect, cherish and promote,” he added.

The month-long Ramadan fast is followed by a three-day Ramadan Bajram, one of the greatest feasts in the Islamic world. The first day of Ramadan Bajram — September 9th — is a public holiday in Macedonia. As has been the practice since instituting this holiday several years ago, the prime minister will visit a mosque and greet Muslims.

The spirit of solidarity and tolerance has become somewhat clouded this year, however. During the past several months, Macedonia’s Islamic Religious Community (IVZ) has endured a split between its moderate mainstream and a newly-emerging Wahhabi wing.

The latter has taken control of several mosques, even though the IVZ has barred its leader, Ramadan Ramadani, and prohibited him from organising prayers.

“I pray that God will allow us to spend the month of Ramadan in worship to strengthen charity, repent for our misdeeds, defeat disunity and disagreements, and boost the unity of Islam and the Islamic religious community,” IVZ leader Suleiman Redzepi said in his Ramadan message.

He added that the IVZ had accomplished good work in the past and would continue along the same path, “regardless of the people who desire to prevent its development. [IVZ’s] existence and strengthening are possible only through respect of its rules and internal order”.

Despite being banned, Ramadani continues to organise prayers at the Isa Beg Mosque in Skopje, and offers food on mosque grounds.

“His goal is to win over believers. I appeal that they do not fall for such manipulations for a cup of soup,” said Skopje mufti Ibrahim Shabani.

The spread of radical Islam has prompted Redzepi to seek police protection and a meeting with the US Ambassador Philip Reeker.

“This is not in the spirit of Islam. This is the last thing we need now, when the month of Ramadan begins. Instead of unity, we see discord. This won’t bring any good to anyone,” a disappointed Muslim believer told

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