The Skopje branch of the Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, in Macedonia has warned that radical Islamist groups following Wahhabi teachings are trying to take control of the central mosques in Skopje.
Skopje Mufti Ibrahim Shabani, who is the head of the IVZ branch in the capital, made the remarks after a fist fight broke out on Friday in one of the main Skopje mosques when the dismissed leadership of the Isa-Bey mosque refused to let in the newly appointed imam from IVZ to lead the prayer.
“This was a coup prepared by radicals who operate in Skopje,” Shabani said. “This criminal Wahhabi gang is known for its radical practices and misuse of Muslim believers.”
Shabani accused the discharged imam, Ramadan Ramadani, for leading the group that caused the incident.
“We will ask the authorities to break these radical groups and bring them to justice. This was proof that the Wahhabi structures go against the institutions and against the IVZ constitution, the rule book and the hierarchy,” Shabani said.
Ramadani denied any involvement with radical groups.
“I bear the responsibility for the incident. That was the hardest day of my life. But I do not accept the stigmatization that we are Wahhabi. Everyone can see and hear what we are saying at the prayers,” he told media yesterday.
The police announced that it had filed charges for physical attack against three people who allegedly participated in the brawl.
“It is a fact that radical Islam poses a global threat and that Macedonia cannot escape that threat,” police spokesman Ivo Kotevski told media. The Ministry of Interior is watching over the activities of radical Islam, he said, adding that the police will act when they have enough evidence against the suspects.
Meanwhile, local media cited unnamed IVZ sources who say that the main battle is being waged for supremacy over Skopje’s Jahys Pasha Mosque, Sultan Murat Mosque, Hudaverdi Mosque and Kjosekadi Mosque.
Last month an unnamed source from the IVZ told local daily Dnevnik that the supporters of radical Islam believe they can establish themselves by taking over mosques.
“They are aware that they cannot get the trust from the majority of believers with their previous, more or less aggressive tactics. So their goal is to become imams and through preaching to spread their interpretation of Islam,” the unnamed source said.
Mufti Shabani denounced these claims, arguing that “all mosques in Skopje are under IVZ control”.
In March, the British newspaper Sunday Times published an article in which the head of the IVZ Sulejman Rexhepi told the newspaper that radical groups have taken hold of some of Skopje’s mosques.
The IVZ immediately denounced the claim, saying that the newspaper’s reporter never met with Rexhepi. However, the journalist told Balkan Insight that he stands by his text, offering tapes of the conversation as proof.
These latest developments in Macedonia come after a number of police operations against radical Islam across the Balkan region, includinga raid on a Wahhabi village in Bosnia in February, in which police arrested several people and seized a weapons stash.
The Islamic community in Macedonia is the second largest after the Orthodox Christians. The majority of ethnic Albanians in the country, who make one quarter of the population, are followers of Islam.