12 October, 2016

Interfaith Center creates bridges between faiths in Elbasan, Albania

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Category: Activism
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Interfaith Center creates bridges between faiths in Elbasan, Albania
A community center that brings together representatives of the four main religious communities in Elbasan, helping young people of this city to tear down prejudices by promoting the tradition of religious harmony.
When on 9 January 2015 Paris was hit by a series of terrorist attacks by Islamic militants, which caused 17 fatalities and 22 injured, Besmir Mance – a student branch of history at the University Alexander Xhuvani in Elbasan – felt the need to learn more on Islam.
“When the terrorist attack occurred in France, everywhere talk about the attack and the fact that criminals were Muslim,” recalls Besmiri.
“Although I was not informed about Islam, I knew that a religion has no common with terrorist attacks,” he added.
Similar to the Besmiri, Klodiana Llaha, which is now carrying out professional practice in the gymnasium teaching of foreign languages “Mahmoud and Ali Cungu” and she belongs to Orthodox faith, she had her question marks about the terrorist acts that rocked Europe.
“I do not want to be judgmental, but when I hear of these terrorist acts are committed by persons who propagate their acts in the name of God, it did not leave a good taste,” she said.
Klodiana and Besmiri were not practicing and both addressed to get answers to their dilemmas in Center interfaith cooperation in Elbasan – which aims to build bridges of communication between different faiths and preserving the tradition of religious harmony in Albania .
“Since I go in this center I realized that all religions demonstrate for peace, tolerance, love, goodness,” said Klodiana, noting that in a short time participation at the center has helped her bring down some of the prejudices that it had over other religions.
“In one of the activities carried out by the center held a press picture and description of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ in the Quran. I was shocked! I would not have imagined that in the Qur’an can talk about Mary, “she added.
Besmiri agrees, saying that although at first was skeptical about this Center, soon he learned that it was a space for open-minded people who trust and respect each other’s culture.
“What I like more in this environment is that there is not a theological teaching, but imams and priests teach us how we should respect other religions because before God we are all equal,” he said.
The center was created a decade ago thanks to the will of the leaders of religious communities in Elbasan and USAID support. In the center accede four major religious communities in Albania, including the Muslim community, the Catholic Church, Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania and the Bektashi Community – which are and its funders.
According to the head of this Center, the Muslim theologian Arben Ramkaj, the promotion of religious harmony has a special significance for Europe, and more in the Balkan region – troubled by ethnic conflict and violent extremism.
“At a time when violent extremism Muslim, Orthodox or another religion tends to be more vulnerable and extremist parties of the right in Europe are gaining all the more ground we can say that such a center that promotes coexistence is the model of how to build bridges of communication between religions and believers, “said Ramkaj.
“Given the fluidity of the center have a desire to prepare this work outside the borders of the Republic, in those places where Albanians live and the Albanian community is a factor, to give a good image of coexistence and tolerance,” he added.
Besides common contacts with the clergy members of four faiths, Interfaith Center in Elbasan has created a range of activities including training and joint interfaith projects.
“In the Middle Albania and mainly in Elbasan there is found a large number of practitioners of religions,” said Baba Faik Islam, head of the Bektashi community.
“The center of Interreligious Cooperation also helped us to come closer to each other, not only in courtesy visits on the occasion of religious holidays. Through periodic meetings once a month, we reckon where to improve or what we can do more, “he added.
Seminars and conferences held in the center emphasis the coexistence and harmony among different religions and keeping distance from the youth to the bigotry and extremism. The Center activities are ranging from lectures started by priests and imams of up to picnic in nature, involved 50 young men and women every month.
Agim Duka is one of the imams who adhere in the Centre for years and gives lectures on religious harmony. He said that communication with young people who come from different religious cultures is a challenge; unlike communication with the faithful after the Friday prayer in the mosque.
“In my work as imam from many years I have learned to speak in front of young people who are Muslim. There is a certain way to communicate with them, because every Friday you talk to them in mosques, but we have our terminology and have many easy to understand each other between us, “saidDuka.
“Initially when it was introduced to me the idea of speaking in front of young people from four communities it seemed difficult. Is not something that I could not do my but did not know me will understand young people from other religious communities, “he added.
At Emilio Valente, Italian priest who heads the Catholic Church in Elbasan, he said that the uniqueness success of the Centre in Elbasan is in bringing together young people from four religious communities.
“From my experience I can say that the young party originally Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox or Bektashi, when approaching our center are a bit skeptical but then put aside prejudices,” Valente said.
“To make these young people to cooperate for a good cause means to leave our prejudices to one side, because each of us in different measures is biased against an individual or a guru,” he added.
Representative of the Orthodox Church, Father Stavri Cipa says that although the Centre does not preach a particular religious theology, it provides young people in sharing all the values that religions have in common.
“What makes this center unique is the fact that genuine religious theology propagated as learning the Quran or the Bible, but participants were speaking on behalf of a God who just set the world and humanity,” said Father Stavri.
“Being Catholic, Orthodox, or Bektashi Muslim does not mean that you are superior or inferior, to believe in God is a plus value to people makes them more human, more social,” he added.
“We must come to understand that every person is different from us in this approach come to perceive that anyone who wants practicing religion, the faith that makes the individual feel good,” said Duke.
“We are different in our beliefs, but equal before God and the law. The usefulness of this center is that manages to gather together all believers and promote to them the freedom of belief, brotherhood and equality, “he concluded.

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