Fri, Oct 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Imam in Kosovo expelled over belief in evolution

AFP, PRISTINA

Kosovo imam Drilon Gashi speaks with reporters in Pristina on Sept. 9.

Photo: AFP

When not leading prayers in his village mosque in western Kosovo, imam Drilon Gashi was scribbling some unorthodox thoughts on social media — like his belief in evolution.

Eventually, the embrace of both Islam and Darwinism cost him his job.

The 31-year-old was unceremoniously expelled from his post by top clergy last month, in what he says is evidence of the growing threat to Kosovo’s traditionally moderate brand of Islam.

“Living creatures are created by evolution, but this evolution is led by God,” Gashi told reporters of his theory of how Islam is compatible with the theory. “Science reveals natural phenomena as God created them.”

The political future of Kosovo, a young and troubled democracy on the EU’s fringe, is to be decided in a general election on Sunday — the fourth since the former Serbian province declared independence in 2008.

However, behind the headlines is a different battle for the soul of its dominant faith.

Embracing evolution would not seem that unusual in Kosovo, whose population of 1.8 million has long been known for its moderate flavor of Islam.

More than 90 percent of Kosovars identify as Muslim, according to a 2011 census.

Yet alcohol flows freely and abundantly, the people are famous for an ardent love of all things American and most do not wear religious dress.

However, this identity has shifted over the past two decades, with a religious revival in the late 1990s opening a schism between traditional practitioners and a new wave of imams trained abroad.

After the 1998-1999 independence war with Serbia, an influx of Persian Gulf charity money built hundreds of mosques in Kosovo, spread new teachings, and gave imams scholarships to study abroad in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Gashi was one of those beneficiaries, studying in Medina, Saudi Arabia. However, he did not take to the doctrine practiced there, and the religious establishment did not like his “modern opinions,” he told reporters.

Back in Kosovo, whose Muslim roots date back to Ottoman rule, he took up his mandate at a new, Dubai, United Arab Emirates-funded mosque in Vitomirice, a village of about 5,000 people.

On social media and in comments to the local press, he aired his views.

For the Islamic Community of Kosovo (BIK), the top clerical body, this constituted a “gross violation.”

“His principles are contrary to the principles of Islam and our internal regulations,” BIK spokesperson Ahmet Sadriu told reporters after his expulsion last month.

Globally, views vary on Charles Darwin’s theory in the Muslim world. Some Muslim academics say that the Koran is less explicit on creation than the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Xhabir Hamiti, a professor of Islamic studies, said Gashi’s beliefs might be controversial, but “it would be better and more useful if we had a debate” on the topic in Kosovo.

For Gashi’s fans, the sacking was the latest sign of a shrinking space for moderates.

“Congratulations Drilon! You know far more than these ignorant and conservative religious representatives,” one Facebook user wrote in support.

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