If you look up “religion in Albania” you’ll probably find statistics that look something like this:
- Catholic: 10%
- Orthodox Christian: 7%
- Islam: 58%
- Other: 22%
- Atheist: 3%
During training, many of the volunteers in my cohort told stories about friends and relatives who, after learning the religious composition of the country, questioned whether or not it was a safe place to serve. With all of the religious strife and extremism in the world today, it’s pretty difficult to imagine a country as religiously neutral as Albania. And until you live here, you can’t truly appreciate how irrelevant the statistics are.
I haven’t yet gotten around to writing a blog post about the anomaly that is religion in Albania…and now I don’t have to! My friend and fellow PCV, Alison, has written post for her blog that provides a great overview of how/why religion is such a non-issue in Albania.
“These people, here in this tiny country, identify themselves as Albanian first and the religion their families practiced second…they do not necessarily practice the religion in their daily lives.”
Alison has given me permission to link to her post. I am also including a link to a recent Newsweek article that provides additional background.
But….before you click over to Alison’s post, let me add one piece of info that elaborates on the point she makes about “Christianity was eclipsed by Islam during the Ottoman rule.” One of the reasons this happened was that the Ottomans gave preferred treatment to anyone who swore allegiance to Islam. Called dhimmi (protected person), individuals who converted to Islam got preferred jobs (including higher level jobs in the Ottoman government), paid fewer taxes, etc. People — being the pragmatic souls they are — saw an opportunity and took it, but their hearts (souls?) were not particularly “converted.” There’s an Albanian saying, “Ku është shpata, është feja”: “Where the sword is, there lies religion.”