On 25 September 2017, our senior researcher Jesko Schmoller conducted a workshop titled “Community through Muslim solidarity” in the Albanian capital, Tirana. The workshop was co-organised and financed by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Apart from Schmoller, four experts and a number of students and members of the Muslim community of Tirana attended the event. The other experts were the scholar of Islam Udo Steinbach, the deputy head of the Muslim community Lauren Luli, the Balkan scholar Michael Weithmann from Passau and Sabautin Yashari, who was educated in both Saudi Arabia and at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. After a presentation by Schmoller, the experts discussed the question of Muslim solidarity and the younger participants later engaged in group work.
In the discussion, Steinbach indicated a fragmentation of the Muslim world and the disarray that constitutes its outcome. He perceives a contrast between the ideal of the Muslim community (ummah) on the one hand and the reality of the nation-state on the other. For the many problems visible in some Muslim-majority regions today, Yashari blames an insufficient education in religious and political matters. Interestingly, however, he also took a rather critical stance towards Western expectations of enlightened reform and pointed to the totalitarian qualities of secularism. The day ended with a comparably emotional dispute about the perceived dissonance between a life grounded in religious belief and moral principles as opposed to a life in accordance with the more “rational” outlook of Western science and technology. Schmoller suggested that the observable return of religion in the 21st century may be an indicator that the rational tradition is encountering its own limitations and that the entry into an age of faith may be interpreted as progress instead of a relapse into dark times.
One of the most memorable contributions to the discussion was made by a younger participant, who, referring to the treatment of Islam in the Western media and the tendency to associate it with fanaticism and radicalism, remarked that it would be a pity to only speak about the thorns of the rose while one could also admire its beauty.