Islamic campus gets nod

February 11, 2005

Albanian Premier Fatos Nano has offered political and financial support to help establish an Islamic university in Albania.

The announcement, made to a gathering of Albanian Muslim leaders, came only hours after the inauguration of a Catholic university in Tirana. But although it may be seen as an effort to balance the Catholic higher education presence in the country, its primary purpose is to produce home-grown leaders for Albania's Muslim communities.

Since the end of Communism in the early 1990s, many of Albania's new young imams have been educated in Islamic universities in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where the tendency is to nurture a much more intense, fundamentalist and radical vision of Islam than traditionally existed in Albania.

"We have to put an end to the import-export of theological students with the Arab countries, and create a university that prepares the leaders who will guide our local communities in the Albanian cultural tradition of tolerance and respect for other faiths," Mr Nano said.

Up to 65 per cent of Albanians are Muslims, a quarter are Orthodox Christians and 10 to 15 per cent are Catholic.

Conflict between the Albanian Islamic tradition and a new generation of radical imams trained abroad has caused serious tensions within the country's Muslim communities. Two years ago, the secretary general of the Albanian Islamic community was shot dead in his office.

The Catholic university is called Our Lady of Good Counsel and, according to the Vatican, its creation was desired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a native of Albania.

In November, it opened with almost 300 students and degree courses in economics, medicine and dentistry, nursing and political science. A teaching hospital is planned for 2007.

It is run by a Catholic organisation under Vatican patronage, but is secular.

Its rector is Cesare Romiti, a former chairman of Fiat.

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