(from Scutari) “Our churches and our mosques are built to unite not to divide. We are different but we are all human beings, we are all brothers and sisters. Often we are divided by our selfishness, not by our sacred texts and neither by our prophets.” His Grace (Haxhi) Baba Edmond Brahimaj, leader of the Bektashi Community, speaks with a deep tone of voice exemplifying the depth of his spirituality. He addressed the national delegates of European Bishops’ Conferences in charge of relations with Muslims who convened in Scutari to discuss the theme of “Faith and Spirituality in the Relations between Christians and Muslims”. Baba Brahimaj is a voice of Islam in Albania. There are no official figures, but it is estimated that Muslims – Sunnis and Bektashi – represent 70% of the overall population. However, it is not surprising that after suffering 24 years of a fierce Communist dictatorship that imposed atheism on the population today a large number of Albanians have little knowledge of the basic concepts of their own faith. Precisely because Muslim and Christian faithful were persecuted and religion was forced underground, at the cost of one’s life, today the two religious Communities are marked by a climate of friendship and brotherhood to the extent that in 2014, during his Apostolic visit, Pope Francis described this Country as an example of dialogue and coexistence. Baba Brahimaj, the religious leader of the Bektashi community, has a special story to share. With his long white beard and green religious headgear, he looks at his interlocutor straight in the eye while he speaks. He is a man of dialogue: he took part in events promoted by the Holy See, such as the Days of Prayer for Peace in Assisi and the beatification of Mother Theresa in 2003. He met Pope Francis during his visit to Tirana in 2014 and went to visit him in Rome in May 2016. On that occasion they spoke of fraternity and about the importance of religious communities in contemporary societies.
Baba Brahimaj, sadly, in Europe people continue being killed. Murders are committed in the name of a God and in other cases people are killed only for the colour of their skin. How did we go so far? In truth this should not happen. Men cannot kill other men and those who kill are not men. Evil men misinterpret things. These incidents occur for many reasons, and these reasons are ignorance, poverty and egoism. Only by fighting against these three evils will we uproot hatred from man’s heart.
Which specific role can be played by religious leaders? First of all religious leaders should fight against themselves, defeating selfishness and seeing all men as brothers and sisters with no distinction of faith and ethnicity. If we are unable to see the world through these lenses we are not fulfilling the will of the Lord. It’s very hard to learn to know oneself. The Prophet and the Koran tell us that only those who know themselves have known the Lord. We often don’t know ourselves. For if the Lord were inside our hearts – and the heart is the throne of God – humanity wouldn’t reach these extremes.
There are many preachers of hatred. They are found in Islam and also in political parties… They are extremists, they are not men. They belong to an extremist current of thought that seeks division, that tries to take over mankind.
What would you like to tell them? I said it also during the conference. We must be united, develop a common strategy to fight extremism and violence and to build peace. It’s what I told the apostolic nuncio who represents the Pope here in Albania. I told him: let’s cooperate. There might be few of us to begin with. It doesn’t matter. The history of humanity tells us that those who choose good over evil are always a minority.
But good always wins, the fruits that are borne of what is good show that good is always stronger than evil. Even in the face of violent death and persecution.
You have met Pope Francis on several occasions. What impression did he have on you? He is the one who bears the banner in the battle against evil. I consider him a personality who fulfils the mission he was entrusted.
When we met in Rome, we sat side by side as brothers do.
I respect him, and I always support him wherever he speaks and makes declarations, as it was with Mother Theresa. They both instil a feeling of pride; the pride of knowing that people like them do exist.
The Pope has called for a Day of fasting and prayer for peace on Friday, February 23rd, proposing this initiative also to the faithful of other religions. Will you join him in his request? Of course we will! We pray for peace every day and we shall support him, but always working, cooperating with one another. This battle for peace cannot be fought alone.