The presence of ‘Muslims in the Balkans’ has been discussed widely, both in scholarly literature and in security-driven publications and think-tank reports. At least since the devastating effects of the 9/11 bombings in New York, myths and biased narratives of the Balkans as ‘launch-pad for Islamist terrorism’ abound. As the excellent scholarly literature in the field is often not easily accessible to journalists and members of the general public, misinformation tends to obfuscate the real issues on the ground.
The British Academy funded research ‘Contemporary Islam in the Balkans’ seeks to respond to this gap in information. Realised by Kerem Öktem as principal researcher in 2009 and 2010, the project seeks to give an up-to date snapshot of structures and trends within the diverse Muslim communities of Southeast Europe and their relations with the Muslim world as well as with Europe.
The findings, which are presented on this website, were first discussed at a workshop at the European Studies Centre and the Programme for Southeast European Studies of the University of Oxford in June 2010. The event brought together Kerem Öktem (University of Oxford), Eldar Sarajlic (Central European University, Budapest), Gëzim Krasniqi (University of Edinburgh), Ali Chouseinoglou (University of Sussex), as well as Altin Raxhimi (Tirana) and Dimitris Antoniou (Oxford). They presented their research based on interviews with leaders of Islamic Unions, civil society organisations and think tanks, and discussed case studies on Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Albania.
The papers identify an important shift in the religious dynamics of the region in terms of actors and ideologies—a shift away from violent conflict, its potentially radicalising effects and the overarching role of Arab and Iranian foundations towards debates on ‘national’ or ‘European’ forms of Islam as well as a growing co-operation with Turkish actors. This shift testifies to a sustained but highly differentiated significance of Islam and suggests that Turkey is now becoming a most influential Muslim actor in Southeast Europe, both in terms of formal foreign policy and the low politics of religious networks and brotherhoods, which fill the void left by the expiry of the ‘Wahhabi Intermezzo’.