The Islamization of Albania occurred as a result of the Ottoman conquest of the region beginning in 1385.[1] The Ottomans through their administration and military brought Islam to Albania through various policies and tax incentives, trade networks and transnational religious links. In the first few centuries of Ottoman rule, the spread of Islam in Albania was slow and mainly intensified during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries due in part to greater Ottoman societal and military integration, geo-political factors and collapse of church structures. It was one of the most significant developments in Albanian history as Albanians in Albania went from being a largely Christian (Catholic and Orthodox) population to one that is mainly Sunni Muslim, while retaining significant ethnic Albanian Christian minorities in certain regions. The resulting situation where Sunni Islam was the largest faith in the Albanian ethnolinguistic area, but other faiths were also present in a regional patchwork, played a major influence in shaping the political development of Albania in the late Ottoman period. Apart from religious changes, conversion to Islam also brought about other social and cultural transformations that have shaped and influenced Albanians and Albanian culture.


See also: Islam in Albania, Islam in Albania (1800-1912), Islam in Albania (1913-1944), and Islam in Albania (1945-1991)

Early Ottoman period

Skanderbeg (1405 –1468)

Albanians began converting to Islam when they became part of the Ottoman Empire in the late 14th century.[1] Albania differs from other regions in the Balkans such as Bulgaria and Bosnia in that until the 1500s, Islam remained confined to members of the co-opted aristocracy and sparse military outpost settlements of Yuruks.[2][3] In the early 1430s, Ottoman rule was challenged by Albanian feudal lords from northern and central Albania and the Ottomans responded with two military campaigns.[4] The Albanian defeats resulted in the Ottomans awarding much land to timars from Anatolia and a quarter to Albanians from the elite.[4] The first conversions to Islam by some of the Albanian Christian elite allowed them to retain some previous political and economic privileges, and to join the emerging class of timar or estate holders of the sipahis in the new Ottoman system.[5][4]

Among some of these aristocratic figures were George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) who while in the service of the Ottomans was a convert to Islam and later reverted to Christianity during the late 15th century northern Albanian uprising he initiated.[1] In doing so, he also ordered others who had embraced Islam or were Muslim colonists to convert to Christianity or face death.[1] Skanderbeg received military assistance from the Kingdom of Naples that sent in 1452 Ramon d’Ortafà who was appointed as viceroy of Albania and tasked with maintaining Catholicism among the local population from the spread of Islam.[6] During the conflicts between Skanderbeg and Ottomans the various battles and raiding pushed Sultan Mehmet II to construct the fortress of Elbasan (1466) in the lowlands to counter resistance coming from the mountain strongholds.[7] During Skanderbeg's uprising, many of the Muslims and Jews in the Vlorë area were killed and some fled to Italy or Istanbul.[8] Prior to and after Skanderbeg's death (1468) parts of the Albanian aristocracy migrated to southern Italy with some number of Albanians to escape the Ottoman conquest whose descendants still reside in many villages they settled.[9] Another Albanian uprising against Ottoman rule happened in 1481.[10][11]

Siege of Shkodër, 1478

Even long after the fall of Skanderbeg, large regions of the Albanian countryside frequently rebelled against Ottoman rule, often incurring large human costs, including the decimation of whole villages.[12] In the 1570s, a concerted effort by Ottoman rulers to convert the native population to Islam in order to stop the occurrence of seasonal rebellions began in Elbasan and Reka, and a failed rebellion in 1596 among Catholics in the North preceded a series of heavy punitive measures that induced conversion to Islam.[13] The peak of Islamization in Albania occurred much later than other Islamized or partially Islamized areas: 16th century Ottoman census data showed that sanjaks where Albanians lived remained overwhelmingly Christian with Muslims making up no more than 5% in most areas while during this period Muslims had already risen to large proportions in parts of Bosnia (Bosnia 46%, Herzegovina 43%, urban Sarajevo 100%), Northern Greece (Trikala 17.5%), urban Macedonia (Skopje and Bitola both at 75%) and Eastern Bulgaria (Silistra 72%, Chirmen 88%, Nikopol 22%). Later on, in the 19th century, when the process of Islamization had halted in most of the Balkans it continued to make significant progress in Albania, especially in the South.[14]

In the early period of Ottoman rule, the areas that form contemporary Albania were reorganised into an administrative unit named Sancak-i Arnavid or Sancak-i Arnavud.[15] During the onset of Ottoman rule only prominent churches with significant symbolic meaning or cultural value of an urban settlement were converted into mosques.[16] Most early mosques constructed in Albania were mainly built within fortresses for Ottoman garrisons at times by Ottoman Sultans during their military campaigns in the area like Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mosque in Shkodër, the Red Mosque in Berat and others.[17][18]

As a rule, Ottoman rule largely tolerated Christian subjects but also discriminated against them, making them second-class citizens with higher taxes and various legal restrictions like being unable to take Muslims to court, have horses, have weapons, or have houses overlooking those of Muslims. While the Ottoman authorities were chronically suspicious of Catholicism, they largely allowed the Orthodox church to function unhindered, except during certain periods when the church was suppressed with expulsions of bishops and seizure of property and revenues. During the Ottoman period, most Christians as well as most Muslims employed a degree of syncretism, still practicing various pagan rites; many of these rites are best preserved among mystical orders like the Bektashi Order.[19]

Northern Albania

Pope Clement XI was the Pope from 1700 to 1721. Born to the noble Albani family of Italian and Albanian origin,[20] and convened the Kuvendi i Arbënit to halt the decline of the Catholic population

The Ottoman conquest of certain northern cities from the Venetians happened separately to the initial conquest of Albania from local feudal lords. Cities such as Lezhë fell in 1478, Shkodër during 1478–79 and Durrës in 1501 with the bulk of their Christian population fleeing.[21] Over the course of the sixteenth century, the urban populations of these cities became primarily Muslim.[21] In the north, the spread of Islam was slower due to resistance from the Roman Catholic Church and the mountainous terrain which contributed to the curbing of Muslim influence in the 16th century.[22] The Ottoman conquest and territorial reorganisation of Albania though affected the Catholic church as ecclesiastical structures were decimated.[23] In the 16th century, the sanjak of Shkodër was reported as having a Muslim population standing at 4.5% of the total, while Dukagjini (sparsely populated at the time) had 0% and Prizreni had 1.9%.[14]

Catholic Albanian rebellions, often in the context of Ottoman wars with Catholic powers of Venice and Austria in the seventeenth century resulted in severe reprisals against Catholic Albanians who had rebelled which accentuated conversion to Islam.[24][25][26] In 1594, the Pope incited a failed rebellion among Catholic Albanians in the North, promising help from Spain. However the assistance did not come, and when the rebellion was crushed in 1596, Ottoman repression and heavy pressures to convert to Islam were implemented to punish the rebels.[2] Steep decreases occurred during the 1630s-1670s where for example the number of Catholics in the diocese of Lezhë declined by 50%, whereas in the diocese of Pult Catholics went from being 20,000 to 4,045 adherents, with most converting to Islam and a few to Orthodoxy.[24]

During the Great Austro-Turkish War, Albanian Catholic leaders Pjetër Bogdani and Toma Raspasani rallied Kosovo Albanian Catholics and Muslims to the pro-Austrian cause. After the war, when Kosovo did not end up part of the Habsburg empire, harsh reprisals followed. Large numbers of Catholic Albanians[27] fled north where many "died, some of hunger, others of disease" around Budapest.[27] After the flight of Serbs, the Pasha of Ipek (Albanian Peja, Serbian Pec) forced Catholic Albanians in the North to move to the now depopulated plains of Southern Serbia, and forced them to convert to Islam there.[28]

Conversion among Catholics in communities of Northern Albania involved males outwardly embracing Islam, often to avoid payment of taxes and other social pressures which in the Ottoman system targeted men while females of the household remained Christian.[29] Christian wives were sought by converted Muslim men to retain a degree of Catholicism in the household.[29] In 1703, pope Clement XI, himself of Albanian heritage, ordered a synod of local Catholic bishops that discussed stemming conversions to Islam which also agreed to deny communion to crypto-Catholics in Albania who outwardly professed Islam.[25][30] Some Albanians maintained a Crypto-Christian culture, known as "Laramans", those who tried to revert to Christianity, encouraged by Pope Clement XI, faced death penalty according to Ottoman law.[citation needed] In Northern Albania, conflict with Slavs emerged as an additional factor toward conversion to Islam.[31] Sharing the faith of Ottoman authorities allowed northern Albanians to become allies and equals in the imperial system and gain security against neighbouring Orthodox Slavs.[31]

In some areas adjacent to the east of Northern Albania, Islam became the majority faith faster: for example, official Ottoman statistics of Nahiya of Tetova across the border with Macedonia (which had a mixed Albanian, Slavic Macedonian, and Turkish population) show Muslim families outnumbering Christian families for the first time in 1545, where there are 2 more Muslim families than Christian families, and 38 of the Muslim families had recently converted from Christianity,[32] while in Opoja in Kosovo near Prizren, Muslims are shown to have the majority in 1591.[33]

Central Albania

The 16th-century built Lead mosque in Berat

Consisting of plains and being an in between area of northern and southern Albania, central Albania was a hub on the old Via Egnatia road that linked commercial, cultural and transport connections which were subject to direct Ottoman administrative control and religious Muslim influence.[34][35] The conversion to Islam of most of central Albania has thus been attributed in large part to the role its geography played in the socio-political and economic fortunes of the region.[34][35]

The official Ottoman recognition of the Orthodox church resulted in the Orthodox population being tolerated until the late 18th century, and the traditionalism of the church's institutions slowed the process of conversion to Islam amongst Albanians.[26][36][37] The Orthodox population of central and south-eastern Albania was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid, while south-western Albania was under the Patriarchate of Constantinople through the Metropolis of Ioannina.[38][39] Differences between Christian Albanians of central Albania and archbishops of Ohrid led to conversions to Bektashi Islam that made an appeal to all while insisting little on ritual observance.[40]

In the early 16th century, the Albanian cities of Gjirokastër, Kaninë, Delvinë, Vlorë, Korçë, Këlcyrë, Përmet and Berat were still Christian and by the late 16th century, Vlorë, Përmet and Himarë were still Christian, while Gjirokastër increasingly became Muslim.[38][41] In the earlier parts of the 16th century, the sanjak of Elbasan was reported as having a 5.5% Muslim population, the highest at the time of all the Albanian-inhabited sanjaks.[14] In 1570, a concerted effort by Ottoman authorities to convert the restive Christian populations of Elbasan and Reka began.[2] In the area around Durrës, it was reported by a Greek traveler that there were no longer any Orthodox Christians due to Islamization.[41] Conversion to Islam in cities overall within Albania was slow during the 16th century as around only 38% of the urban population had become Muslim.[42] The city of Berat from 1670 onward became mainly Muslim and its conversion is attributed in part to a lack of Christian priests being able to provide religious services.[43]

Southern Albania

In the 16th century, the sanjaks of Vlora was found to be 1.8% Muslim while the sanjak of Ohrid was found to be 1.9%.[14] It was mainly during the late eighteenth century however that Orthodox Albanians converted in large numbers to Islam due overwhelmingly to the Russo-Turkish wars of the period and events like the Russian instigated Orlov revolt (1770) that made the Ottomans view the Orthodox population as allies of Russia.[36][43][44][45] As some Orthodox Albanians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, the Porte responded with and at times applied force to convert Orthodox Albanians to Islam while also implementing economic measures to stimulate religious conversion.[36][43][45][46] By 1798, a massacre perpetrated against the coastal Orthodox Albanian villages of Shënvasil and Nivicë-Bubar by Ali Pasha, semi-independent ruler of the Pashalik of Yanina led to another sizable wave of conversions of Orthodox Albanians to Islam.[36][44] In the 19th century, Albania as a whole, and especially Southern Albania, was notable as a rare region in the Ottoman Balkans where the Christian population was still losing considerable numbers of adherents to Islamization; the only other such region that showed similar decrease in the Christian population was Dobrudja.[14]

During this time conflict between newly converted Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Albanians occurred in certain areas. Examples include the coastal villages of Borsh attacking Piqeras in 1744, making some flee abroad to places such as southern Italy.[47][48] Other areas such as 36 villages north of the Pogoni area converted in 1760 and followed it up with an attack on Orthodox Christian villages of the Kolonjë, Leskovik and Përmet areas leaving many settlements sacked and ruined.[48] By the late eighteenth century socio-political and economic crises alongside nominal Ottoman government control resulted in local banditry and Muslim Albanian bands raided Aromanian, Greek, and Orthodox Albanian settlements located today within and outside contemporary Albania.[49][50][51][52] Within Albania those raids culminated in Vithkuq, mainly an Orthodox Albanian centre, Moscopole (Albanian: Voskopojë) mainly an Aromanian centre, both with Greek literary, educational and religious culture and other smaller settlements being destroyed.[36][46][50][51][52] Those events pushed some Aromanians and Orthodox Albanians to migrate afar to places such as Macedonia, Thrace and so on.[36][46][50][51][52][53]

Some Orthodox individuals, known as neo-martyrs, attempted to stem the tide of conversion to Islam amongst the Orthodox Albanian population and were executed in the process.[54] Notable among these individuals was Cosmas of Aetolia, (died 1779) a Greek monk and missionary who traveled and preached afar as Krujë, opened many Greek schools before being accused as a Russian agent and executed by Ottoman Muslim Albanian authorities.[55] Cosmas advocated for Greek education and spread of Greek language among illiterate Christian non-Greek speaking peoples so that they could understand the scriptures, liturgy and thereby remain Orthodox while his spiritual message is revered among contemporary Orthodox Albanians.[55][56][57]

Other factors for conversion

Prayer In The House Of An Arnaut Chief by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1857)

Other conversions such as those in the region of Labëria occurred due to ecclesiastical matters when for example during a famine the local bishop refused to grant a break in the fast to consume milk with threats of hell.[58] Conversion to Islam also was undertaken for economic reasons which offered a way out of heavy taxation such as the jizya or poll tax and other difficult Ottoman measures imposed on Christians while opening up opportunities such as wealth accumulation and so on.[26][58][59] In times of conflict between Muslims and Christians, local interests such as protection of family predominated over fighting causing the Ottomans to refuse Muslim Albanians the bearing of arms as often Christian Albanians would convert to Islam to obtain the right to arms and then employ them against the Ottomans.[60] Other multiple factors that led to conversions to Islam were the poverty of the Church, illiterate clergy, a lack of clergy in some areas and worship in a language other than Albanian.[26][43][35][58] Additionally the reliance of the bishoprics of Durrës and southern Albania upon the declining Archbishopric of Ohrid, due in part to simony weakened the ability of Orthodox Albanians in resisting conversion to Islam.[43][35]

Crypto-Christianity also occurred in certain instances throughout Albania in regions such as Shpat amongst populations that had recently converted from Christian Catholicism and Orthodoxy to Islam.[24][25][26][54][61] Gorë, a borderland region straddling contemporary north-eastern Albania and southern Kosovo, had a Slavic Orthodox population which converted to Islam during the latter half of the eighteenth century due to the abolition of the Serbian Patriarchate of Peć (1766) and subsequent unstable ecclesiastical structures.[62] The Romani people entered Albania sometime in the fifteenth century and those that were Muslim became part of local Muslim Ottoman society.[63][64]

Muslim Albanians and the wider Ottoman world

Bachelors' Mosque (left) and Hysen Pasha Mosque in Berat. (right).

Islam was closely associated with the state that made the Ottoman Empire an Islamic polity of which religious law coincided alongside state law with only Muslims having full civic rights while ethnic or national affiliations were disregarded.[65] In the center and south by the end of the seventeenth century the urban centers had largely adopted the religion of the growing Muslim Albanian elite. The construction of mosques in Albania increased substantially from the 17th century onward with the advent of large numbers of Muslim Albanian converts.[66] The Albanian old aristocratic ruling class converted to Islam to retain their lands.[31] By the 18th century, a class of local aristocratic Albanian Muslim notables had emerged.[66] The existence of that class as pashas and beys during that period, having military employment as soldiers and mercenaries while also able to join the Muslim clergy played an increasingly important role in Ottoman political and economic life that became an attractive career option for many Albanians.[17][67][68][69] Depending on their role, these people in Muslim Albanian society attained a respectable position as they performed administrative tasks and maintained security in urban areas and sometimes were rewarded by the Ottoman state with high ranks and positions.[17] Albanians, as such were also represented in sizable numbers at the imperial Ottoman court.[70] Alongside Christians though, many Muslim Albanians were poor and partially serfs that worked on the land of the emerging landowning Ottoman Albanian elite while others found employment in business, as artisans and in other jobs.[26]

Sunni Islam was promoted and protected by Ottoman governors and feudal society that resulted in support and spread of dervish Sufi orders considered more orthodox in the Balkans region.[71] Foremost of these were the Bektashi order who were considered Sunni by means of association with shared legal traditions, though viewed as Shiite by everyday Muslims due to esoteric practices such as revering Ali, Hassan, Husein and other notable Muslim figures.[72][73]

During Ottoman rule the Albanian population partially and gradually began to convert to Islam through the teachings of Bektashism in part to gain advantages in the Ottoman trade networks, bureaucracy and army.[74] A few Albanians became part of the Ottoman ruling class and gained an elevated position where their influence eventually exceeded that of the Bosniaks.[75] Many Albanians were recruited into the Ottoman Devşirme and Janissary with 42 Grand Viziers of the Ottoman Empire being of Albanian origin. The most prominent Albanians during Ottoman rule were Koca Davud Pasha, Hamza Kastrioti, Iljaz Hoxha, Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, Ali Pasha, Edhem Pasha, Ibrahim Pasha of Berat, Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed, Muhammad Ali of Egypt, Kara Mahmud Bushati and Ahmet Kurt Pasha. Within these contexts of serving in the military and as administrators, the relationship of Muslim Albanians with the Ottomans was at times one of cooperation and mutual advantage.[76]

Muslim denominations and sects

Besides those associated with Sunni Islam, the Muslims of Albania during the Ottoman period belonged to several Sufi Orders.[77] The Qadiri order spread within urban areas of the seventeenth century and was linked with guilds of urban workers while in the 18th century, the Qadiri had spread into central Albania and in particular the mountainous Dibër region.[77] The Qadiri contributed to the economic, and in the Dibër area, the socio-political milieu where they were based.[77] The Halveti order who competed with the Bektashis for adherents and based in the south and northeast of Albania.[77] Other Sufi orders were the Rufai and the Melami and so on. The most prominent of these in Albania were and still are the Bektashis, a mystic Dervish order belonging to Shia Islam that came to Albania during the Ottoman period, brought first by the Janissaries in the 15th century.[43] The spread of Bektashism amongst the Albanian population though occurred during the 18th and mainly early 19th centuries, especially in the domains of Ali Pasha who is thought to have been a Bektashi himself.[43][67][78][79] Sufi dervishes from places afar like Khorasan and Anatolia arrived, proselytized, gained disciples and in time a network of tekkes was established that became centres of Sufism in regions such as Skrapar and Devoll.[67] Some of the most prominent tekkes in Albania were in settlements such as Gjirokastër, Melçan, Krujë and Frashër.[67] Of the Bektashi order by the early 20th century, Albanians formed a sizable amount of its dervishes outside the Balkans, even at the tekke of Sufi saint Haji Bektash in Anatolia and in Egypt.[80][81] Sufi orders, in particular the Bektashis, associate Christian saints and their local shrines with Sufi holy men, creating a synthesis and syncretism of religious observance and presence.[67][69][82] For Albanian converts to Islam, Bektashism with its greater religious freedoms and syncretism was viewed at times as a more appealing option than Sunni Islam.[43][69][82] The Bektashi sect is considered heretical by conservative Muslims.[54] Traditionally Bektashis are found in sizable numbers within southern Albania and to a lesser extent in central Albania, while the rest[dubious ] of the Muslim population belongs to Sunni Islam.[43]

Social and cultural change

Mirahori Mosque in Korçë

The Ottoman conquest also brought social, cultural and linguistic changes into the Albanian-speaking world. From the fifteenth century onward words from Ottoman Turkish entered the Albanian language.[83] A corpus of poets and other Muslim Albanian authors wrote in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Persian or in the Albanian language in Arabic script (aljamiado) encompassing narrative prose, poetry, reflective works on religion and socio-political situations and so on.[83][84] Prominent amongst these authors were Yahya bey Dukagjini, Haxhi Shehreti or bejtexhinj poets like Nezim Frakulla, Muhamet Kyçyku, Sulejman Naibi, Hasan Zyko Kamberi, Haxhi Ymer Kashari and others.[83] Apart from Elbasan founded (1466) around a fortress, towns and cities in Albania underwent change as they adopted Ottoman architectural and cultural elements.[18][85] Some settlements with the construction of buildings related to religion, education and social purposes like mosques, madrassas, imarets and so on by the Ottoman Muslim Albanian elite became new urban centres like Korçë, Tiranë and Kavajë.[85] Meanwhile, older urban centres such as Berat attained mosques, hamams (Ottoman bathhouses), madrasas (Muslim religious schools), coffee houses, tekes and became known for poets, artists and scholarly pursuits.[83] Unlike Kosovo or Macedonia, architecturally Albania's Ottoman Muslim heritage was more modest in number, though prominent structures are the Mirahori Mosque in Korçë (built 1495–96), Murad Bey Mosque in Krujë (1533–34), Lead Mosque in Shkodër (1773–74), Et'hem Bey Mosque in Tiranë (begun 1791–94; finished 1820–21) and others.[86][87]

Conversion from Christianity to Islam for Albanians also marked a transition from Rum (Christian) to Muslim confessional communities within the Ottoman millet system that collectively divided and governed peoples according to their religion.[49] The Ottomans were nonetheless aware of the existence of Muslim Albanians and used terms like Arnavud (اروانيد) extensively as an ethnic marker to address the shortcomings of the usual millet religious terminology to identify people in Ottoman state records.[49][88] In Ottoman Turkish, the country was referred to as Arnavudluk (آرناوودلق).[88] Also a new and generalised response by Albanians based on ethnic and linguistic consciousness to this new and different Ottoman world emerging around them was a change in ethnonym.[89][90] The ethnic demonym Shqiptarë, derived from Latin connoting clear speech and verbal understanding gradually replaced Arbëresh/Arbënesh amongst Albanian speakers between the late 17th and early 18th centuries.[89]


Albanian societal views of the Islamisation of Albania

Minbar within richly decorated interior of Et'hem Bey Mosque, Tiranë.

Islam and the Ottoman legacy has also been a topic of conversation among wider Albanian society. Islam and the Ottomans are viewed by many Albanians as the outcome of jihad, anti-Christian violence, Turkification and within those discourses Albania's sociopolitical problems are attributed as the outcome of that legacy.[91] Some members from the Muslim community, while deemphasizing the Ottoman past, have responded to these views by criticizing what they perceive as prejudice toward Islam.[91]

Among Albanian intellectuals and other notable Albanians in the wider Balkans, discussions and at times debates about Islam, its legacy and role within Albania have occurred.[92] Within these discourses, controversial Orientalist, racist and biological terminology has been used by some Albanian intellectuals when discussing Islam, its legacy and contemporary role among Albanians.[93][94]

Ismail Kadare

Prominent in those discussions were written exchanges in newspaper articles and books between novelist Ismail Kadare of Gjirokastër and literary critic Rexhep Qosja, an Albanian from the former Yugoslavia in the mid-2000s.[95][96] Kadare asserted that Albania's future lay with Europe due to its ancient European roots and Christian traditions, while Qosja contended that Albanian identity was both a blend of Western (Christian) and Eastern (Islam) cultures and often adaptable to historical contexts.[95][96] Piro Misha wrote that the Islamisation of Albanians during the 17th and 18th centuries as being "two of the darkest centuries in the modern history of Albania".[90] Misha also maintained that due to that experience "Albania was more influenced by Turco-Oriental culture than perhaps any other country in the region",[97] though he notes that Albanian Muslims were only Muslim group "in European Turkey who made common cause with their Christian compatriots to fight against the government in Constantinople."[98]

In a 2005 speech given in Britain by Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, he referred to Islam in Albania as having a "European face" since it is "shallow" and "if you dig a bit in every Albanian, he can discover his Christian core".[99] The Muslim Forum of Albania responded to those and Kadare's comments and referred to them as "racist" containing "Islamophobia" and being "deeply offensive".[99] Following trends dating back from the communist regime, the post-communist Albanian political establishment continues to approach Islam as the faith of the Ottoman "invader".[100] Some Albanian writers have also claimed that the Albanian dedication to Islam was superficial and those arguments have been popular within the Orthodox and Catholic Albanian communities.[101] In debates over Albanian school textbooks during which some historians have asked for offensive content regarding Turks to be removed, some Christian Albanian historians countered angrily by referring to negative experiences of the Ottoman period and wanting Turkey to seek redress for the "invasion" of Albania and the Islamisation of Albanians.[102]

Religious establishment views of the Islamisation of Albania

The official religious Christian and Muslim establishments and their clergy hold diverging views of the Ottoman period and conversion of Islam by Albanians. Both Catholic and the Orthodox clergy interpret the Ottoman era as a repressive one that contained anti-Christian discrimination and violence,[103] while Islam is viewed as foreign challenging Albanian tradition and cohesion.[104] The conversion to Islam by Albanians is viewed by both Catholic and Orthodox clergy as falsification of Albanian identity, though Albanian Muslims are interpreted as innocent victims of Islamisation.[104] Albanian Sunni Muslim clergy however views the conversion of Albanians as a voluntary process, while sidelining religious controversies associated with the Ottoman era.[103] Sufi Islam in Albania interprets the Ottoman era as promoting a distorted form of Islam that was corrupted within a Sunni Ottoman polity that persecuted them.[105] Christian clergy consider Muslim Albanians as part of the wider Albanian nation and Muslim clergy do not express derision to people who did not become Muslim in Albania.[104] Christian identities in Albania have been forged on being in a minority position, at times with experiences of discrimination they have had historically in relation to the Muslim majority.[106] Meanwhile, Muslim clergy in Albania highlight the change of fortune the demise of the Ottoman Empire brought with the political empowerment of Balkan Christians making Muslims a religious minority[clarification needed] in contemporary times.[106]

Islamisation of Albania within scholarship

See also: Historiography of Albania

Within scholarship in contemporary times, the conversion of Albanians and the legacy of Islam within Albania is a contested topic. Communist era and contemporary Albanian scholars with nationalist perspectives interpret the Ottoman period as negative and downplay the conversion to Islam as having had barely any benefits to Albanians in a sociocultural and religious sense.[107] In 1975, Hasan Kaleshi challenged these mainly "negative" views of the period of Islamization.[108] Kaleshi's position, later supported by Elsie and Schmidt-Neke,[96][107] was that the Ottoman conquest and conversion to Islam by Albanians averted Hellenization and Slavification the same way that the Slavic invasions of the 6th century halted the romanization process of the progenitors of the Albanians.[107][96][108] He maintained that though recognised within the millet system as Muslims only, the partial Islamisation of the population halted the assimilation process occurring through churches and the influence of landlords of the Greeks, Latins and Slavs.[107][108] Additionally, the Islamisation of Albanians also resulted in the extension of the Balkan Albanian settlement area through either population movements or the assimilation of other Muslim non-Albanian elements during Ottoman rule.[107][108] Kaleshi's thesis has, over time, been distorted by some Albanians who argue that Albanians converted to Islam with the aim of keeping their national and ethnic identity, instead of Albanian identity being preserved as a consequence of Islamisation and Ottoman rule; this has been called an "inversion" of Kaleshi's argument.[108]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Ramet 1998, p. 209. "The Ottomans first invaded Albania in 1385. A second Ottoman force was sent to Albania 1394-96, occupying the country. Given both the Ottoman disposition to tolerate religious diversity among loyal subjects and the generally bellicose traditions of the Albanians, Ottoman authorities adopted a conciliatory policy toward Albanian Christians in the early decades of occupation. Still, although conversion to Islam was not required, a Christian Albanian lord could count on winning favor if he converted. If the Ottomans did not believe that religious reasons could compel a Christian to convert to Islam, they nonetheless looked askance when a Muslim converted (or reconverted) to Christianity. This happened in 1443 when Gjergj Kastrioti (called Skenderbeg), who had been reared as a Muslim in the sultan's palace, abandoned the Islamic faith and publicly reverted to the creed of his forefathers. But this conversion was not merely a public gesture of defiance. It was the first act in a revolutionary drama. For, after changing his religious allegiance, Skenderbeg demanded that Muslim colonists and converts alike embrace Christianity on pain of death, declaring a kind of holy war against the sultan/caliph."
  2. ^ a b c Zhelyazkova, Antonina. ‘’Albanian Identities’’. Sofia, 2000: International Center for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations. Page 15-16
  3. ^ Florian Bieber (19 August 2010). "Muslim identity in the Balkans before the establishment of nation states". Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity. pp. 15–19.
  4. ^ a b c Fine, John V. A.; Fine, John Van Antwerp (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. p. 535. ISBN 978-0-472-08260-5. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  5. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 22.
  6. ^ Marinescu 1994, p. 182.
  7. ^ Inalcik 1989, p. 327.
  8. ^ Shaw, Stanford J. (2016). The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. Springer. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-349-12235-6. Retrieved 3 April 2020. In Albania, the important trade center Valona had a large number of Jewish immigrants from the Iberian peninsula... though the subsequent Christian Albanian revolt against the Ottomans, led by Scanderbeg, massacred most of the area's Muslims and Jews and forced the remainder to flee, mostly to Istanbul or Italy.
  9. ^ Nasse 1964, pp. 24–26
  10. ^ Treptow, Kurt W. (1992). From Zalmoxis to Jan Palach: Studies in East European History. Eastern European Monographs. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-88033-225-5. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  11. ^ Treptow, Kurt W. (1991). "The Ottoman Invasion of Italy and the Albanian Rebellion, 1480-1481". The Ukrainian Quarterly. 47 (2): 182–190.
  12. ^ Zhelyazkova, Antonina, ‘’Albanian identities’’, page 15.
  13. ^ Zhelyazkova, Antonina. ‘’Albanian Identities’’. Pages 15-16, 19.
  14. ^ a b c d e Anton Minkov. Conversion to Islam in the Balkans. pp. 41–42.
  15. ^ Norris 1993, pp. 36–37.
  16. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 18.
  17. ^ a b c Nurja 2012, pp. 197–198.
  18. ^ a b Ergo 2010, pp. 34–35.
  19. ^ Vryonis, Spyros. Religious Changes and Patterns in the Balkans, 14th-16th centuries
  20. ^, ..."a silver portrait of Pope Clement XI – who belonged to the Albani family, so was traditionally of Albanian origin."
  21. ^ a b Malcolm 2015, pp. 12–13.
  22. ^ Ramet 1998, pp. 209–210.
  23. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 8.
  24. ^ a b c Ramet 1998, p. 210. "Then, in 1644, war broke out between Venice and the Ottoman empire. At the urging of the clergy, many Albanian Catholics sided with Venice. The Ottomans responded with severe repressions, which in turn drove many Catholics to embrace Islam (although a few elected to join the Orthodox Church instead)... Within the span of twenty-two years (1649-71) the number of Catholics in the diocese of Alessio fell by more than 50 percent, while in the diocese of Pulati (1634-71) the number of Catholics declined from more than 20,000 to just 4,045. In general, Albanian insurrections during the Ottoman-Venetian wars of 1644-69 resulted in stiff Ottoman reprisals against Catholics in northern Albania and significantly accelerated Islamization... In general, a pattern emerged. When the, Ottoman empire was attacked by Catholic powers, local Catholics were pressured to convert, and when the attack on the Ottoman empire came from Orthodox Russia, the pressure was on local Orthodox to change faith. In some cases Islamization was only superficial, however, and in the nineteenth century many villages and some entire districts remained "crypto-Catholic" in spite of the adopting the externals of Islamic culture."
  25. ^ a b c Skendi 1967b, pp. 235–242.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Lederer 1994, pp. 333–334.
  27. ^ a b Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: a short history. Macmillan. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-333-66612-8. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  28. ^ Pahumi, Nevila (2007). "The Consolidation of Albanian Nationalism". Page 18: "The pasha of Ipek forcibly removed Catholic inhabitants of northern Albania into the plains of southern Serbia after a failed Serb revolt in 1689 and the flight of many Serbs to the Habsburg Empire. The transferred villagers were forced to convert over to Islam."
  29. ^ a b Doja 2008, p. 60.
  30. ^ Frazee 2006, pp. 167–168.
  31. ^ a b c Stavrianos 2000, p. 498.
  32. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-08. Retrieved 2009-11-05.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ TKGM, TD № 55 (412), (Defter sandžaka Prizren iz 1591. godine).
  34. ^ a b Pistrick 2013, p. 78.
  35. ^ a b c d Skendi 1956, pp. 316, 318–320.
  36. ^ a b c d e f Ramet 1998, p. 203. "The Ottoman conquest between the end of the fourteenth century and the mid-fifteenth century introduced a third religion – Islam - but the Turks did not at first use force in its expansion, and it was only in the 1600s that large-scale conversion to Islam began – chiefly, at first, among Albanian Catholics."; p.204. "The Orthodox community enjoyed broad toleration at the hands of the Sublime Porte until the late eighteenth century."; p. 204. "In the late eighteenth century Russian agents began stirring up the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman empire against the Sublime Porte. In the Russo-Turkish wars of 1768-74 and 1787-91 Orthodox Albanians rose against the Turks. In the course of the second revolt the "New Academy" in Voskopoje was destroyed (1789), and at the end of the second Russo-Turkish war more than a thousand Orthodox fled to Russia on Russian warships. As a result of these revolts, the Porte now applied force to Islamicize the Albanian Orthodox population, adding economic incentives to provide positive stimulus. In 1798 Ali Pasha of Janina led Ottoman forces against Christian believers assembled in their churches to celebrate Easter in the villages of Shen Vasil and Nivica e Bubarit. The bloodbath unleashed against these believers frightened Albanian Christians in other districts and inspired a new wave of mass conversions to Islam."
  37. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 26.
  38. ^ a b Ergo 2010, p. 37.
  39. ^ Giakoumis 2010, pp. 79–81.
  40. ^ Winnifrith 2002, p. 107."But the difficult archbishops of Ohrid must have produced some difference in their flocks. Less contentious faiths were available. It so happens that converting to Islam in central Albania was eased by the strength there of the Bektashi cult, a mystical faith, designed to appeal to all, demanding little in the way of strict rules of observance."
  41. ^ a b Giakoumis 2010, p. 84. On Durres: "At the end of the 16th century, conversion to Islam had so much penetrated into central Albania, that a Greek traveller in Durrës in 1580 reported that ―in the region of Durrës there are no Greeks‖ (that is, Orthodox Christians)"
  42. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 38.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i Skendi 1967a, pp. 10–13.
  44. ^ a b Skendi 1956, pp. 321–323.
  45. ^ a b Vickers 2011, p. 16.
  46. ^ a b c Koti 2010, pp. 16–17.
  47. ^ Kallivretakis 2003, p. 233.
  48. ^ a b Hammond 1967, p. 30.
  49. ^ a b c Anscombe 2006, p. 88. "This Albanian participation in brigandage is easier to track than for many other social groups in Ottoman lands, because Albanian (Arnavud) was one of the relatively few ethnic markers regularly added to the usual religious (Muslim-Zimmi) tags used to identify people in state records. These records show that the magnitude of banditry involving Albanians grew through the 1770s and 1780s to reach crisis proportions in the 1790s and 1800s."; p.107. "In light of the recent violent troubles in Kosovo and Macedonia and the strong emotions tied to them, readers are urged most emphatically not to draw either of two unwarranted conclusions from this article: that Albanians are somehow inherently inclined to banditry, or that the extent of Ottoman "Albania" or Arnavudluk (which included parts of present-day northern Greece, western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, Kosovo, and southern Serbia) gives any historical "justification" for the creation of a "Greater Albania" today."
  50. ^ a b c Hammond 1976, p. 62.
  51. ^ a b c Koukoudis 2003, pp. 321–322. "Particularly interesting is the case of Vithkuq, south of Moschopolis, which seems to have shared closely in the town's evolution, though it is far from clear whether it was inhabited by Vlachs [Aromanians] in the glory days before 1769. It may well have had Vlach inhabitants before 1769, though the Arvanites were certainly far more numerous, if not the largest population group. This is further supported by the linguistic identity of the refugees who fled Vithkuq and accompanied the waves of departing Vlachs. Today it is inhabited by Arvanites and Vlachs, though the forebears of the modern Vlach residents arrived after the village had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants and are mainly of Arvanitovlach descent. They are former pastoral nomads who settled permanently in Vithkuq."; p. 339. "As the same time as, or possibly shortly before or after, these events in Moschopolis, unruly Arnauts also attacked the smaller Vlach and Arvanitic communities round about. The Vlach inhabitants of Llengë, Niçë, Grabovë, Shipckë, and the Vlach villages on Grammos, such as Nikolicë, Linotopi, and Grammousta, and the inhabitants of Vithkuq and even the last Albanian speaking Christian villages on Opar found themselves at the mercy of the predatory Arnauts, whom no-one could withstand. For them too, the only solution was to flee... During this period, Vlach and Arvanite families from the surrounding ruined market towns and villages settled alongside the few Moscopolitans who had returned. Refugee families came from Dushar and other villages in Opar, from Vithkuq, Grabovë, Nikolicë, Niçë, and Llengë and from Kolonjë."
  52. ^ a b c Jorgaqi 2005, pp. 38–39.
  53. ^ Winnifrith 2002, p. 109. "Of these Vithkuq... All these villages have a Vlach [Aromanian] element in their population, and it is Vlach tradition that they were large and important... This culture was of course Greek culture...
  54. ^ a b c Giakoumis 2010, pp. 89–91.
  55. ^ a b Elsie 2001, pp. 59–60.
  56. ^ Elsie 2000, p. 48.
  57. ^ Mackridge 2009, pp. 58–59.
  58. ^ a b c Giakoumis 2010, pp. 86–87.
  59. ^ Norris 1993, pp. 47–48.
  60. ^ Myhill 2006, p. 232.
  61. ^ Pistrick 2013, pp. 79–81.
  62. ^ Duijzings 2000, p. 16.
  63. ^ De Soto, Beddies & Gedeshi 2005, p. 7.
  64. ^ Crowe 1996, p. 196.
  65. ^ Jordan 2015, p. 1582.
  66. ^ a b Manahasa & Kolay 2015, pp. 70, 78.
  67. ^ a b c d e Norris 1993, pp. 123–137, 155–160.
  68. ^ Hammond 1967, p. 217.
  69. ^ a b c Babuna 2004, pp. 290–291.
  70. ^ Ergo 2010, p. 23.
  71. ^ Norris 1993, p. 101.
  72. ^ Blumi & Krasniqi 2014, pp. 480–482.
  73. ^ Doja 2006, pp. 91–93, 100–102.
  74. ^ Doja 2006, pp. 86–87.
  75. ^ Shaw, Stanford J.; Shaw, Ezel Kural (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey: Volume 1, Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire 1280-1808. Cambridge University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-521-29163-7. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  76. ^ Malcolm 2002, p. 82. "Modern historians would also think it necessary to refer to the many examples of cooperation (sometimes to mutual advantage) between inhabitants of the Albanian lands and their foreign rulers - above all, in the case of the Ottomans, with their innumerable soldiers and officials of Albanian origin.
  77. ^ a b c d Clayer 2007, pp. 33–36.
  78. ^ Doja 2006, pp. 94–98.
  79. ^ Gawrych 2006, pp. 21–22.
  80. ^ Norris 1993, pp. 212–218.
  81. ^ Hasluck 1913, p. 97.
  82. ^ a b Hasluck 1913, pp. 106–119.
  83. ^ a b c d Norris 1993, pp. 61–81.
  84. ^ Elsie 1992, pp. 289–305.
  85. ^ a b Nurja 2012, p. 193.
  86. ^ Norris 1993, p. 56.
  87. ^ Manahasa & Kolay 2015, pp. 70–79.
  88. ^ a b Anscombe 2006b, p. 772. "In this case, however, Ottoman records contain useful information about the ethnicities of the leading actors in the story. In comparison with ‘Serbs’, who were not a meaningful category to the Ottoman state, its records refer to ‘Albanians’ more frequently than to many other cultural or linguistic groups. The term ‘Arnavud’ was used to denote persons who spoke one of the dialects of Albanian, came from mountainous country in the western Balkans (referred to as ‘Arnavudluk’, and including not only the area now forming the state of Albania but also neighbouring parts of Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro), organized society on the strength of blood ties (family, clan, tribe), engaged predominantly in a mix of settled agriculture and livestock herding, and were notable fighters — a group, in short, difficult to control. Other peoples, such as Georgians, Ahkhaz, Circassians, Tatars, Kurds, and Bedouin Arabs who were frequently identified by their ethnicity, shared similar cultural traits."
  89. ^ a b Lloshi 1999, p. 277. "They called themselves arbënesh, arbëresh, the country Arbëni, Arbëri, and the language arbëneshe, arbëreshe. In the foreign languages, the Middle Ages denominations of these names survived, but for the Albanians they were substituted by shqiptarë, Shqipëri and shqipe. The primary root is the adverb shqip, meaning "clearly, intelligibly". There is a very close semantic parallel to this in the German noun Deutsche, "the Germans" and "the German language" (Lloshi 1984) Shqip spread out from the north to the south, and Shqipni/Shqipëri is probably a collective noun, following the common pattern of Arbëni, Arbëri. The change happened after the Ottoman conquest because of the conflict in the whole line of the political, social, economic, religious, and cultural spheres with a totally alien world of the Oriental type. A new and more generalised ethnic and linguistic consciousness of all these people responded to this."
  90. ^ a b Misha 2002, p. 35.
  91. ^ a b Endresen 2011, pp. 47–48.
  92. ^ Brisku 2013, pp. 181–183.
  93. ^ Sulstarova 2013, pp. 68–72.
  94. ^ Elbasani & Roy 2015, p. 465.
  95. ^ a b Brisku 2013, pp. 184–186.
  96. ^ a b c d Schmidt-Neke 2014, p. 15. "Hasan Kaleshi who argued that the islamization of the majority of the Albanians saved them from assimilation into Greeks and Slavs (Kaleshi 1975)."
  97. ^ Misha 2002, p. 46.
  98. ^ Misha 2002, p. 45.
  99. ^ a b Brisku 2013, p. 187.
  100. ^ Barbullushi 2010, p. 158.
  101. ^ Malcolm 2002, p. 86. "Even more confusing was his deployment of another standard argument, using the evidence of syncretistic folk-religion to suggest that the Albanian commitment to Islam was only superficial: ‘The Albanian Moslem has never forgotten... his former religion to some of the saints of which he still pays tribute, such as St. George... and St. Demeter. This argument (understandably popular among Catholic and Orthodox Albanians, but, in view of the use made of it by Slav and Greek propagandists, a dangerous one for Albanian interests) raised a potentially awkward question. If the Albanians had been so devoted to Christianity (which was at one stage their national religion), why had so many of them converted to Islam?"
  102. ^ Jazexhi 2012, p. 14.
  103. ^ a b Endresen 2010, p. 237 "The Muslim leaders advocate the view that the Albanians' embracing of Islam was voluntary. The Christians, conversely, characterise the Ottoman rule as anti-Christian and oppressive."; pp. 238-239; p. 241. "In Christian narratives, by contrast, Islam represents a foreign element disrupting Albanian unity and tradition."; pp. 240-241.
  104. ^ a b c Endresen 2010, p. 241. "The Christians’ view that the historical conversion to Islam presents a kind of falsification of national identity has interesting similarities with Serbian nationalist interpretations of Slavic conversions to Islam, though the Albanian clergy distinguish between Islam and local Muslims and not consider their compatriots’ conversion as treason to the same extent. Although the Christian leaders do place Islam on the wrong side of history, its Albanian adherents are portrayed as innocent victims of the cruel polities of foreign intruders. Moreover, the Christian clergy do not exclude Albanian Muslims from the national community, and by the same token none of the Muslim leaders seem to nurture any resentment towards those who did not embrace Islam."
  105. ^ Endresen 2010, pp. 241–242.
  106. ^ a b Endresen 2010, p. 250. "Myths of martyrdom and "unjust treatment" in the sense that the national and/or the religious community is a "victim of aggression", run like a thread through the clerics’ discourse. These are partly based on the historical fact that in one way or another each community is or has been under threat: since the second half of the 19th Century, Albania and Albanians in the Balkans have been in the firing line of Christian neighbours with territorial claims, which have made efforts to assimilate, expel or even kill the population in disputed areas. This is reflected in the Communities’ constructions of the national community. Orthodox and Catholic identities are shaped by the fact that Christianity is a minority religion in Albania, and that the country’s Christians have a long history as second class citizens under various forms of Muslim pressures, either as imperial, Islamist polity or under authoritarian leadership dominated by leaders with a Muslim background (Zogu and Hoxha). Conversely, the Muslim clerics focus on how the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire has given the Balkans’s Christians the upper hand politically. Islam is also a minority religion in Europe with a historical reputation as demonic and with a modern image problem in the West related to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and global terrorist networks."
  107. ^ a b c d e Elsie 2005, p. 34. "Modern Albanian scholars tend to view the consequences of these centuries of Turkish rule as completely negative, in terms of wild Asiatic hordes ravaging and plundering a country which might otherwise have flourished in the cradle of European civilization... Scholar Hasan Kaleshi (1922–1976) has convincingly suggested that the Turkish occupation of the Balkans had at least the one positive consequence. It saved the Albanians from ethnic assimilation by the Slavs, just as the Slavic invasion of the Balkans in the sixth century had put an end to the process of Romanization which had threatened to assimilate the non-Latin-speaking ancestors of the Albanians a thousand years earlier. Although not recognized by the Turks as an ethnic minority (the population of the Ottoman Empire was divided according to religion, not according to nationality), the Albanians managed to survive as a people and indeed substantially expand their areas of settlement under Turkish rule."
  108. ^ a b c d e Clayer 1997, pp. 135.


Further reading