Prayer time on Friday afternoon. Hundreds of men and boys gather at the Grand Mosque in the old quarter of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. A few who can’t get into the packed building start praying on the street outside.
A young man, aged around 30, advises me against getting too close to the mosque. “Wait across the street,” he says. “Today only men come to pray.” He shows me to a spot a few steps away from the front of the mosque.
The imam, Shefqet Krasniqi, starts his sermon. His voice reaches the street through loudspeakers. He urges the congregation to steer clear of alcohol and drugs, and warns them against television shows and websites that denigrate Islam.
“The enemies of Islam are hard at work in Kosovo,” he says, adding that the supporters of the faith are outnumbered by its foes. “Amorality is steadily increasing… you can see this everywhere.”
The imam tells his followers to restrict their children’s participation in school excursions and prom nights. “We have to oppose everything that is against Allah,” he says.
Berat and his cousin Shabi, both 22-years-old and from Pristina, regard Imam Krasniqi as a godsend. “He explains the benefits of Islam simply and directly,” says Berat. He adds that he has been praying regularly since his early teens.
Ymer Mehmeti, an elderly man who was finishing his prayers, said he was glad to see more youngsters at the mosque. “The youth need to be educated by people who interpret the Koran correctly,” he said.
Alban Lleshi, a man his thirties who was passing by the mosque, said the crowd at the Friday prayers was not typical of Kosovo. “It’s true 90% of Kosovans are Muslims,” he said, “but only a few of them go to the mosque.” Instead, he suggested, I should visit the crowded bars and cafes in downtown Pristina to see how most of the youth preferred to spend their Fridays.
Over the coming months, I shall look at how people in Kosovo are finding new ways to define themselves – and their faith.
Arbana Xharra has won several awards for her investigative reporting in Kosovo.