The main religion in Albania is Islam. In the last census, conducted in 2011, 56.7% of the Albanian population declared themselves Muslim. 10% identified as Catholic, and 7% as Orthodox. However, these numbers only paint a small part of the picture.
Although a massive percentage of the population identifies as one religion or another, according to Gallup: 63% of Albanians state that religion does not play an important role in their lives.
The first thing to say is that Albania has high religious freedom, and religious communities largely exist without any animosity.
The differences in Albanian religious groups can be traced back to the country's geographic position. If Istanbul is the gateway between a Christian West and Muslim East, Albania is like one of the fenceposts. It was dominated first by The Byzantine Empire Christians and, more recently, the Ottoman Empire Muslims. You can see this split in the numbers.
There are two main types of Islam in Albania: Sunni Islam and Bektashi. The Sunni Muslim community is the dominant form of Islam in Albania(About 80% compared to 20% for Bektashi).
Although Bektashism also takes elements of Christianity and even Buddhism, it is most closely aligned with Shīʿite Islam.
The fundamental split in Islam is as old as the religion itself. After the prophet Muhammed died, the faith split into two factions, those who followed Abu Bakr(Sunni) And those who followed Muhammed's cousin Ali(Shīʿite ).
Sunni's focus more on the prophet's teachings, whereas Shīʿite's focus on the words of the Imams-- the lineage of the prophet Muhammed.
No story on Albanian religion would be complete without mentioning the streak of Communism that runs throughout Albanian history.
When the Albanian government became communist after World War 2, religious leaders must have known that bad things were bound to follow. The principles of Communism are heavily irreligious. The movement's founder, Karl Marx, famously remarked that: "Religion is the opium of the people. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions."
And so it came to pass. In 1946 religious schools were banned, and the property was seized. The worst came in the 1960s when the government appropriated almost all churches and mosques. The plan of the then leader Enver Hoxha was to create a completely atheist nation, the first in the history of the world.
As discussed in our article on nicknames and names in Albania, citizens were encouraged to pick names that spoke of Albania's 'pure' Illyrian past. Anyone caught disseminating religious material risked ten years in prison.
It wasn't until December 1990, when the communist government was on the verge of collapse, that Christmas was officially celebrated in Albania for the first time in half a century.
It is not surprising that a country that spent 50 years under a communist regime should have a certain percentage of atheist citizens. Unfortunately, it is hard to grasp the numbers because different polls offer different results.
Some say 2.5%, others 9%. However, what is clear is that, like the rest of Europe, religion in Albania is coming under increasing attack from a more capitalist-consumer-driven West.
The future does not look bright for the priests and imams. A 2015 study of people aged between 16-27 found that 80% of them only practice religion during the main religious holidays like Ramadan and Christmas.
Similar to America's higher proportion of Christians in the South, Albania also has geographically dependent religiosity. Albanian Muslims are found throughout the country, but Catholics are more concentrated in the North, whereas Orthodox Albanians are located in Southern Albania. (Orthodoxy is a kind of Greek Christianity).
It would be remiss of me not to mention the most famous religious Albanian figure in history. The saint of the catholic church, Mother Teresa, was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje (now the capital of North Macedonia).
When the future saint was 36, she set out to India to nurse and feed the sick of India. In 1950 she formed a catholic organization called 'the missionaries of charity.' Their refrain was: 'we'll take care of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone".
From only 13 members, the group swelled to 4000 people, and Mother Teresa became recognized worldwide as a spiritual and cultural icon.
Although today's reading was a little heavier than some other blogs you might find on our website, we are committed to being as thorough as possible.
As discussed, there are many competing forces vying for the souls of Albanian citizens, from the members of the Sunni Muslim community to the catholic church and the orthodox church. However, the key takeaway from all this is that religious tolerance in Albania remains high.
When you understand the culture, you know how important it is to learn the language. Albania is a fascinating melting pot of religion, art, and politics.
You can take daily 15 minute lessons and build your language up from scratch through the Ling app. Go from Albanian language zero to hero with speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice.
You won't experience a dip in motivation when you see our gamification elements and realize you can compare yourself to other Albanian learners.
And as always, if you have any further questions, please comment below.