On May 30, 1913, Albania became an independent country. Today, it is Europe’s only Muslim-majority nation.
Estimates suggest that 57% of Albania’s population is Muslim, making it the only nation located completely in Europe to have a Muslim majority. (Only about 5% of Turkey’s territory sits on the European continent).
During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the area that is present-day Albania existed under Islamic law. During the seventeenth century, many of those who converted to Islam rose within the ranks of the Ottoman Empire. These converts secured positions within military and government, and the empire’s effort to recruit converts stressed the significance of converting from Christianity to Islam. Eventually, Albania reached a critical breaking point, and the country separated itself from its Christian neighbors such as Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. This led a surge of Islamic authority and pride throughout Albania. In the mid-twentieth century, however, Communist leader Enver Hoxha declared Albania an atheist state and sought to curb the influence of religion by closing mosques and churches.
Today, Albania has been praised as an example of a nation where different religious sects live cooperatively and in peace. Pope Francis, who visited the country in September of 2014, identified it as a country “marked by the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among the followers of different religions in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust.” Following the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, the Pontiff described Albania as a model location in which “a culture of encounter is possible.”
Fundamentalism seems to have passed Albania by; women enjoy relative freedom as compared to other nations in the Islamic world, and the Christian and Jewish minorities co-exist peacefully with the Muslim majority.
The United States and Albania have also historically enjoyed warm relations. According to CNN, the Albanian people were grateful to President Woodrow Wilson for his attempt to prevent Albania from being “dismembered” and given to its neighboring countries. Albanian allegiance to the United States grew even stronger when President Bill Clinton advocated for a NATO operation to save ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo from genocide during the Yugoslavian crisis of the 1990’s. Edi Rama, the Socialist mayor of the capital city of Tirana, even stated in 2007: “Albania is for sure the most pro-American country in Europe, maybe even in the world.”
While news reports claim that the United States’ relationship with the Islamic world is at an ebb, let’s keep in mind the history of cooperation between the United States and Albania. Also, we would be wise to keep in mind Pope Francis’ message that Albania can serve as a model of religious tolerance.
Ashley Wang is a student at Rutgers University.