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12 Day Tour of the Balkan States

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12 day tour of the Balkan States in the company of Mufti Taqi Usmani, Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri, Mufti Shabbir Ahmed & other scholars 

In the of Allah the compassionate the merciful

Day 5 – Sunday 24 June 2018
Al-Jabal al-Aswad – Montenegro

We wake up in the morning to take in the beautiful scenic view of the Adriatic Sea. The following are some pictures taken by Hafiz Hamdan yesterday during sunset:

 

Durres is a port city on the Adriatic Sea in western Albania. It’s known for its huge Roman amphitheater. Nearby is a 9th-century church with mosaic-covered walls. The Archaeological Museum displays pieces from the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods.

We do not have time to tour the city as our convoy needs to travel in three separate groups.  Some members of the convoy including Mufti Shabbir Ahmed and Mufti Abdussamad are returning to the UK today. Another group led by Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib head towards Bosnia which is a twelve hour journey.  Our small group of three cars led by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani heads towards Montenegro.  We have with us Shaykh Rafiq Sufi and his family including Hafiz Hamdan who has travelled with his parents as part of the convoy despite not being able to walk. His electric wheelchair is part of the convoy. He is suffering from Centro Nuclear Myotubular Myopathy & Respiratory Failure Type-2. It is truly inspiring and courageous for him to have joined us on this trip from the very beginning.  As Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib said to him on the flight, “our journey will be made easy because of you, for we are assisted and granted sustenance due to our weak ones.” May Allah grant him Shifaa and bless him in every way possible.  Shaykh Rafiq is a Trustee of MWI and spent four months in 1995-6 in Albania with his wife and laid the foundation for the MWI’s work, the fruits of which are visible today. His knowledge of the Albanian language is also assisting us navigate through the Balkans.

We depart Duress before midday and head North towards the Montenegro border close to Skoder. Skoder is one of the oldest cities in Albania, located on the bank of Skadar lake, 20km from the Adriatic coast and 120km from Tirana. It is home to the castle of Rozafa, which was built in the third century B.C. This is also the place of birth and home town of Shaykh Nasiruddin Albani Rahimahullah. We do not have time to visit the city otherwise it would have been worth touring this historical city. We also learn that there are Christian missionaries operating in this region and elsewhere in the Balkans and one of their strategies is to send Muslim youth particularly girls to Croatia for education.  We also learn that the Adhan is delivered via recordings in many Masjjds of Skoder.  Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani comments that the Sunnah of Adhan will not be fulfilled.

We arrive at the Albania-Montenegro border at 2pm and there are long queues. It takes us an hour to pass through.  Once we enter Montenegro, it becomes clear very quickly why the country is named after black mountains. Beautiful black rugged mountains dominate the skyline. The country has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the southwest and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. Its capital is Podgorica.  However, we are heading to Ulcinj, a town on the southern coast of Montenegro with a majority Albanian Muslim population. The scenery is mouth watering as we descend into Ulcinj. Al-Hamdulillah, I have visited thirty countries but apart from Kashmir in India, I cannot recall a better place in terms of natural beauty. It is for this reason a popular tourist destination. Muslims do not generally regard Montenegro as a tourist destination perhaps due to the majority of the population being non-Muslim. However, this region is an exception and mosques and Halal food is widely available. We are leaving tomorrow morning for Bosnia, however, this is certainly a town I would like to return to in the future.

 

On a separate note altogether, we discuss with Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani the use of silver and gold Nisab for Zakah in light of the low value of silver. Mufti Sahib is of the view that silver should be used and that this is what is generally mentioned in the Hadiths with that exception of one or two Hadiths that mention the gold Nisab.  He adds in the event of hardship, Zakat can be given to the poor spouse or mature children is they fulfil the criteria.

Yusuf Shabbir
Ulcinj, South Montenegro

Day 4 – Saturday 23 June 2018
National conference with Muftis and Ambassadors 

After spending the night at Tirana Markaz which was built 2-3 years ago, the Ijtima programme continues after Fajr Salah. The main speech is delivered by Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib. The theme of the speech is the propagation of the faith and bringing people closer to Islam. Mufti Sahib explains that “Allah becomes pleased with his servants when they feed and quench the thirst of others.  Imagine how much Allah is pleased by the one who guides someone to Islam.” He further explains the practice of the Sahabah who would try to transmit everything they had learnt from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).  At the time of his death, Muadh (may Allah be pleased with him) said he has conveyed all Hadiths except one and thereafter proceeded to narrate this Hadith.  Mufti Sahib suggests that “How many of us can claim like Muaadh (may Allah be pleased with him) that we have conveyed  everything we have learnt?” The Ijtima concludes with Duaa.

Just before midday, our convoy arrives at Tirana International Hotel where the Muftis of the country and ambassadors of various Muslim countries have gathered.  The programme has been organised by Muslim Welfare Institute and the theme of the conference is the preservation of faith in the Balkans.

The conference begins with a speech by the Deputy Grand Mufti of Albania, followed by an emotional speech by the former Grand Mufti of the country who shared accounts from the communist era bringing tears to our eyes.
He explains that during the five decades of communism in Albania, some 500 mosques were closed, with many converted to museums. Beards and religious symbols were banned and religious books were burnt. He describes how he preserved the books of an Imam who passed away by storing them on his roof and later by storing them in a water well. In reference to this, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Sahib mentions in his Arabic speech later that he agrees with the suggestion of Mufti Shabbir Ahmed that these books should be featured in the national library so that future generations appreciate the sacrifices made by their predecessors to preserve Islam. The former Grand Mufti concludes by suggesting that the consequences of the dark age remain.

The next speech is by Mufti Shabbir Ahmed who begins by congratulating the attendees on their remarkable achievement of preserving Imaan despite the brutal clampdown on religion during communist rule. ‪He comments that “we cannot forget Mufti Hafiz Sabra Kochi who was imprisoned for twenty seven years and all those who made huge sacrifices to preserve Deen during communism.  It is my wish to kiss the hands and foreheads of such people.” He stressed that now this era has passed ‪the challenge is to ensure that all our energy is targeted at ensuring that every child from our progeny remains on Imaan until the day of Qiyamah, adding that Muslims should always remember the concern of Prophet Yaqub (peace be upon him) as mentioned in Surah Baqarah when he asked his children at the time of his death: “what will you worship after me?” Finally, he emphasises on the importance of showing mercy to Allah’s creation. He cites some examples from the life of Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be blessed with him) and suggests that the reason why he is the most virtuous after the Prophets is because he has the greatest concern and mercy for the Ummah.

The final keynote speech was delivered by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani in Arabic. Mufti Sahib begins by saying that ‪”I love all Muslims but my love for Muslims who lived through and endured communism is the greatest.” He adds, ‪”As Mufti Shabbir Ahmed just mentioned, it is also my wish to kiss the hands and foreheads of those individuals who made huge sacrifices and endured persecution during communism.” The conference concludes with Duaa by Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib.

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani’s speech was translated from Arabic into Albanian by Shaykh Ahmed Kalaya, who is regarded as the most learned scholar of the country and is a well respected figure. He is the Imam of the Dina Hoxha mosque in Tirana, which is run by our Salafi brothers. After the conference he invites Mufti Sahib to deliver a lecture in his mosque. Thus, a programme occurs is convened here after Maghrib Salah. It is clear upon arrival that this is perhaps the most vibrant and active mosque in the country.  Shaykh Ahmed, a graduate of Medina University, informs us that for Jumuah and Tarawih Salah, the roads outside the mosque are closed as thousands of people attend. Although it was a typical Friday evening, the mosque was full in Maghrib and Isha Salah with more than two hundred attendees which is significant for Albania.  Dawah stalls are visible outside the Masjid and there is an active publications department.  Shaykh Ahmed also leads the main Eid Salah in the city which is attended by 30 to 40 thousand people.  A few years ago, one of the Imams of Haramayn also visited and the streets of the capital were full of people participating in the Eid prayers.

Shaykh Ahmed requests Mufti Sahib to lead Maghrib Salah and thereafter deliver a speech. The speech is delivered in Arabic and Shaykh Ahmed passionately translates. The subject of the speech is the Hadith al-Rahmah, Hadith Musalsal bi al-Awwliyyah.  Mufti Sahib grants Ijazah to the attendees and mentions that he transmits this Hadith from Shaykh Hasan al-Mashshat al-Maliki, Shaykh Yasin al-Fadani and Shaykh Abdullah al-Nakhibi.  He mentions that Shaykh Fadani expressly granted him permission (Wakalah) to grant Ijazah to people to transmit from him directly.  This is then followed by a detailed explanation of the Hadith.  Mufti Sahib explains that ‪perhaps the reason for Hadith al-Rahmah being the first Hadith that is typically transmitted by a Hadith teacher is that the first lesson a student learns is mercy upon servants of Allah. (I later suggest to Mufti Sahib and Shaykh Ahmed that perhaps it is a reminder for the teacher not to hit the student!). Mufti Sahib proceeds to explain that this Hadith instructs to show compassion and mercy to all human beings irrespective of their faith.  He adds that mercy towards a non-Muslim is to invite him towards Allah and to possess an ardent desire that he is saved from the Hell-fire. Further, he reaffirms the importance of unity, respecting the views of others and working together to preserve Imaan, whilst making reference to a similar message he delivered earlier at Markaz. Mufti Sahib comments, “we have divided ourselves through these titles, he is an Ashari, he is a Salafi. These titles and groupings have placed us in a huge predicament and have weakened us. We have divided ourselves rather than being a united front. It is necessary upon us to respect the views of others whilst simultaneously remaining united on our agreed upon issues which are more.  There is no criticism on differed upon (mujtahad fih) matters.”

Mufti Sahib concludes his speech with a simple message: Strengthen your connection with Allah.  This can be achieved through two things as understood from Surah Fatihah (1) Shukr (gratitude) (2) Duaa (supplication). The programme concluded just before Isha Salah with Q&A regarding Fajr Salah times and whether inflation can be considered for loan repayments.  Overall, the speech was very well received and one cannot deny the wide ranging contribution of this Masjid to Islam and Muslims in Albania. Mufti Sahib is a perfect example of Itidaal (balance) and profound tafaqquh (understanding).

During the day, we visit some of the landmarks of the city including the construction of the blue mosque replica which is being financed by the Turkish Government. The construction is ongoing.

We also visit the Dar Arqam building of MWI which serves as the charity’s headquarters as well as the centre for orphans and widows. Some 130 orphans and 30 widows attend the centre regularly to acquire Islamic education as well as receive their sponsorship grants. The charity also operates many other programmes from this office including Iftar, Eid Gifts, Qurbani, Masjid construction and Islamic classes. The charity’s local operations are handled by two scholars who migrated here from India more than fifteen years ago with their families. They speak fluent Albanian and have made a huge impact.

We perform Isha Salah in the Dina Hoxha Masjid and immediately depart west towards Durres where we stay the night.  Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib had already arrived here earlier in the day and delivered a speech at a local Masjid. We rest for the night.

Yusuf Shabbir
Durres, Tirana

Day 3 – Friday 22 June 2018

Tabligh Ijtimaa at Tirana Markaz

It is an early morning start as the convoy departs from Pogradec and heads north towards Tirana, the capital of Albania. Albania is a small country in the Balkans with Adriatic and Ionian coastlines and an interior crossed by the Albanian Alps. The country has many castles and archaeological sites. The Capital Tirana is known for its colourful Ottoman, Fascist and Soviet-era architecture. The country was liberated from communism in 1991 after five decades.

We arrive in the outskirts of Tirana just after midday and our first stop is the Tirana Markaz situated very close to the Airport. The road leading to the Markaz is named after Hafiz Patel Rahimahullah, reflecting his life long dedication and commitment to propagating Deen in the Balkans and beyond and how much people love him.

The Markaz is a simple two story building with the prayer hall downstairs and rooms upstairs.

Here, the Jumuah Bayan and Salah is led by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani with the Adhan given by Mufti Shabbir Ahmed. Mufti Sahib explains the purpose of our creation and suggests that “The meaning of Ibadah (worship) is to adhere to Allah’s rules in all matters not just undertaking the five pillars. Due to the glamour and glitter of the world, a person easily forgets the purpose of creation.” He adds, “Often a person forgets that he shall not live forever. There is a difference of opinion regarding everything, however, there is no difference of opinion that everyone has to die and that no one knows when a person shall die.” He further adds, “The biggest calamity in this world is to be negligent from the laws of Allah.” He encourages the congregation to attach themselves with the work of Tabligh.  He explains that “The work of Tabligh is the most beneficial and effective to spread and acquire the knowledge of the fundamental of Deen. I say this after having travelled to all the continents and spent seventy years studying and authoring many books. Value it and attach yourselves with it.” Mufti Sahib praises the efforts of Hafiz Patel as he comments, “May Allah raise the status of Hafiz Patel Sahib, it was his burning zeal and passion that led to the formation of this Markaz which is a great bounty for Muslims. Twelve years ago, hardly 10-15 people would sit in a programme. Today, I am happy to see so many people at this Markaz.” Explaining the responsibility of every Muslim, Mufti Sahib explains, “Everyone should have this feeling and ardent desire that every human is saved from the fire of Jahannam.” Mufti Sahib visited Albania in 2006 with colleagues from MWI and his account of the trip was published at the time. The number of participants in this gathering is a clear indicator of the work of MWI in this country.

“One of the things I noted from Mufti Sahib’s Arabic Khutbah is the use of روي (ruwiya) before the Hadith: ارحم امتي بأمتي ابو بكر.

After Jumuah Salah, we meet with the local people and discuss the era of communism. People describe how Muslims fasting would be force fed alcohol and mosques were razed to the ground or converted into museums.

Later in the evening, the overnight Tabligh Jamat Ijtimaa programme commences for which several hundred people have gathered. This is significant in the context of five decades of communism. The speech after Maghrib Salah is delivered by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani. Mufti Sahib explains that Hadrat Abu Ayyub Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him) left the blessed city of Madinah to propagate the Din and is buried thousands of miles away in Istanbul. He adds, “Shah Ismail Shahid was a great Wali of Allah. Two hundred people would repent at his hands in each of his sermons.” He then proceeds to explain the ardent desire and burning passion within his heart for all humans as reflected in the story of him preaching to the prostitutes in the form of a poor person, the prostitutes all repented. Mufti Sahib emphasises that “we should love all Muslims and be compassionate to them. Unfortunately, we have groupings, we are not willing to sit with one another.  We have the attitude ‘whatever I do is correct’. Regard the work carried out by others as your own work. Thank Allah that He gave Tawfiq to someone to do the work. In this country, do not delve into he is a Salafi/Wahhabi or a non-Salafi. We have differences. However what unites us is much more than the differences. All Muslims are brothers. Regard each other as your brothers.  We should focus on the principles of Deen which are agreed upon. Through unity, we can bring about a revolution. If a Salafi brings a person closer to Islam, appreciate and value it and I say the same to them.” Throughout the speech, Mufti Sahib stresses on unity and preaching with love and affection and showing mercy to all human beings as understood from the Hadith of Rahmah, also known as ahadith Musalsal Bil Awwaliyyah, which instructs people to have mercy upon all human beings.  The form of this mercy will vary.

During the day, my respected father Mufti Shabbir Ahmed and Mufti Abdussamad Ahmed and a small group of scholars visit Elbasan where the Leicester based charity Rahma Mercy has constructed an impressive large education complex.

During the day, I also had the opportunity to discuss some jurisprudential issues with Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani including (a)  the ruling of fasting if the fast exceeds 24 hours and a person is resident at dawn, regarding which I have also written a Fatwa.  (b) a Shariah compliant method to cover the overhead costs of a micro finance scheme.  (c) the permissibility of Jumuah in villages in Albania based on need.  (d) the ruling on part of the first Friday Khutba to be in non-Arabic in such countries (e) the impermissibility of extended warranty schemes unless there is a definite service or inspection of the product not just a cover in the event of failure.

After Isha Salah, there is dinner for all attendees of the Ijtimaa. This is followed by a meeting with fifty teachers employed by MWI to run Islamic classes in various parts of Albania.  The meeting is fruitful and illustrates the impact of the charity’s work.

We rest for the night at the Markaz.  I am later informed that when Mufti Ahmed Sahib was informed of the condition of Islam and Muslims during the communism era, he cried for fifteen minutes. May Allah unite our hearts and minds and protect the Ummah.

Yusuf Shabbir,

Tirana, Albania

Day 2 – Thursday 21 June 2018
Two giants of knowledge and piety meet in Pogradec

In the morning, after breakfast with Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, our small convoy led by Mufti Sahib heads South to Tetovo. Tetovo is a city in the northwestern part of the Republic of Macedonia, built on the foothills of Šar Mountain and divided by the Pena River. Approximately 80% of its 50,000 residents are Muslim whilst in the outskirts some villages are 100% Muslim. The city is home to the beautiful Sharena (coloured) Masjid which was built in 1495 by two sisters. We visit the mosque just after midday and perform two Rakat Tahiyyatul Masjid. There is also a stand alone Maktab block outside the courtyard of the Masjid where we meet 86 year old Shaykh Mahmood who has been teaching the Quran for fifty years.  One hundred and eighty students have completed the memorisation of the Quran with him to date.  President Erdogan also visited this Masjid and Maktab a few years ago.

  

Our next stop in Tetovo is the Arabati Teka Masjid which was historically controlled by the Bektashi Shiite sect. In 2001, the Ahl al-Sunnah took control of the main Mosque building. Some buildings within the complex remain in the control of the Bektashis. Here, we learn of a strange belief and practice of the local Bektashi spiritual leader who drinks alcohol and permits it on the premise that it will be available in Paradise.

Tetovo is also home to the country’s Tabligh Markaz which is testament to the efforts of Marhum Hafiz Patel Rahimahullah. We perform Dhuhr Salah here and a car from the other group has arrived here from Ohrid comprising of Mufti Shabbir Ahmed, Mufti Abdussamad, and Mufti Mahmood Bardoli. A short programme takes place after Dhuhr Salah with speeches by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Mufti Shabbir Ahmed and Mufti Mahmood Bardoli. Some of the advices rendered by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Sahib include: “(1) Establish Taleem & Gasht in every Masjid of the country.  This will bring about change. ‬(2) Establish Muslim educational establishments (schools). This is necessary to protect the Imaan of children.” He also said addressing the local people, ‪”Allah has chosen you people. You are more virtuous & possess greater Halawat (sweetness) of Iman than us, you acquired Iman through great sacrifice & passed the era mentioned in Hadiths wherein steadfastness on Deen is akin to holding burning coal.‬” He added, ‪”In this era, the most effective method to bring people closer to Deen and good deeds at a global level is the work of Tabligh Jamaat.”‬ Finally, Mufti Sahib stressed the importance of not looking at numbers.  He said, “The work of Deen can be undertaken by just one person or two people. As long as the (1) intention is to please Allah and (2) the method is correct, even one person can make a difference.” My respected father Mufti Shabbir Sahib concurred and said: “This Markaz here in Macedonia is a result of the efforts of Marhum Hafiz Patel Sahib Rahimahullah. He mentioned to me personally to focus on the Balkan states. He had huge Fikr. The efforts of one person can make a big difference.” At the conclusion of the programme, a discussion took place regarding the importance of establishing Muslim schools and the legal and political barriers.

After the programme, we eat lunch. The local brothers have slaughtered and cooked a whole goat for us. Mufti Muhammad Taqi Sahib suggests he once read a research paper regarding the benefits of eating fat and how it’s beneficial nature is understood from the verse of the Quran (Anaam, 146) which mentions that fat was prohibited on the Jewish community by way of punishment. The local people are extremely hospitable.

The weather here at the moment is thirty degrees and local suggest the temperature can reach forty degrees. In the winter months, the temperature can plummet to minus ten and even minus twenty. The fruits of the region are also worth mentioning. Large water melons weighing 15-20kg are grown locally and visible in the shops along with nectarines, bananas, apples, tomatoes and plums.

As we depart from Markaz just after 2.30pm, we head further South to Gostivar, a city located in the upper Polog valley region. It is one of the largest municipalities in the country with a population exceeding 80,000. Here, we meet with Muntada Shabab al-Muslimeen and their local representative Shaykh Muammar, a graduate of Azhar University. Their rented building in this city serves as the Islamic library and also provides weekly Durus. The library has a book which we have come across for the first time Lawami al-Uqul Sharh Ramuz al-Ahadith. As the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Balkans are Hanafis, the library is dominated by Hanafi books.

It is now time to bid farewell to Macedonia and proceed to Albania.  We travel towards Ohrid. The route is very scenic. We cross the border around 6.30pm and head towards Pogradec where the larger group has already arrived from Ohrid earlier in the day.  En route we stop for Asr Salah at a local village just before Progradec. The local people come out of their homes to welcome us and are hugely appreciative of our visit.  Despite many having Christian names, they are Muslims and a child also recites Surah Fatihah. The warmth and generosity of these people is worth mentioning.

We arrive at our hotel in Pogradec at 8.15pm and perform Maghrib Salah.  The larger convoy led by Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib return from the local Masjid to the hotel a short while later. The moment has arrived for the two great luminaries to meet, a meeting which both had been eagerly awaiting.  Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani and Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri embrace each other. Both share a common feature: both are extremely humble. The latter is also the one who requested the former to write an auto biography, a request that was duly accepted and several sections have already been published in the al-Balagh monthly magazine. My colleague Shaykh Hanif suggests humorously that Mufti Muhammad Taqi Sahib should reciprocate and request Mufti Ahmed Sahib to pen his auto biography.

After lunch, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani addresses the crowd of forty people thanking the organisers Muslim Welfare Institute and reflecting on the visible difference since his visit twelve years ago. He said, ‪”I visited Albania in 2006 and today after 12 years I can see a visible difference here in the condition of Islam & Muslims. We visited a random remote village (near Pogradec) for Salah & people came out to meet us and welcomed us.”‬ Mufti Sahib further highlights that from the countries that have been affected the most in terms of the severity of communism and the duration, Albania is on top of the list.  The evening concludes with a Duaa by Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib.

Our hotel is located on the lake. Allah has blessed the Balkan states with natural beauty.  The challenge is to return these lands and its inhabitants to Islam and thereby mitigate the devastating impact of five decades of communism.

 

Yusuf Shabbir
Pogradec, South Albania

Day 1 – Wednesday 20 June 2018
Woman accepts Islam in the air

It has always been my ardent desire to visit the Balkan countries. For several years, my colleague Shaykh Hanif Dudhwala of Muslim Welfare Institute (MWI) and his colleagues have been insisting on visiting Albania where the charity has been operating various education and charity programmes for over two decades. The suffering of our brethren in this region as a whole due to decades of communism and the massacres in Bosnia in the 1990s are other reasons for wanting to visit this region.  Through the mercy and blessing of Allah Almighty, a few months ago our beloved Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri, the Grand Mufti of the Indian state of Gujarat who visits the UK every year after Ramadan agreed to visit the Balkan states with MWI. As the programme was being developed, our beloved Shaykhul Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani also agreed to join the and travel directly from Pakistan to the region. The purpose of this trip is to understand the needs of the Muslims in the region and also be a part of the charity’s current and future efforts.

Our journey begins at 5am in the morning as I drive Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib and his colleagues from Blackburn to London Luton Airport.  It has been a hectic three days with over thirty programmes across the country. Today is no different. Our first stop is Darul Uloom Leicester where the commencement of Sahih Bukhari takes place. This is followed by a similar programme at Bury Park Educational institute in Luton. From here we head to Luton Airport. Joining us in this journey are thirty scholars and businessmen including Mawlana Ebrahim Pandor, Mufti Shabbir Ahmed, Mufti Abdussamad, Mufti Mahmood Bardoli, Dr Mahmood Chandia, Shaykh Muhammad Ahmed of UWT and Haji Afzal Memon from India. We found out later that this is the first time such a large group of scholars and prominent Muftis are visiting Macedonia.

Our three hour flight to Ohrid is scheduled at 3pm and eventually the flight does take off notwithstanding the unprofessionalism of the airport staff and the disorganised management. During the flight, I discuss several issues with Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri, including the permissibility of performing Nafl Salah after Eid Salah without restricting it to the house, a restriction not mentioned by Imam Muhammad, Allamah Sarakhsi, Allamah Kasani, Allamah Ibn Mazah or Imam Qadi Khan. Mufti Sahib suggests that in principle Fatwa will be given on what Imam Muhammad has written and one should look at the origin of the restriction in terms of whose view it is and which era it originates from.  Mufti Sahib adds that when he studied the Ifta course in Deoband, there was only one and half bookcases of books. The books that are available now were not available then. In response to another question, Mufti Sahib suggests that whilst teaching Sahih Bukhari, he frequently uses Lami al-Dirari and al-Abwab wa al-Tarajim of Shaykh Zakariyya Kandhelwi and suggests the latter is very useful and suffices from other commentaries.

The highlight of our flight is a Macedonian lady accepting Islam whilst in the air at the hands of Mufti Sahib. Some colleagues who were sat next to her explained to her the purpose of our trip and the personality of Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri Sahib. During the conversation, they mentioned to her an incident of Mufti Sahib when he was once travelling to South Africa, an air hostess asked Mufti Sahib’s colleague, what makeup he uses. The colleague replied, he does not use any make up. It is the nur (light) of faith and good deeds. The lady who had a military background having served in Afghanistan was moved by this encounter. She said she feels peace when she is with Muslims. She expressed a desire to become a Muslim at the hands of Mufti Sahib. Mufti Sahib said there should be no delay. She came to the back of the plane to ask some questions and accept Islam. Mufti Sahib explained the Kalimah as well as Iman Mufassal and answered her questions in Urdu. I translated. One of the points Mufti Sahib said was “Janna Alag Hey, Manna Alag Hey (to know is one thing, to believe is another).  Mufti Sahib alleviated some of her concerns including what someone had told her about not being able to accept Islam except in a mosque.  She also asked regarding reciting the Quran in Sajdah as she was informed it is a sin. Mufti Sahib explained this not a sin although it is better to avoid. Mufti Sahib extends his congratulations to her adding that all her sins have been wiped away. In return she expresses her gratitude. May Allah Almighty grant her steadfastness. This is an excellent and positive start to our journey and unique in that she accepted Islam whilst flying in the air.  The Prophet (leave and blessings be upon him) said, “That Allah guide through you one person is better for you than red camels” (Sahih Bukhari).

As our flight starts to descend into Ohrid, we are overwhelmed by the beautiful scenic views. Ohrid is a small resort city on the hilly shores of Lake Ohrid in the southwest of the Republic of Macedonia. The airport was previously a military airport and in the past few years has started commercial flights. We arrive at 7.30pm and are received at the airport by local scholars some of whom have studied in the sub continent.

At Ohrid, our group splits into two.  The majority of the group remain in Ohrid whilst some of us travel to the capital Skopje which is a two to three hour drive. En route, we learn more about Macedonia and the situation of Muslims here. Macedonia, officially the Republic of Macedonia (with ongoing discussions to rename the country North Macedonia), is a country in the Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. Prior to this, it faced the brunt of communism for half a century which had a great impact on Islam and Muslims. Our driver informs us that during this period, many mosques were demolished and alcohol became prevalent among Muslims. In the eastern town of Bitola (formerly Baytullah), there were seventy two mosques and centres of Islamic learning.  Today, there are only ten Mosques with only four operational and one is a museum. The other sixty two mosques were demolished altogether. Since 1991, the condition of Muslims has been improving although much more effort is required. Generally, it is suggested that the condition of Islam and Muslims is relatively better in Macedonia compared to Albania.   An interesting discussion follows regarding some practices here including the practice in many mosques of performing 20 Rakat Tarawih Salah altogether with one Salam reciting one verse in each Rakat.  Generally, like Turkey and neighbouring Albania, the Muslims here are Hanafi. Of the country’s two million population, approximately 35% are Muslim the majority of whom have Albanian origin. Locals suggest the percentage is actually higher at 40-45%.

Macedonia has a long history of multicultural traditions and its demographic structure has been described as multi-ethnic and multi-religious. This is clearly visible in the mosque minarets and visible church symbols as we enter Skopje. Skopje is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia. It is the country’s political, cultural, and economic capital. Over time it has experienced Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule. The 15th-century Stone Bridge connects the Ottoman Old Bazaar (Čaršija) on the Vardar River‘s north bank with Macedonia Square and a statue of Alexander the Great to the south. The Skopje Fortress, or Kale, overlooking the river has defended the city for centuries. We arrive into Skopje just after 11pm and head to the hotel where our Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani arrived earlier in the day.  Interestingly, it was only two months ago whilst travelling with him in the Lakes District in the UK, we asked him how many countries he has visited and he replied more than seventy. I have a long way to catch up from the thirty countries I have visited. Our hotel in Skopje is located next to the beautiful Mustafa Pasha Mosque built in 1492, a clear symbol and reminder of the glorious Ottoman rule that covered all of the Balkan states.

It has been a long day and it’s now time to rest.

Yusuf Shabbir
Skopje, Macedonia

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