Wisdom and patience in action are our virtues

Exclusive interview with Reisul Ulema H. Hfz. Shaqir ef. Fetai

Exclusive interview with Reisul Ulema H. Hfz. Shaqir ef. Fetai
Wisdom and patience in action are our virtues
We expected to have many challenges, but thanks to God Almighty, with wisdom, prudence, patience and strategy we have managed to lead the big house called IRC smoothly, without major problems, says among other things the President of the Islamic Religious Community of the Republic of Northern Macedonia in the exclusive interview for “New Moon” magazine.
IRC of RNM contributes to the formation of a tolerant environment, peace, humanity, coexistence, with efforts to educate the masses, not to fall victim to different currents, as harmful phenomena not only for society but also for oneself Islam and Muslims, aware that notorious phenomena such as extremism and terrorism have nothing in common with Islam and Muslims. We have a lot of work to do in the future – says the President of IRC.
NEW MOON: You have already made close to a year and a half at the helm of IRC of RNM. What are your impressions as the first person of such an important institution?
REISUL ULEMA: To be honest, by nature I am one of those who never complain, or reason, about something that can’t be achievet. We expected to have many challenges, but thanks to God Almighty, with wisdom, prudence, patience and strategy we managed to manage the big house called the Islamic Religious Community of RNM smoothly, without major problems. In this journey we have had a genuine cooperation with all our collaborators, starting from the muftis, the directors and heads of the Riyaset sectors, the religious officials and the believers in general. So today, slowly, we are tracing a path and environment of thought and free will, but with a high level of responsibility of everyone in the place where they act and where they has the responsibility. During the management we tried to create a fraternal, tolerant environment, with collaborators, with employees, both in Riyaset and in the bodies and educational institutions. This way of management, I have the impression, gave results and successes. We rejoice in the fact that we are all aware that we run a weighty institution and the only one competent in organizing the Islamic religious life. Our work is transparent and all members of Islam contribute to it.
What duties were prioritized in the management of the IRC of RNM during this time?
I took over the Reis’s task at a very difficult time: on the one hand, at the time of the high outbreak of the infamous Covid-19 disease, which required a high level of organization in taking measures across religious sites and beyond, as well as in compliance with the measures issued by the WHO and the Ministry of Health. It was difficult, but thank God we succeeded and made an extraordinary contribution. This influenced us to be, as assessed by the respective sphere, one of the most influential institutions in the country and beyond. Second, in this pandemic crisis, the financial crisis was slowly threatening us at all levels, so it was necessary to put all our organizational powers in the service of financial stabilization, as well as the continuity of normal operation. I am convinced that even in this area we achieved a stability, so that, not only we did not weaken, but we also managed to move the monthly salaries to FIS (Faculty of Islamic Sciences) and “Isa Bey Madrasa”. We also appealed to all Muftis of IRC to, in accordance with their obligations; act responsibly, in order to continuously organize religious life, without consequences that may hinder our path of religious organization.
There were some movements abroad, where you opened the way for information and cooperation with many neighboring countries and the world in general …
-True. One of the goals of our platform was to open the ways of cooperation with the sister Islamic Communities in the Balkans, then with Turkey and the countries of the Arab world. What strengthened and encouraged me on this path is the fact that immediately after taking office, congratulations came from all over the world – from the countries of the region, as well as from the religious institutions of the Arab world and the Diyanet of the Republic of Turkey. We also received congratulations from the Islamic World League – RABITA, based in Mecca, from the leadership of the oldest and most famous Al Az`har University in Cairo and many organizations with relevance from different countries. So, for a short time we started receiving invitations from foreign countries. First we visited the World Council of Muslim Communities headed by dr. Alij en Nuaymin in Dubai, UAE, where we talked about many jobs that can help for mutual cooperation; then the Diyanet of Turkey, where we had a high level reception under the coordination of the President Prof. Dr. Ali Erbash, as well as other institutions, where we agreed on an institutional cooperation, in order to exchange experiences and implement various projects. We also visited some other sister communities: that of Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, etc. With all this we talked about the work, about our strategies, towards joint activities, as well as about the challenges faced by our Communities and Muslims in general.
Immediately upon your arrival, the headquarters of the Islamic Religious Community was flooded with visitors from the country and abroad. How do you comment on this?
-The Islamic Religious Community is a large Islamic organization in the country and, of course, every event is followed with great attention by internal and external factors, as well as by believers in general. Visits flooded in from all sides: from European Union ambassadors, from the US Embassy in Skopje, from the British Embassy, from eminent personalities of religious, political, scientific life, etc., as well as from many believers from all over country. We also had visits from Arab countries: first from the United Arab Emirates, then from the President of the Diyanet of the Republic of Turkey, Prof. Dr. Ali Erbash. It was his first visit, on which occasion we informed him about all our activities, future goals, as well as ongoing projects, implemented by the institutions of the Diyanet of Turkey itself, such as: The Great Mosque in Tophana in Skopje – a mosque that will be a symbol of Skopje and all Muslims of RNM, as well as many other projects. The visit of the Secretary General of the Islamic League – RABITA was a historic event for the IRC of RNM and for Muslims in general, where for the first time, after many decades, in the Islamic Religious Community comes such a high guest, to whom we made a magnificent reception, with a high level protocol, with a meeting at the IRC Riyaset, with the President of the state, with the Speaker of the Assembly, with the representative of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, with the representatives of the Committee on Religious Affairs and many other meetings.
In the meeting we had in the presence of all the muftis and other members of the Riyaset, we talked about many issues, as well as the currents of Islam and Muslims in the Balkans and around the world, where the Secretary General also had his appearance, with what ‘the case gave many suggestions, in particular about the efforts to be made in the elimination of radicalism and extremism, which have nothing to do with Islam. We also talked about many other issues related to the mutual cooperation between the Islamic League and the Islamic Religious Community of RNM. Meetings with various ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain, the European Union and the Republic of Turkey, Albania and Kosovo, were of great importance, with whom we talked about religious currents in the RNM, about religious rights in society, for the challenges we face here in our country, as well as for many other issues. It is understood that we gave our positions, for our contribution, in mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic, for our actions in accordance with all the measures taken by the Government of RNM, as well as by other international factors. Then, the contribution given by the IRC of RNM in the formation of a tolerant environment, peace, humanity, coexistence and our efforts to educate the masses not to fall victim to different currents, as harmful phenomena not only for society, but also for Islam itself and Muslims, aware that notorious phenomena such as extremism and terrorism have nothing in common with Islam and Muslims.
What are the challenges you are currently facing?
– The crises, whether economic or political, which our society is going through, are also reflected in the work of the Islamic Religious Community. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic, which spread all over the world, disturbed and affected the IRC of RNM immensely, because it imposed the obligation on us to deal with it as well. This also brought economic problems, which made our normal operation difficult, because the organization of performing Hajj was hindered, so it was difficult to act in this situation, but we, with the greatest courage and wisdom, went in with all our potentials to act, without any major consequences, and we think that with the wisdom, courage and perseverance of all, we managed to continue without any major problems successful work in all Islamic religious bodies, entities and institutions. A special challenge is the non-accreditation so far of “Isa Bey Madrasa”, with its Extended Parallels. We are seriously committed to this issue, with all state factors, so that in this year (2022) we hope this problem will be solved once and for all and our Islamic high school will be equal to all other schools. In this regard, we have carried out all program preparations in accordance with the requirements of the Ministry and other institutions. This issue has reached the Parliament, where the relevant law must be approved, by which the Madrasah will gain accreditation like all other schools. So, we hope in the new parliamentary majority that the Law will be passed.
Denationalization has always been a serious challenge for the IRC of RNM. Where have you reached in this important area for IRC?
-Denationalization is the area where we have really achieved important results, so during 2021 important objects have returned such as: Bezistan, Kapan-Hani and the ‘Old Cinema’ in Skopje, then 24 hectares of land in the territory of the Mufti of Gostivar; the return of the Green Bazaar to the management of the Kichevo Mufti; as well as many other properties in Bitola and elsewhere. For this reason, we have named 2021 as the “year of denationalization”. We make efforts for the denationalization procedures to continue and to return as many property-endowments as possible nationalized by the monist system.
You personally in the Report of the European Commission received special gratitude for the contribution during this period, since you are the Chairman of the IRC of RNM, how do you rate this?
It is true that in the General Report of the European Commission our work in the field of the fight against Covid-19 was welcomed and appreciated and in the contribution given to the promotion of interfaith dialogue in the RNM. After all, engaging against the evil is a religious and moral obligation. It is true that as a Community, we have always, and even now, been maximally engaged in our contribution in various fields, in particular in the uncompromising fight against Covid-19, where with our commitment throughout the territory of Northern Macedonia all the muftis, with their mosques, acted in a unique way, in accordance with the decisions we made in our meetings.
Our public statements made our impact very visible in society and this was noticed by all relevant factors of our society and the international ones. Gratitude for us was the result of this. This gratitude is for all of us, because in this activity we have all been unique, starting from the top of our hierarchy, to our precious congregations. Here I want to emphasize once again that we have a wonderful congregation, respectively the Muslim population of our country is a population with a humane, tolerant, coexisting and solidarity spirit. Therefore, I consider the gratitude of the European Commission, first of all, as gratitude for our congregations and gratitude for all religious officials in our country. We will continue to be even more constructive in accordance with the principles of Islam and general values wherever they come from. We are a multinational and multi-confessional society, so coexistence is a necessity and we think that Religious Communities are an element with great influence in the field of understanding, peace, tolerance, rapprochement with each other, etc. and that is why we demanded that interfaith dialogue be given special importance and that Religious Communities be unique in the fundamental issues of society, because our whole society is religious, of different faiths.
Is there anything that worries the Head of IRC?
Normally, in this difficult time in different spheres, there are moments that bother a person, whoever he is. What worries us all is the departure of our population, especially the younger generation from their homeland to the West. For us this phenomenon is harmful to our people and the emptiness of the country will harm the future of our being. Unfortunately, for a short time we as a society experienced two shocking tragedies: the fire of the modular Hospital of Tetovo, where 14 of our fellow citizens lost their lives, and the bus accident in Bulgaria, where 45 of our fellow citizens lost their lives. It was hard to experience these sad events. But, we had the power of faith and we tried to be as close as possible to the families of the victims in these difficult cases, to help alleviate the pain and losses suffered. The Islamic Religious Community, with its possibilities, contributed to the organization of the burial of the victims, as well as through material aid, in order to show solidarity with the families of the victims. On this occasion, I appeal to all relevant factors of political and social life, as well as all institutions, to act with the utmost commitment in raising care, action, professionalism, so that such tragedies do not happen to us again.
What are your plans for the future?
-As an institution with great responsibility in organizing the Islamic religious life, even next year we will approach the affairs with a high awareness, starting from the highest bodies to the Councils of the mosques. This is helped by the fact that this year the elections of collective bodies were held, so in the bodies of IRC we have new people, with new enthusiasm and vision. We are ready to precede any initiative that has to do with the development of our religious life. Otherwise, our priorities for the future will be as follows: the continuation of financial stability, as a very important issue at this time of economic crisis and Covid-19 disease in society and beyond; protecting and improving the standard of religious officials – where it is really low; the start of operation of the Institute for Islamic Scientific and Cultural Research, the establishment of which was approved by the Riyaset of IRC of RNM, which after the opening of the Archive will be another important event; the beginning of the publication of a completely scientific journal, where we will approach various issues in contemporary currents; we have already announced the formation of the Department of Muslim Women, in order to better organize the female gender, as an equal segment in all spheres of Islamic life; the most intensive start of the realization of the Project of the new Headquarters of IRC, for the formation of the better and comfortable working conditions; organization of scientific conferences of local and international character on current issues; raising the level of Islamic teaching in our schools, as a basis for educating the younger generations; continuing with the same intensity in the field of denationalization, a process that has not yet reached its finalization; intensification of the engagement in the field of incorporation of religious values in prisons, hospital centers, military barracks, etc .; strengthening the organization of our compatriots in the countries of the West, who are an integral part of the people, in cooperation with their Unions there, which are competent throughout Europe; the continuation of constructive cooperation with all the Islamic Communities of the Balkans, the Diyanet of Turkey, the Islamic League – RABITA, the World Council of Muslim Communities based in Abu Dhabi of the UAE, and with many other countries of the world; Continuing cooperation with relevant EU, US and other actors to contribute to the presentation of Islamic values, such as peace, understanding, interfaith dialogue and many other segments, all of which we are not able to present here.
Finally, what is your message to believers in general?
-Members of Islam are the key factor within the Islamic Religious Community and we approach them with great care, respect and responsibility. They are the main bearers in the development of Islam. We will be at their service at all times; in joy and in adversity. After all, we exist in order to be in their service. I wish them to be unique, united, close to each other, trained in different spheres of life, to be aware of the time we live in, to be steadfast in overcoming challenges, in order to be true bearers of Islam in time and in space. I ask Allah Almighty to give us the strength of faith, of good thinking, by acting in accordance with the principles of the Holy Qur’an. GOD BLESS US ALL!
Interview conducted by: “New Moon” Magazine team

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