Historically, many Albanians practiced a type of folk Islam that embraced occult and superstitious practices such as praying to the dead and seeking magic cures for sickness and curses.
Ministering to the Shqiptaret since 2006
Ethnic Albanians, or Shqiptaret, are believed to be descendants of the Illyrians, who were the original inhabitants of the western Balkan Peninsula. In the sixth century, migrating Slavs began to settle on Illyrian territory and pushed the Illyrians into present-day Albania.
Prior to the changes introduced by the Communist regime in the 1940s, Albanians were a tribal people who lived in extended family units called fis. The fis had many old traditions, such as the vendettas, or “blood feuds,” which often lasted for several generations. For protection during these feuds, families lived in fortified stone buildings called kulas. The ground floor of the kula was built with small slits rather than windows, while the upper floor had windows that could be closed.
Albania is a country with many isolated areas. Over the centuries, this produced a wide variety of regional lifestyles and settlement patterns. However, when the Communist regime began in 1944, the traditional lifestyles began to change drastically. Communist political authorities believed that the way to achieve national unity was to abolish differences of tribe, religion, and even dress. Huge community farms were established, and education became mandatory. Large apartment complexes were built, and today, more than a third of Albania’s population live in cities. Women make up almost half of the workforce. Albanian products include textiles and clothing, food products, petroleum, metals, lumber, and chemicals.
The collapse of the Communist regime in 1990 brought on numerous traumatic and rapid changes in Albania, leaving the people with an identity crisis. The people were shocked to discover that they had been reduced to poverty. Hurt, angry and confused, they are now struggling to find their identity in a country that is considered to be Europe’s poorest and least developed.
The Apostle Andrew obeyed Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 by going to Illyricum (ancient Albania.) A small remnant of Christians remains. But, centuries ago, many Albanians were converted to Islam by the Ottoman Turks. They practiced a type of folk Islam, which embraced occult and superstitious practices such as praying to the dead, seeking cures for sickness, and praying for protection from spirits and curses.
In 1967, communist Albania declared itself as “the world’s first atheistic state,” closing its borders to any influence from the outside world.
Since 1990, the crime rate in Albania has soared. Albania’s economy is very unstable. Strikes, especially in the mines, are frequent. The Albanian currency is worthless, and the rate of unemployment is extremely high. Albania is considered one of the poorest countries in all of Europe.
Muslims from the Middle East are now attempting to re-evangelize Albania by sending missionaries. Today, the Muslims, along with the Catholics of northern Albania and the Orthodox of southern Albania, are pressing for restrictive legislation to keep out other religions that are considered non-Albanian.
Recently, more than a million Qurans have been distributed. Within three years’ time, 900 mosques were built or reopened. Muslim countries donated thousands of dollars to encourage young men to study Islam in other countries.
The Albanian Shqiptaret need to know that hope and security can only be found in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.