The Kosovo Republic’s official stance against girls wearing the Muslim headscarf (hijab) in state-supported primary and secondary schools, has brought the country’s main Muslim leader, Naim Ternava, out of a pattern of silence about the penetration of radical Islam in that country.

Ternava, who bears the title of “mufti” or president of the local Sunni Muslim apparatus, had said nothing about increasing intra- and inter-religious conflicts among Kosovar Albanians over the past year and a half.  These incidents included attacks by Wahhabi infiltrators on moderate Muslim clerics for whose safety Ternava is ostensibly responsible, and threats to Christians, as well as actions by local villagers to curb Wahhabi agitation.

Ternava has now spoken out, but unfortunately, he has chosen to do so in defense of the headscarf.  On June 30, he held a press conference in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, where he demanded that covering of girls’ and women’s hair be allowed in all public institutions in the republic.  Ternava called on Kosovo's prime minister Hashim Thaci (former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army) and education minister Enver Hoxhaj, who belongs to Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), to nullify two administrative directives banning the hijab in public elementary and secondary schools and other state institutions.  One such order was issued by the Kosovo Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, and the other by the municipality of Pristina.  

Ternava threatened that the Islamic community organization in Kosovo would sue the Thaci government in the republic’s Constitutional Court for violating the rights of Muslim believers.  Should he not win locally, Ternava said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  Education minister Hoxhaj replied that he was simply implementing the country’s constitution.

As the republic’s top Muslim leader, Ternava seems to have chosen the headscarf controversy as the appropriate opportunity to go public with his own sympathy for radical Islam.  His leanings in this direction have been a subject of private complaint for years.  For most Kosovars, this bias explained his refusal to defend victims of Islamist thugs as well as his failure to support local Muslims who sought to keep radicals out of their mosques.  During visits to the U.S., however, Ternava has spoken as a seemingly-faultless moderate.

Ternava was provided with an occasion to reveal his sympathies on June 19, when some 5,000 young women dressed in hijabs, and a few men in long, untrimmed Wahhabi beards, marched in Pristina to defend the headscarf.  The demonstration, which summoned one-quarter of one percent of Kosovo’s two million residents, was organized by Halil Kastrati, 35, possessor of an Islamic studies degree from Syria and operator of an “organization to assist orphans” – the familiar humanitarian cover for radical Islamist agitation.   

Lirita Halili reported in the Pristina daily newspaper Express on that incident: 20 Islamist non-governmental institutions signed the appeal to protest, but foreigners also took part and even addressed the crowd.  An American named Rachel Gutierrez, who described herself as going to Kosovo to seek peace for Muslims, proclaimed that the republic’s authorities have no right to ban Islamic dress in schools.

On that occasion, as ever, the Express comment forum was alight with the anger of Albanian readers.  “Mirlinda” in London wrote, “these people should leave Kosovo.”  Several others said at first sight, pictures of the demonstrators in the newspapers and television made them think the event had taken place in the Middle East, Pakistan, or Afghanistan.   “Ardiani” in Pristina summarized the attitude of most ordinary Kosovars towards the headscarf:  “Evil is gathering momentum. This is just the beginning.  The first step is legalization of the headscarf in schools, then requirements for the teaching of Islam, then separate schools for boys and girls, and finally imposition of Shariah law and Arabization.  This was not a protest, but a show of force.”