Out of hiding, many Kosovars escape Islam to embrace Christianity
By Fatos Bytyci
KLINA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Hundreds of Kosovar Albanians gather on Sundays to attend religious services in a still unfinished red-brick church in the Kosovo town of Klina.
Turning away from the majority Muslim faith imposed by the Ottoman Turks centuries ago, these worshippers are part of a revival of Catholicism in the newly independent Balkan state.
"We have been living a dual life. In our homes we were Catholics but in public we were good Muslims," said Ismet Sopi. "We don't call this converting. It is the continuity of the family's belief."
Sopi has commuted 40 km (25 miles) every Sunday from central Kosovo to Klina to attend a morning mass since he formally became a Roman Catholic five months ago. This September was the first holy month of Ramadan during which no one in his 32-member family fasted.
The majority of ethnic Albanians were forcibly converted to Islam, mostly through the imposition of high taxes on Catholics, when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans.
For centuries, many remembered their Christian roots and lived as what they call "Catholics in hiding". Some, nearly a century after the Ottomans left the Balkans, now see the chance to reveal their true beliefs.
"Fifty or sixty percent of the population are linked emotionally with the Roman Catholic religion. This is because of feelings about what our ancestors believed," said Muhamet Mala, a professor who teaches History of Religion at Pristina Public University.