Rifat Fejzic, the reis (president) of the Islamic community in Montenegro, has said that Muslims in the former Yugoslavia republic are happy with the current government’s approach towards Muslims, hailing a recent protocol as a landmark move for freedom of religion in the country.
Fejzic was in Turkey last week to attend meetings. In an interview with Today’s Zaman, he said the protocol signed in January between the Islamic Union of Montenegro and the government of Montenegro for the recognition of Islam as one of the official religions of Montenegro was a very important step. Stressing that the affection of Muslims in Montenegro for Turkey has played a prominent role in the improvement of friendly relations between Turkey and Montenegro, Fejzic pointed out that thanks to the new protocol, Muslims in Montenegro have gained very important rights with regards to freedom of religion and worship. He added that in cases of disagreement between members of the Muslim community in Montenegro, the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate will mediate.
He expressed his hope that many of the disagreements between Muslims in the region will be resolved with the directorate acting as mediator. He also noted that meetings held every six months by the directorate with the participation of Islamic community leaders show that Muslims in the Balkans consider the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate a legitimate interlocutor.
Underling that the Montenegrin government is respectful of religion and worship with respect to all religious groups in the country, Fejzic added that during his term of office as the Islamic Union president, the group built many mosques in Montenegro, but that the signing of the new protocol with the government was its most important achievement.
According to the protocol, Muslims will be granted a leave from work to attend Friday prayers; halal foods will be served at military facilities, hospitals, dormitories and all social facilities; and Muslim women will be permitted to wear headscarves in schools and at public institutions.
Fejzic also indicated the importance of articles that regulate the relationship between the Montenegro Islamic community and Turkey and the directorate and expressed his happiness to see that the relationship between Turkey and the Islamic Union of Montenegro has gained a legal basis. “The Montenegrin government values the historical ties between the Islamic Union of Montenegro and other countries’ Islamic unions and institutions and the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate and respects the union’s right to hold talks and establish relationships with them freely. In parallel with this, in cases of disagreements between members of the Islamic Union of Montenegro, the Religious Affairs Directorate will act as a mediator and submit its decision to the Montenegrin government,” he explained.
Fejzic noted that when there is a dispute within the Catholic community, parties may refer the case to the Vatican for adjudication. The Muslim community will refer to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate when sorting out differences within the Muslim community. Stressing that there are close to 200,000 Muslims living in Montenegro, he noted the protocol will allow the directorate to provide guidance on religious matters.
Fejzic also expressed his happiness about the progress of a medresa that was closed during the Balkans War in 1912. “The school, which has operated for the last four years now, will see its first graduates this year, on the centennial of the school’s closure.”