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ICC NOTE: Kosovo declared independence from Serbia eight years ago, despite the end to the Kosovo War in 1999 where NATO bombing operations protected the people of the region from Slobadan Milosevic. Muslim identity has been a major part of Kosovo as 96 percent of the population consider themselves Muslim. Unlike other Muslim nations, the majority are considered liberal/secular Muslims until a recent shift in ideology. With the influence from gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Iran) certain communities, particularly poorer rural, are beginning to become more conservative. The Kosovar government have legitimate worries for the rise in radical Islamic ideologies among their citizens as statistics show Kosovo has had more people leave to fight for ISIS per capita than any other European country. The rise in conservative Islam has placed yet another category in the country’s identity crisis, not knowing whether to maintain its secular identity or become a homeland for traditional conservative Islam on the European continent. 

8/8/2016 Pristina, Kosovo (Radio Free Europe) –  The rain beats down as the muezzin’s call for Friday prayers rings out from the main mosque in Pristina.

Hundreds of men and young boys stream into the 15th-century Sultan Mehmet Fatih mosque in the Kosovar capital’s old quarter. Outside the packed mosque, scores of worshippers spread plastic sheets across the garden and kneel in the rain. Others spill out onto the surrounding pavements because of a lack of space.

The scene at the Ottoman-era mosque, the biggest in the city, is becoming the norm in Kosovo — a traditionally secular state with a liberal Muslim population, where conservative Islam is taking root.

“More people, especially the young generation, are coming to pray,” says Hakif Sikirocha, the caretaker of the Sultan Mehmet Fatih mosque. The weary-looking 70-year-old, who is sporting an Islamic cap, has worked at the mosque for the past 14 years. “More and more” Kosovars are turning to Islam, he says.

Kosovo, where 96 percent of its 2 million inhabitants are Muslim, is still a Western and largely pro-American country where bars are located on the same streets as mosques. Many of Pristina’s streets pay tribute to former U.S. presidents, owing to NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia that ended the Kosovo War and also Washington’s support for Kosovo’s independence.

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