Mother Teresa has become a national symbol of Albania, even though it is a Muslim dominant and secular nation, writes Cecilie Endresen in the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (26:1).
Since her beatification in 2003, Mother Teresa has been embraced by Albania’s ruling party as a national symbol, with her name, statues and portraits appearing everywhere from the nation’s Supreme Court building to its national identification cards. Endresen writes that much of this veneration has been a top-down effort by secular politicians who are trying to have Albania accepted into the European Union and want to stress the religiously tolerant and pro-Western — and at least not overtly Islamic — nature of the country to outsiders, especially since the country was among the most anti-religious of communist nations. But among Catholics and Muslims there is more ambivalence about raising the saint to a national figure; Catholics, who represent between 5 to 10 percent of the Albanian population, fear that the effort is secularizing the saint, while Muslims are concerned that they are being pressured to venerate a Catholic figure.
In surveys Endresen conducted, she found that Mother Teresa is accepted as representing “Albanian values” by 85 percent of the public. But much lower percentages (under 10 percent) wanted her image on ID cards or viewed her as the best representation of Albania. Mother Teresa’s reputation for religious tolerance has been a key selling point for the government. Even some Muslim leaders, particularly those associated with Bektashism, an Albanian Sufi-derived group that is ecumenical and friendly to Christianity, see Mother Teresa as a figure that symbolizes the religious tolerance of Albania.
This is especially the case with Moikom Zeqo, a former anti-religious activist and now Bektasist Muslim, who proclaims the saint as a figure symbolizing a new kind of religious ecumenism. Endresen concludes that the “motherteresafication” of Albania does not represent the de-secularization of the country, since the “principle of secularism is deeply entrenched” in Albanian society. But it does show how political actors can put a religious symbol to secular uses.
(Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cicm20/current#.VM-pXaMo6Uk)