“There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths.” Herman Bernstein, the United States Ambassador to Albania, 1934.
A London mosque is to host the Yad Vashem-supported exhibition on Albanian heroes of the Holocaust after its cancellation by the Centre for Islamic Understanding in Golders Green.
The Love Your Neighbour exhibit will take place in Redbridge on 20 January, though the venue and organisers are being kept under wraps for fear of a repeat of the campaign that led to the Golders Green hub scrapping their event.
Faith Matter’s Fiyaz Mughal, who is supporting the event, said: “Thankfully, the exhibition on Muslims who saved Jews is being held in Redbridge. There is some fantastic work being done in the Borough to bring together communities.
The remarkable assistance afforded to the Jews in Albania was grounded in Besa, a code of honour, which still today serves as the highest ethical code in the country. Besa, means literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family.
It must be noted that Albanian Muslims were by no means the only rescuers, though being the predominant group in Albania, they saved the largest number of Jews. In fact, relative to their populations, Albanian Catholic and Orthodox Christians equally sheltered and protected Jews. Besa is an Albanian tribal code of honour that has nothing to do with Islam or Christianity.
Besa first gained prominence in the Kanun, a set of customary oral laws started in the 15th Century, passed down through generations, and not written down until the 19th Century.
The Kanun says: What is promised must be done. According to the Kanun of Lek, article 601: “The house of an Albanian belongs to God and the guest.” Article 603 says: “The guest must be honoured with bread and salt and heart.” Article 609 adds: “Receive a guest also with a fire, a log of wood and a bed.”