The Muslim brotherhood history in the Balkans
The Muslim Brotherhood’s own interest in the Balkans had its genesis in the pre-WWII Palestine dispute, and in the person of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
When the World Muslim Congress opened its second conference at Jerusalem in December 1931, two issues dominated: Palestine and the Caliphate. The Conference was dominated Shakib Arslan, a Lebanese poet who dominated the Islamist movement of the early twentieth century. Included among the 130 delegates from 22 countries were such disparate elements as Ikhwan members from Egypt and Bosnian Muslims (including Mehmet Spaho President of the Yugoslav Muslim Organization).
Arslan initiated ties with Bosniak leaders and spent the winter of 1934-1935 as guest of the Muslim community in Bosnia. And when the First Islamic Conference of Europe convened at Geneva in September 1935, Arslan served as its president and delivered an inaugural address calling for the restoration of the caliphate and an end to European colonialism. Muslim leaders in attendance included the Bosniak activist Huszein Hilmi Durics, a resident in Hungary who had personal contact with Arslan, and with other Muslim leaders including the Grand Mufti. Other unnamed Bosniaks were also included among the seventy delegates that spoke publicly at a conference which was the first small step taken by Muslims to influence European governments.
At the 1937 Arab National Congress held in Bludan, Syria, and attended by over 400 delegates, Haj Amin al-Husseini and Arslan took the lead in criticizing the Peel Commission report recommending the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab spheres. Among other topics discussed in depth was the support for the growing Islamist movement in the Balkans.
In the early nineteen thirties the Ikhwan al-Muslimun was still years away from creating its own “Committee for Europe, Russia and America.” Nonetheless, thanks to the numerous students from the Balkans educated in Egypt, and the many Muslims then living in Europe, the aims and intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood were gradually absorbed.
Having been cast adrift following the collapse of both the Ottoman and Austro- Hungarian empires, Yugoslavia’s Muslim community had been ignored and was often oppressed in the geopolitical jumble created following World War I. Thus, by the mid-nineteen thirties such Balkan communities seemed ripe for Ikhwan penetration. Eventually, the Grand Mufti Husseini assumed the role of Bosniak champion, and it was a task he would discharge with special zest.
By the late nineteen thirties the Grand Mufti and his Egyptian friend and Ikhwan founder Hasan al-Banna were in contact with Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
Following his failed attempt in 1941 to carryout a coup in British-held Iraq, the Grand Mufti made his way to Europe and to a continent at war. After a visit with Mussolini in Italy, in November Husseini was granted a personal meeting with Adolf Hitler in Berlin.
After that meeting, German intelligence set to work to create an international broadcast service devoted to the dissemination of the Mufti’s (and the Ikhwan’s) anti-colonial and anti-Semitic message. The Germans then used the cleric to construct Muslim espionage cells in the Balkans. The Grand Mufti next supported the fanatical Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) in the creation of a Muslim military unit, which was absorbed within the German army.
Heinrich Himler envisioned SS Division Skenderbeg
Eventually, the German Wehrmacht activated Muslim units in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo-Metohija, and Western Macedonia. Its most notorious success was the founding of the SS Handzar (Dagger) Division comprised of Bosnian and Balkan Muslims. To support the Handzar and other units, German intelligence founded imam and mullah training centers for clerics who would accompany Muslim units.
Italian Nazi officers and their Albanian allies parade occupied Kosovo
In Egypt, meanwhile, Banna and his Muslim Brotherhood marched in lockstep with the Grand Mufti. The influence of Hitler and Mussolini was already pervasive by the late nineteen thirties, both within the Ikhwan and the Egyptian army. The “Green Shirts” society, a fascist paramilitary group was founded in 1933, and its leaders worked in partnership with the Ikhwan. Several Brothers (including the young officer Anwar Sadat) would cooperate with the Nazis. Following the war, many Ikhwan (and military officers) who previously had a close relationship with the Muslim leadership in the Balkans maintained friendly relations with the Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia.
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