Macedonia’s Romani imam

Ali Berat is a role model for many in his community, but others criticize him for exhorting Roma to abandon their traditions.

SUTO ORIZARI, Macedonia | Ali Berat is a rarity in the Balkans. A rarity even among his people: not only is he a Romani imam, but he also hails from a devout Muslim family, within a vast Roma diaspora known for its mild religiosity.

Berat, however, studied for six years in the Islamic holy city of Medina, then returned to his Macedonian hometown on a mission to preach to his people. In his crosshairs are Romani traditions he says help stunt their development.

Ali Berat
Ali Berat

“I would like to ask one question about all these traditions,” says the bearded Berat, 36, while seated in his elegantly upholstered living room. “Have they changed the education levels of our people? Have they lifted us from poverty? … When we say we are Muslims, that is not saying we are not also Roma. But all these traditions are taking us one step back.”

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