By LLAZAR SEMINI, Associated Press Writer Mon Mar 20, 2:36 PM ET

TIRANA, Albania – Albania’s largest Muslim group said Monday that placing a bust of Mother Teresa in a northern city would not damage religious harmony, rejecting claims from smaller Muslim associations.


The Culture Ministry’s proposal to put a statue at the entrance to Shkodra, 70 miles north of the capital, Tirana, was opposed the day before by three small Muslim associations.

Selim Muca, head of the Albanian Muslim Community, the organization representing all Muslims in Albania, said those objections were not the community’s official position.

"We respect the contribution of the distinguished figures of our nation, like that of Mother Teresa, who is the honor of our nation," Muca said.

He added that local authorities should not create flashpoints between religious communities.

Representatives of the Charity Islamic Association, Islamic Intellectuals and Albanian Muslim Forum opposed the bust, saying the religious situation in Shkodra was "not so calm" and the bust was a provocation. They said a cross in a nearby area was vandalized in January.

Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, has long been revered in this mostly Muslim country. Tirana’s international airport and main hospital are named in her honor, and there is a memorial to her at the National Museum. An annex there is devoted to her.

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, putting her on the road to possible sainthood for her life’s work building shelters, orphanages and clinics around the world to care for the downtrodden.

Born in neighboring Macedonia to an ethnic Albanian family, she went to Calcutta, India, in 1929, and began a life dedicated to helping the poor and infirm.

She first visited Albania in 1989, when the communists were still in power. Albanians were barred from practicing religion from 1967 until 1990, when communism ended. She died in 1997.

Albania, a predominantly Muslim nation with large Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic minorities, is officially a secular nation, and relations between religious communities generally are good.

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