“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes. Indeed, Allah loves those who deal with equity.” 
It’s no secret that the media narratives of recent decades have portrayed Islam and Muslims as intolerant of other faith groups, and incapable of managing diversity. Yet, history has recorded many examples of persecuted communities and individuals finding sanctuary in the Islamic world.
Western Muslims are often aware, for instance, of the settlement of Iberian Jewish refugees in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa after their expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century, but another, more recent story is far lesser known.
This extraordinary event occurred in Albania, and took place during the Second World War, at a time when the Balkan state was Europe’s only Muslim-majority country (unless you also include Turkey). 
Going back in time: Albania in 1943
Some 80 years ago in September 1943, Albania came under Nazi occupation.
The Adriatic nation had until then effectively been under Italian Fascist rule since before the war. As such, the country shared a similar fate to Italy, which was itself partially occupied by Germany after it pulled out of the Axis alliance with Berlin and Tokyo, and made an armistice with Britain and the United States.
Albania, however, stands out where other Nazi-occupied European countries do not. The roughly six years of the war were filled with horrors and atrocities, none greater than the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators.
The Holocaust saw Europe’s Jewish communities and other groups such as disabled people and Romany people, undergo a brutal and systematic genocide.
What was unique about Albania post-war?
A cursory look at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s estimated figures for Jewish Holocaust deaths in several European nations show just how widespread these crimes were. 
Indeed, prior to the war, Poland was home to 3,350,000 Jews, of which a devastating two to three million were killed during the Holocaust. In nearby Lithuania, the Jewish population of 153,000 also lost as many as 130,000 members. Further west, over 70,000 of France’s roughly 300,000 Jews lost their lives, too.
According to the same source, Albania had a small Jewish population of around 200, but the museum has no figure for how many of its members died during the Holocaust. Other figures show, however, that unlike every other Nazi-occupied European country, Albania was left with a larger Jewish population after the war, than it had beforehand.
A report commissioned by the US State Department estimates that the number increased between three and tenfold, numbering at 600 to 2,000 survivors, if not more. 
While it is true that a number of Jewish people were tragically deported from Albania to Nazi concentration camps, the size of the post-war population in the country alone illustrates the efforts that Albanians — many of them Muslim — made to protect both their Jewish compatriots and the refugees in their care.
Some truly outstanding stories
These efforts took place at different levels.
For instance, when the Nazis requested a list of Albania’s Jewish residents, the country’s government refused to comply. 
But perhaps more hard hitting, are the actions of individuals and families who sheltered and hid many Jews fleeing death and deportation.
Ramadan of 1943 | 1362
During the month of Ramadan in 1943, for example, a Muslim couple — Lime and her husband Destan Balla — took in three Jewish brothers who had fled to their village from the Albanian capital, Tirana. A further fourteen arrivals were sheltered by other villagers. 
In a recollection of the story, Lime explained how her community banded together to support their beleaguered guests,
“We were poor — we didn’t even have a dining table — but we never allowed them to pay for the food or shelter…
“I went into the forest to chop wood and haul water. We grew vegetables in our garden so we all had plenty to eat. The Jews were sheltered in our village for fifteen months. We dressed them all as farmers, like us. Even the local police knew that the villagers were sheltering Jews.” 
Yugoslavia to Albania
The brothers Hamid and Xhemal Veseli recounted a similar tale, about how their family rescued two Jewish families — the Ben Josephs and the Mandils — who had escaped to Albania from Yugoslavia.
Xhemal made the incredible effort of walking the parents — disguised as locals — all the way to his home in Krujë, the journey took them a staggering 36 hours. Two days later, he and Hamid transported the children there as well.
While the adults had to hide in a mountain cave near the village in the daytime, their children played with the local children. The families stayed for nine months until Albania was liberated from Nazi rule, and were not the only Jews to find safety in Krujë.
The brothers lost contact with the Ben Joseph family, but their older sibling, Refik, went and visited the Mandils who had returned to Yugoslavia after the war. 
A religious educator’s enduring heroism
Nuro Hoxha — a teacher and pious Muslim from Vlorë — and his family sheltered several Jewish families in underground bunkers that extended from their house. 
When retelling the story, Nuro’s son, Sazan, explained,
“My father sheltered four Jewish families. They all were his friends. I remember my father’s words to those he took in:
‘Now we are one family. You won’t suffer any evil. My sons and I will defend you against peril at the cost of our lives.'” 
Sazan had a part of his own to play, taking food to the families and shopping for necessities. He made it clear that Islam was a major factor in his family’s decision to undertake this risky humanitarian act,
“As devout Muslims, we extended our protection and humanism to the Jews. Why? Besa [an Albanian tradition of keeping one’s word of honour], friendship, and the holy Qur’ān.” 
He also recounted that many other families in his community hid and supported Jewish people, too, and that this was in fact, widely known throughout Vlorë.
An inspiration to Muslims around the world
The bravery and decency shown by these Muslim Albanians, both to their Jewish compatriots and refugee guests from abroad, is an inspiration.
Their struggles are a vivid reminder that Islam teaches us to live justly with our neighbours, regardless of whether they share our faith or not, and stresses the intrinsic value of human life. Indeed, Allah tells us as much in His Qur’ān, when He informs us that saving a single life is akin to saving all of mankind. 
When we remember the horrors of the Holocaust, the noble goal of “never again” should always be at the forefront of our minds. This is all the more urgent in the context of rising nationalism and far-right extremism across Europe in our present times. We have already seen campaigns to ban religious garments such as the niqab, as well as halal and kosher slaughter in numerous European countries. This is deeply concerning, given we have seen where these sentiments can lead in more than one instance.
It is my hope that the stories of these exemplary Albanian brothers and sisters of ours, in addition to the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ will encourage European Muslims to stand up against injustice in our own communities, and in the wider world as well.
- Reflect on how this story shows the social miracle of Islam.
- Try to learn more Islamic history, you may need to cite an example like this one in a public debate.
- If you have the means, visit Albania and give your tourism to local places of interest and businesses.
 al-Qur’ān, 60:8
 al-Qur’ān, 5:32