Islam in EuropeThe big history of Albania's tiny Koran
Mario Prushi carefully washes his hands and face before kissing and pressing one of the world's smallest Korans to his forehead. Scholars say it is one of the smallest Korans on record, with the minuscule holy book held inside a silver case blackened with age. "We have kept it from generation to generation with absolute dedication," said Prushi, 45, at his home in Tirana.
Just two centimetres wide and one centimetre thick, the book almost disappears in the palm of Prushi's hand, and it can only be read with a small magnifying glass embedded in its case.
The Koran is difficult to date in the absence of scientific analysis, but according to Elton Karaj – a researcher in Koranic studies at Beder University in Tirana – the 900-page copy has been around since at least the 19th century.
"This Koran was printed in a very small format, one of the smallest in the world. From its appearance, its publication dates back to the end of the 19th century. It is an extraordinary work, very valuable. It is fortunate that this copy is in Albania," said Karaj.
But its size is not the only remarkable thing about the Koran. It is also responsible for converting the Prushi family from Catholicism to Islam. "My great-great-grandparents were digging the ground for a new house in the Djakovica region of Kosovo when they found the perfectly preserved body of a man buried there," said Prushi. "The Koran was found intact laying over his heart."
The family took the discovery as a divine sign and embraced Islam. His grandfather, an officer in the army of Albania's King Zog in the 1930s, knew Arabic and would invite friends to his home every night to read verses from it.
Years later, under the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha – who completely banned all forms of religion and sent all practicing believers to prison – the book survived in part because it could be so easily hidden. "Someone had notified the secret police that we had a Koran in our house, but it was so small that my father managed to hide it. The agents moved heaven and earth without finding it," said Prushi.
Following the incident, Prushi's father Skender decided to entrust it to friends in neighbouring Kosovo after smuggling it across the border hidden in a lorry full of coal. He only recovered it only after the war in Kosovo in 1999, where it was buried to save it from the fighting.
Prushi then inherited the Koran shortly before his father's death in 2012. "This little book carries so many stories, blessings and miracles. It is very dear to me," said Prushi.
"Every time I touch it, I am moved," said his wife Blerina. "When something goes wrong or when our daughter is sick, we feel reassured, we know that the Koran will protect us, it is a real talisman," she added.
The family has received numerous offers to buy it, including from museums.
"I never think of selling it," said Prushi. "This Koran belongs to our family and it will always stay with us." (AFP)