Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Islam in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Islam in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Europe's Endangered Species: Yugoslavia's Forgotten Muslims
A Survey of the Indigenous Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Past History- Current Situation - Future Prospects
by
Saffet Abid


[According to a 1989 estimate, there were 5 million Muslims in Yugoslavia (20% of the population). Of the six republics, Muslims are located in the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Albanian autonomous region of Kosovo.
From early 6th century through the 9th century, the indigenous population of southeastern Europe was host to multiple waves of migration of various Slavic tribes. From the 12th through 14th centuries, those who chose not to submit and convert to religious-political entities of either the Catholic Church or Byzantine Orthodox Church were fortunate to escape to the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they encountered a people who were known as 'Bogomil' by faith. The Catholic Church branded them as heretics for their rejection of the Biblical concept of the Trinity among other heresies.


Bosnia-Herzegovina came under Ottoman rule in 1492, the year Muslims lost Spain. The Bogomils, seeing the merciful and tolerant nature of these conquerors declared en masse their allegiance to the Ottoman Empire and their acceptance of Islam. Contrary to some "historical writings," the Ottomans did not force conversion by the sword. Instead, they guaranteed religious freedom and simply undertook the administrative functions of the conquered land. Such en masse acceptance of Islam by various populations was not unusual in Muslim history.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was officially annexed in 1908 by the Austrio-Hungarian empire. The Congress of Berlin Agreement stipulated that the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina were guaranteed the freedom to practice their religion and the freedom to conduct their own religious affairs. Included in the Agreement was the right to full autonomy over their religious institutions, educational programs, religious endowments (Waqf), as well as the right to implement the Islamic personal and family law.
The situation for Muslims of Yugoslavia worsened in 1941 when general Draza Mhaijlovic, head of the Yugoslav Royal Armed Forces and Cetniks (radical Serbian-Orthodox groups), issued an order to 'cleanse' the "cancer of Islam" from Christendom by eradicating the last remnants of Europe's indigenous Muslim population. This led to a systematic and barbaric campaign of genocide against them. Hardly any Muslim village or household was spared the murderous onslaught of the Cetniks. The terror includes horrors such as men being stripped naked, tortured and paraded in front of their families before being executed. Mothers and daughters being repeatedly raped in front of their own family members.
In the early 1980s, Muslim intellectuals and workers were once again being arrested and brought to trial for their reassertion of the Islamic heritage and cultural values. As in the past, they were accused of treason and other such crimes. The "official" ulema of Yugoslavia, who attended various religious conferences in the Middle East, were only too happy to label the Muslims on trial as being 'religious fanatics' and 'innovators in the religion'. Many of them made public statements declaring that the Yugoslav government was committed to the right of complete religious freedom for all its citizens. These statements were in direct contradiction to the oppressive practices of the government.] The writer is an American Muslim of Bosnian-Herzegovnian and British extraction.

In the mountain ranges and valleys of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia's central republic, one can see piercing through the skyline, like arrows suspended in time between heaven and earth, the pointed tops of age old minarets from thousands of mosques. This remains a living testimony to the glorious and often forgotten Islamic heritage of the last remnants of Europe's indigenous Muslim population: a people, a society, a civilization possibly on the verge of extinction. This is not different from the fate experienced by the indigenous Muslims of areas such as Sicily, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Malta.
Today, as a result of the bitter-sweet winds of change that have swept through Eastern Europe beginning in 1989, the Muslim population of Yugoslavia and its leadership find themselves - for the first time since 1878 - in a situation where they can effectively take control of their political and social-religious future. The Muslims of Yugoslavia, however, have never been in a more precarious and life threatening situation as they find themselves in today. This paradox lies at the very heart of the contemporary Yugoslav Muslim experience. The roots of present day problems can be traced to the birth of Yugoslavia as a nation-state in 1918. Another destablizing factor is the religious-ethnic strife that has been the core of the micro-nationalism which has brought Yugoslavia today to the brink of what portends to be a devastating and bloody civil war.

Overview
Yugoslavia, (literally translated 'South-Slavs') is located in southeastern Europe in the Balkan peninsula. Its population according to a 1989 estimate is 25 million of which 5-6 million (20%) are Muslims). Yugoslavia is composed of six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, Monte-Negro and two autonomous regions: Vojvodina and Kosovo. Muslims are located in the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Albanian autonomous region of Kosovo. For the most part each republic has its own unique socio-cultural, religious and political history that is more in common with the nation it borders than its sister republics.

History
Yugoslavia, as it exists today, is a recent phenomenon. It was created out of the ruins of the Austrio-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires at the conclusion of World War I in 1918. The area is rich in history. From early 6th century through the 9th century, the indigenous population of southeastern Europe was host to multiple waves of migration of various Slavic tribes. These incursions resulted in the slavinization of the area (as evidenced in the famous Slavic 'ovo'-'ic' (ich) being added as a suffix to family names). The next few centuries following saw the conquering and reconquering of most of present day Yugoslavia (except the inaccessible and remote parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina), by various kings from surrounding countries. While the kingdoms rose and fell, what remained constant was the strength and power of the Church. From the West with Rome as the seat of the Catholic Church, Catholicism followed the conquerors spreading ever eastward leaving in its path populations whose religious orientation and loyalty were purely Catholic.

Simultaneously, the various conquerors from the East were followed by the Byzantine Orthodox Church spreading ever westward from the seat of its Patriarch in Constantinople. This thrust gave the affected groomed a people whose religious orientation and loyalty were purely Eastern Orthodox. Those who chose not to submit and convert to either of these two religious-political entities, or were fortunate to escape to the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina, encountered a people who were known as 'Bogomil' by faith. The exact historic details of these people, their culture, and their religion are sketchy. The Catholic Church branded them as heretics for their rejection of the Biblical concept of the Trinity among other heresies. The Bogomils, hearing the horrid tales from the refugees of both the East and West, were convinced that the future was bleak and their forced conversion to one or the other side was inevitable. Then, when all seemed bleak, a beacon of light appeared from the East from the area of Kosovo.

In 1389, the Ottoman army routed the Serbian (Orthodox) forces, bringing with them the rule of Islam and religious freedom. It was during this time that many Albanians whose ethnic origins were Illiric (an ancient tribe living in that area prior to the invasions of the Slavic Serbian tribes) accepted Islam. The next several decades witnessed a series of military encounters between what can be collectively termed 'Christendom' and the Ottoman Empire. These ultimately resulted in the fall of Constantinople to Sultan Mehmet Fatih in 1453 and its subsequent renaming: Istanbul. Ten years later in 1463 General Mahmood Pasha under the direction of Sultan Mehmet Fatih led the Ottoman armies to total victory over hostile forces in Bosnia. By 1492, (the year Columbus is said to have 'discovered' America) the rest of Herzegovina came under Ottoman rule. The Bogomils, seeing the merciful and tolerant nature of these conquerors declared en masse their allegiance to the Ottoman Empire and their acceptance of Islam. Contrary to some 'historical writings', the Ottomans did not force conversion by the sword. Instead, they guaranteed religious freedom and simply undertook the administrative functions of the conquered land. Such en masse acceptance of Islam by various populations was not unusual in Muslim history. This historical account of the origins of Islam in Bosnia- Heaegovina is widely held to be the most accurate one. Some Croatians as well as Serbians claim that Muslims were originally Croats (Catholics) or Serbs (Orthodox) who were forced to convert to Islam by the Ottomans. A claim, that if accepted as true, would lend much needed support to contemporary Croatian/Serbian political desires, that the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina, divorce themselves from the idea of an undivided and territorially integrated Bosnia and Herzegovina, 'return to the Mother Church', and give their political allegiance to either the Croatian or Serbian Republic/State.

From the mid-15th century through the late 17th century, Bosnia-Herzegovina with its capital of Sarajevo blossomed into a center of culture, education and commerce in the western part of the Ottoman empire. Institutions such schools, religious institutes, public health care facilities sprung up everywhere. Maktebs were set up as early as 1500, where Muslim children learned the principles of Islam and Muslim culture as well as recitation of the Qur'an in Arabic. Then came the Medresa or full-time elementary-secondary school. In 1537, under the direction of the regional Ottoman governor, Ghazi Husrev Beg, the first full-time Medresa was established in Sarajevo.

The program was one which integrated the latest sciences of the time, such as mathematics, literature, science, with the religious sciences like, tafsir, hadith and tajweed. In fact, over 30 'buyuk vezier' (chief ministers) of the Ottoman Empire including the renowned Mehmet Pasha Sokulu and Mehmet Koprilu were from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was also during this period that the indigenous Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina and surrounding areas served successfully as the first line of defense against the constant attacks of the Crusader armies. They defended the 'heartland' of Islam from the evil designs of the enemies. It was because of their sacrifice that Muslims of the Middle East and Northern Africa were able to enjoy security for several centuries.
Towards the middle of the 17th century, the Ottoman empire began its long process of decline and disintegration due to internal corruption and incessant external attacks. This decline ultimately led to the epithet of the 'sick man of Europe'. In 1683, the Ottoman armies were defeated at the Gates of Vienna after their second siege of that city. As a result of the armistice reached in Karlovac in 1699, the Ottoman forces retreated east and south, losing lands north of the Sava and Danube rivers, and west of the Una and Sana rivers (site of the current armed conflict in Yugoslavia between Serbs and Croats). The Muslims in these territories migrated to the new Ottoman empire borders, others were forced into conversion, or met death.

After their defeat in the Russio-Turkish wars in 1878, the Ottomans were forced to surrender administrative and physical control of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This occurrence was set down in the Congress of Berlin Agreement of 1878. Nominally Bosnia-Herzegovina remained an Ottoman province until it was officially annexed in 1908 by the Austrio-Hungarian empire. The Congress of Berlin Agreement further stipulated that the Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina were guaranteed the freedom to practice their religion and the freedom to conduct their own religious affairs. Included in the Agreement was the right to full autonomy over their religious institutions, educational programs, religious endowments (Waqf), as well as the right to implement the Islamic personal and family law. The Supreme Council for Endowments and Education, headed by the supreme religious leader, Reis Ulema, was set up for the conduct of Muslim affairs.

By 1908, the Ottoman empire's control over what is now Yugoslavia came to a complete end. Many Muslims found themselves within two new 'Kingdoms': Serbia and Montenegro, where they were victims of oppression and atrocities. Following the defeat of the Central powers in World War I (1918), the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovens was created. It took the form of a constitutional monarchy under the rule of the Serbian King Alexander I. Until 1929, the Kingdom, which was renamed Yugoslavia, was subject to a series of internal jolts and near breakups as a result of various alliances created between different parties (organized along economic as well as nationalistic lines), after which, King Peter I assumed dictatorial powers. He was forced into exile as a result of the fascist invasion by Germany and Italy.

In 1941, prior to the fascist invasion, an organization, Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims), embracing Muslim high school and university students (male and female), was set up in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its main objectives: (i) the revitalization of Islamic thought and culture to their pristine and dynamic form, (ii) the reeducation of the Muslims as to the true nature of their historical and religious traditions, and (iii) the development of social and charitable institutions through which Muslim refugees, orphans and victims of the war could be cared for. Although it had no formal or informal relations with similar movements of resurgence and renaissance within the Muslim world, Mladi Muslimani developed along similar lines owing to the universal anatomy of Islamic renaissance (a return to the Qur'an and Sunnah).
Later that same year, the situation for Muslims of Yugoslavia worsened when general Draza Mhaijlovic, head of the Yugoslav Royal Armed Forces and Cetniks (radical Serbian-Orthodox groups- pronounced 'Chetnicks'), issued an order to 'cleanse' the "cancer of Islam" from Christendom by eradicating the last remnants of Europe's indigenous Muslim population. This led to a systematic and barbaric campaign of genocide against them. Hardly any Muslim village or household was spared the murderous onslaught of the Cetniks. The terror includes horrors such as men being stripped naked, tortured and paraded in front of their families before being executed. Mothers and daughters being repeatedly raped in front of their own family members. Later, these women had their skulls smashed and then thrown, often still alive, into mass graves and cave-pits i.e. Cavkarka Kod Trusine. These and similar inhuman events still haunt the memories of those who were fortunate enough to escape the macabre massacre to the relative security of major cities. Over 300,000 men, women and children were massacred in this campaign.

[The author is personally acquainted with these facts because over 144 out of 250 members of his extended family were among those massacred. His father and uncle are the only surviving members of their immediate family of 10. What remains of the bodies of the other members, most of whom were girls under the age of 12, can be found in the cave-pits which line the Bosnian-Herzegovina countryside.]
There were pockets of resistance to this onslaught. Some organized military units like the Panjar Division arose, but they were too few and too scattered to alter the overwhelming tide of death and destruction.

After the war, the partisans, controlled by the Communist Party led by Tito, took absolute control. Yugoslavia became the 'Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia'. The new government quickly took control of all means of production, financial/economic institutions and communications. A 'dictatorship of the proletariat' was formed in line with Stalinist communism.
This resulted in a highly centralized, one party administration. All other parties and organizations, including Mladi Muslimani were banned.

This change brought with it a new round of anti-Muslim pogroms. Now the policy of persecution was orchestrated by the atheistic-communist regime against the Muslim people and in particular the members of Mladi Muslimani and their sympathizers. Those who were unable to escape the country, were arrested and 'tried.' These kangaroo courts started work in early 1946 and continued for nearly a decade. The fabricated and unsubstantiated charges brought against the defendants by the state, who were in their early twenties, were couched in classical Bolshevik jargon used in labeling perceived threats. These charges included accusing the defendants of being 'anti- revolutionary' and 'reactionary' characters organizing and plotting to overthrow the peoples revolution. All universally accepted rules regarding the rights of the defendant to responsible representation and a fair trial were circumvented. The trials came to a head in 1949 in Sarajevo, when four members of the leadership (Hasan Biber, Halid Kajtaz, Omer Stupac and Nusret Fazilbegovic) were sentenced to death and subsequently executed. By the end of these trials, in the early 1950s, more than 1,000 Muslims had been sentenced to harsh prison terms some up to 20 years. During their incarceration, quite a few prisoners died, some under mysterious circumstances.

In keeping with the state ideology of atheism, the Muslim masses were subjected to a series of actions aimed at separating them from their religious and cultural heritage. The communist regime abolished all Shariah courts, civil marriage became obligatory, and civil law replaced the Islamic laws of inheritance. All Mektebs were systematically closed, as were all but one of the country's Medresas (Ghazi Husrev Beg in Sarajevo). Even the Higher Islamic Shariah Theological Academy of Sarajevo, founded for the education and training of Islamic Judges (hakim) was shut down. The religious endowment property (Waqf) was nationalized. Separate food for Muslims in the armed forces (Yugoslavia like many Third World nations maintains a conscript mandatory military service for at least one year), hospitals, schools, penal institutions and so forth was not available. The eating of pork was promoted by the state and its various organs as a sign of 'progress and freedom from religious prejudice' or 'religious backwardness'. Membership in the Communist Party was a condition for career and professional advancement and success in public life. Any visible sign of religiosity, even a whisper of it, could earn one the label of reactionary', making employment, housing and other aspects of life extremely difficult. The news media and educational system was under direct Communist party control and was systematically utilized to promote the party line and its view of all things, in particular its atheistic philosophy. What can be said of the immediate post war period was that although communism as a political system provided for the biological survival of the Muslims, it left nothing to chance in attempting to secure their ideological and moral demise.

From 1979 through the early 1980s, the initial successes of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, as well as other similar events in various Muslim countries, brought about to a great extent a reawakening of Islamic consciousness and a rekindling/revitalization of the Islamic spirit worldwide. This renewed consciousness helped to spurn the Islamic resurgence among Muslims throughout the world and was also felt by those in Yugoslavia. By 1983, Islamic activity and the reassertion of the Islamic nature of their own cultural heritage and values was on the rise among the Muslims of Yugoslavia. As in the past, Muslim intellectuals and workers were once again being arrested and brought to trial. They were accused of treason and other such crimes. The official ulema of Yugoslavia were sent to attend various religious conferences in the Middle East, where these so-called scholars, were only too happy to label the Muslims on trial as being 'religious fanatics' and 'innovators in the religion'. In addition, many of them made public statements declaring that the Yugoslav government was committed to the right of complete religious freedom for all its citizens. These statements were in direct contradiction to the oppressive practices of the government.

The rest of the 1980s saw a great deal of agitation and an ever increasing public outcry for greater political, economic and religious freedom within Yugoslavia. Towards the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the situation changed dramatically. The press became free, allowing the Islamic press to publish literature on Islam without governmental censorship. Religious services for all religions were broadcast on state television. Freedom of religion was redeclared. Governmental institutions, including the armed forces began to allow Muslims to have access to pork free products, to read religious books and even to pray in public. The number of worshipers in mosques and other houses of worship increased ten-fold. Furthermore, the number of applications for entrance into religious schools increased far above all expectations.

In the air of freedom that seemed to envelope the entire nation and the governmental liberalization of political participation, Muslims as well as other groups moved to establish political parties. In Bosnia and Herzegovina a group of 40 Muslim intellectuals and workers founded the Initiative Committee for the Establishment of the Party for Democratic Action (PDA) (Stranka Demokratske Akcije-SDA). It was the desire of the founders that the PDA be called the Yugoslavian Muslims' Party, but at that time the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina was still controlled by the communists and they issued a statute preventing organizations on a national or religious basis. The constitutional court later found that law unconstitutional. The PDA held its founding convention in Sarajevo on May 26, 1990, elected its governing body, and adopted the program and declaration prepared by the Initiative Committee. The opening paragraph outlined the mission and objectives of the PDA. It sated The Party for Democratic Action is a political union of the citizens of Yugoslavia who belong to the Muslim cultural and historic circle as well as other citizens of Yugoslavia who accept the Program and the aims of the PDA'. The elected president of PDA is Alija (Ali) Izetbejovic (author of Islam Between East and West). Local chapters of PDA were subsequently established throughout Yugoslavia in all areas with Muslim populations. Several other Muslim political parties were formed as well, but none of them could muster the popular support enjoyed by PDA. This was evidenced by the outcome of the October 1990 elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina which were swept by PDA and the subsequent election of Aliia Izetbejovic as the President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the elections, the Muslim leadership began the long overdue process of reform (including the release of all political prisoners). Because of the centralized nature of the Yugoslavian bureaucratic structure, economic controls by the federal government and the general resistance to change by the Communists/ socialists, the speed and intensity of the progressive reforms, stipulated in the party platform, have been slow.

In the past few months, events in Yugoslavia have once again taken a turn for the worse. The Declaration of Secession by the Republics of Croatia and Slovenia early this year brought about a series of armed confrontations between the Republican armed units and the Serbian dominated federal armed forces. Each of the republics have taken, the aura of independent states rather than liberated republics through both legislation and common practice. The historic ethnic and religious tensions between the various republics and groups within the country have been resuscitated and have assumed horrific proportions. The resurgence of Cetnik groups within Serbia, Croatia and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, have revived specter of persecution among Muslims.
At the time of this writing the Muslim leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been able to maintain neutrality in the armed conflicts. It is reported that bodies of Muslims serving in the Serbian-controlled federal army are arriving daily in Sarajevo as well as other cities. These deaths are usually termed as 'training accidents'. To make things worse, mixed messages (both political and economic) are being transmitted by the United States, Soviet Union as well as the members of the European Community as to their expectations of the future of configuration of Yugoslavia.

Is There a Future?
The Muslim experience in Yugoslavia is far from over. Its leadership is sailing into the unchartered stormy waters of a new world. The recent chain of events within and outside the country on the one extreme portend the inevitability of the breakup of Yugoslavia into mini-states. On the other extreme, a situation in which the concept of a 'Greater Serbia' may become a reality. In keeping with the Islamic tradition of moderation (wasata), the elected Muslim leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina seem to favor a middle road between these two extremes. That is, an end in which the territorial and political integrity of Yugoslavia be maintained along with its existing internal republic borders. The political and economic authority of the federal government over the republics would be drastically curtailed and its roles specifically delineated. This would result in more of a 'confederation' than a 'federation' of republics (states). The Muslims insist that the territorial and political integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina remain intact and undivided irrespective of the new model of Yugoslavia that eventually emerges.
The breakup of Yugoslavia seems imminent. The only question that seems to remain is 'how'? Considering the historic role of Muslims in Yugoslavia and the West's general antagonism toward Islam and Muslims, a possible outcome would be one in which the territorial and political integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be compromised. Its counties would subsequently be divided up according to some mutually agreed upon formula between Serbia on the one hand and Croatia on the other. This worst possible scenario would have to carry with it the blessings of the European Community, the Soviet Union and the United States (which may have already been unofficially given).

The future will to a great extent be determined on what steps are taken now. The Muslim leadership of Yugoslavia should keep the following critical points in mind:
1. History is the best teacher. The Qur'anic paradigm is one which asks man continuously to look to the past in order to gauge future actions. To forget and bury the past as some have suggested is a mistake; as it will cause one to lose the ability to build on its successes as well as make one a victim of its mistakes. Furthermore, the Truth will remain hidden from view. No one should fear the Truth for ultimately the Truth will set one free.
2. Every effort should be made to publicize among Muslims and non-Muslims alike (both people and nations) the plight and struggle of the Muslims of Yugoslavia. For one never knows, 'from where the assistance of Allah will come'.
3. All endeavors should be undertaken to work towards a peaceful and equitable solution to the ugly possibilities which are faced, but reliance for a Muslim is ultimately tied to his preparation for the worst (in other words making the necessary preparations for securing ones person), trust in Allah and the continued support of the True Believers.

1 comments:

Property in Spain 24 October 2008 at 23:59  

I got more information from this your site.good keep up it.

  © Blogger template The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP