Imam in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
(A graduate of al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt)
[The translator's note: This self-critical and introspective short essay, authored by a Bosnian Imam who graduated from al-Azhar University, caught my attention by its unique combination of self-reflection and a call to (in)action. This type of essay is common in Bosnian Islamic discourse. The essay was published in "Preporod" (Renewal), a Bosnian Islamic biweekly newspaper. It has recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and is currently edited by Senada Tahirović, the newspapers' first female editor. Preporod publishes news articles about the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, essays and reflections by Bosnian scholars and Imams, translations of essays from various world languages, and many other interesting pieces. It's in the Bosnian language so its reach is limited to the former Yugoslavia. It's truly a remarkable publication, a testament to the vitality of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Southeastern Europe. - ES]
In the last several years, we are witnessing how the European media, from time to time, publish cartoons that instigate anger among the Muslim population. Very often, the timing of those cartoons coincides with the time when Muslims are preparing for welcoming the Islamic month of Rabi' al-Awwal, the month of the Prophet's SAW birth. The very timing of these publications, during the period when the Muslims remember their Prophet even more intensely and when they are trying to make his teachings and beauty closer to the people, give us the right to suspect that they are targeting the Muslim reaction, as if to say: "Look, such are the Muslims! This is their violent religion. This is what their prophet taught them."
(Note: This essay was the first in the series I wrote for Al Jazeera Balkans in the Bosnian language on the 2020 US elections. I felt that the English reading audience might benefit from these essays. I did not have the time to translate them so I employed Google Translate which has grown remarkably accurate over time. I did have to fix the text in a number of places. Overall, I think it captures what I originally wrote in Bosnian. As it's a Google (and not human) translation, it retains the sentence structure as it is in the original, which does not always sound great in English. Obviously, had I written this in English or translated it myself I would've changed the structure. As it were, and due to time constraints, I'm leaving the translation as is. I think it is still readable and understandable. If you, however, notice inaccuracies, hard-to-understand constructions, or errors please feel free to email me and I'll fix them. Happy reading! ES)
There is a famous anecdote from the early period of American history. The year is 1787, eleven years after the United States declared independence. One woman asked the famous Benjamin Franklin, as he left the hall where the constitutional congress was held to discuss the future American constitution, "What have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?" Franklin answered, "A republic, if you can keep it."
Alija Izetbegović (1925–2003)
(Translator’s note: This is a short excerpt from Izetbegović’s “Thoughts from prison, 1983-1988.” He was sentenced to 3 years in prison in 1946 when the new post-World War II communist rule was established in Yugoslavia. The excerpt is from his second stint in jail. In the now-infamous 1983 Sarajevo Process, aimed at some of the leading Muslim intellectuals of the time, he was sentenced to 12 years for “hostile activity and propaganda.” He served five years after which he was released in 1988. After the first post-communist democratic elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990, he became the Chairman of the Bosnian Presidency.
In this excerpt, he writes about a very sensitive topic: corporal punishment. In his unmistakable style – brief, direct, and rational – he breaks down the topic and shares his insights. While not everyone will agree with his conclusions, it is hoped that his thought process will be of benefit. ES)
Alija Izetbegović (1925-2003)
Translator's note: In this wonderful reflection, the former president of Bosnia and Herzegovina shares his views on how to read the Qur'an. He was not a graduate of an Islamic seminary or a madrasah. Instead, he offers his views on the Qur'an as a well-educated lay intellectual. It shows that, sometimes, having no technical knowledge of Arabic and the Qur'anic disciplines is not a barrier to understanding the Qur'an. One could argue that it liberates a person from the conventions set by the disciplinary boundaries and traditional approaches. Such reading carries certain risks, but it also allows a deeper personal journey into the depth of the Qur'anic meanings. ES
During my life, I have read the Qur’an many times, but I have never really asked myself: how should the Qur’an be read? Your question made me think about it, and here I will present some of my thoughts as they come to me.
Alija Izetbegović (1925-2003)
October 1971, The Preporod (Renaissance) newspapers, Sarajevo
Translator's note: This short essay, written by the first President of the independent Bosnia and Herzegovina and a well-known Muslim thinker, is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Even though it bears the imprint of its time, at the beginning of the 20th-century Islamic revival in Bosnia, it talks about the many persisting problems in Islamic education. Under the communist rule in Yugoslavia, as under the oppressive regimes in most Muslim-majority countries today, religious education - when it was allowed - was meant to inculcate obedience to the authorities. It created generations of Muslims that are docile, subservient, and incapable of changing the miserable conditions under which many of them live today. This essay is a wake-up call to Muslim parents, teachers, and all those who wish to see Muslims liberating themselves from the yoke of oppression. ES
I imagine this article as a small conversation with our parents and religious teachers. Not too long ago, I found a close friend of mine, who is a good and excitable Muslim, was writing an article about the education of the Muslim youth. I read the unfinished article but its main ideas were already expressed. Having insisted on education in the spirit of the faith, my friend called unto parents to inculcate in their children the characteristics of goodness, good behavior, humbleness, humility, benevolence, forgiveness, acceptance of fate, patience, etc. He especially warned the parents to protect the kids from the street, from Western and thriller movies, useless print press, sports that stimulate aggressiveness and competition, and so on. The most often used word in my friend’s article, however, was the word obedience. At home, a child should be obedient to the parents, in religious school (maktab) to the Imam, in school to the teacher, in the street to the policeman, and in the future to his boss, director, or the superior.
The recently concluded gay pride parade in downtown Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stirred much debate in the country and the region, and produced two clear winners in the deliberations: the official Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ICBH), and the country’s LGBTI community.
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Islam on the Edges is Islam full of dynamism, uniqueness, innovativeness, and adaptation. Constantly at the edges, Muslims who live in these parts - such as Bosnia and Indonesia - embody the contradictions of belonging to the Muslim civilization but frequently being treated as outsiders, and being so close to the Other but never quite belonging. A closer look at Islam on the Edges reveals unique syntheses and strains along the stitches. It also uncovers a certain ease of being and living that is wonderfully appealing in its relaxed orientation, pulling the strangers to it with an irresistible spiraling centrifuge, as if it says to them: come, come to the center. Journey to the center leads to the edges, only to be pulled back to the center. To discover the axis of our being, we need to go to its frontiers. You cannot know Islam until you know its edges. Unburdened by historical determinism that is often present at the heart of Islam, Muslims who live on the edges are capable of unleashing the type of creativity that is often lacking among the Muslims at the Center who have been lulled into a stupor caused by the drunked obsession with past glories that remain in the past, and the unfulfilled dreams of the future that has been elusive for more than a century. To write a love letter to coffee from Sarajevo, the quintessential frontier, is to touch the innermost core of our being, to tickle the beans that form the fiber of our life.
Islamic civilization and coffee have a long, loving relationship. It is probably not an exaggeration to state that the world owes its addictive coffee habit to the spread of the cosmopolitan civilization of Islam. Coffee was most likely introduced to the Turks via the port of Mocha in Yemen, and then spread by the Sufi orders and merchants throughout the Ottoman lands. Some Muslim jurists, the Islam's veritable haram police, true to their calling and the usual conservative reflex, issued the rulings banning this new, potent drink, claiming it caused intoxication. While the jurists debated the permissibility of drinking the liquid black gold, Muslim sages, mystics, and masses voted with their lips. "My community will not agree on an error," said the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Vox populi vox Dei, indeed.
In a recent Ramadan address, the Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Husein Kavazović, eloquently expressed his concerns about the politicization of the refugee crisis in Bosnia. In a context of weak leadership from political leaders, the Grand Mufti’s stance positions him as one of the few proactive voices on this issue.