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, then spread by the Sufi orders and merchants throughout the Ottoman lands. Some Muslim jurists, Islam's veritable haram police, faithful 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.