Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic on Islam and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnian President Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic on
Islam and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dr. Mozammel Haque
Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic, the Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, toured the beautiful new building of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OXCIS), Oxford, on 28 October, 2013. The building was only in the planning stages when he visited the Centre twelve years ago, that was in April, 2001, he came with his father, Alija Izetbegovic who gave a lecture at the Centre entitled “Bosnia on the Historical Border.”

Bosnian President at the Oxford
Centre for Islamic Studies
Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic gave a lecture at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford, entitled “The Quest for Dignity, Freedom and Democracy in the Islamic World: A Bosnian Muslim’s Perspective” at the Examination Schools, Oxford, on 28 October 2013. This write-up is based entirely on the lecture delivered by the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I am grateful to the Bosnian Ambassador in the UK, Mr; Mustafa Mujezinovic, and his staff for their cooperation and I am also grateful to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for inviting me to attend the lecture.

Alija Izetbegovic
Bosnian President started his lecture with an introduction to the former President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, saying, “In his rich and eventful life my father was many things: a writer, a dissident, a statesman. If I had to describe the essence of his vocation and commitment, I would say he was a fighter for freedom, equality and dignity of Muslims, and for the proper understanding of Islam. He had visions and dreams of the awakening of Muslims from centuries of lethargy, and of the return of the Islamic world to the centre stage of history.”

He quoted from one of his early works, Alija Izetbegovic wrote: “The entire Muslim world is in a state of ferment and change. No matter what this world will look like after these changes make their first upward cycle, one thing is certain: it will no longer be the world of the first half of this century. The age of passivity and stagnation has passed forever. For, a world of 700 million people, with tremendous natural resources, occupying a first class geographical position, the world which is heir to colossal cultural and political traditions and the bearer of the living Islamic mission, cannot long remain in a position of subjection. There is no power that can prevent the new Muslim generation from putting an end to this abnormal state.”

Forty four years have passed since these words were written, said Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic and continued, “The number of Muslims in the world has since doubled. The economic power of the Ummah has grown tenfold. The number of schools, students and teachers in some parts of the Islamic world has increased hundredfold. The flourishing of the Islamic world has begun to disrupt its ossified structures of power. We are witnessing social fractures, revolutions and conflicts. Profound social and political changes that have been fermenting for decades are finally moving in the direction of creating free societies and democratic structures of government. A well-educated, free-thinking generation of Muslims is yearning for free societies instead of closed ones, the rule of law instead of the rule of one person, democracy instead of authoritarianism, justice and fairness instead of oppression and corruption. No force can stop this generation from winning freedom, taking charge of their destiny and taking part in shaping the world of the future. No matter all the staggering, mistakes, crises, and stalemates, this process is irreversible and unstoppable.”

Inclusive Islam
Bosnian President said, “The spirit of Islam is inclusive. It acknowledges all that is good and progressive. It is not destructive. It builds and upgrades. Anything that makes the world better and liberates human creativity cannot be against Islam. Anything that is truly Islamic cannot be against freedom, progress and the liberation of human potential.”

Muslim contribution to universal
culture and civilization
He also mentioned, “In not so distant past, Muslims made colossal contributions to the development of universal culture and civilization because that generation of Muslims accepted, with joy and curiosity, and then cultivated, the knowledge discovered in the conquered territories. One Byzantine emperor noted with amazement that an Arab general, whom he called "barbarian,” sought, as a term of armistice, the right to purchase Greek manuscripts. Cultural, scientific, and technological ideas and advances could not be prevented from disseminating even then, in the time when the territories and nations were strictly separated.”

Formula of inclusiveness and integration
“There is an intense battle of ideas and ideologies, which permeate, collide and create synergies,” mentioned Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic and said, “Muslims must engage in this battle. We must remain open to dialogue. We must not be poisoned by the bitterness accumulated through centuries of physical and spiritual domination by the West. We must not fall into the trap of radicalism. We must not give in to the desire for revenge. We must not fear the other and the different. We must not subscribe to the dangerous ideologies of isolation, introversion and exclusiveness. We have to look for a formula of inclusiveness, for a functional combination of the original Islamic values and the best of values we consider Western and modern. European Muslims play a special role in the quest for this formula of integration and inclusiveness because we are in direct contact with and immersed in Western culture, and because we have a special interest in reconciling the traditional within and the modern around us.”

Europe is not the birthplace of
Any monotheistic religion
Europe is not the birthplace of any monotheistic religion. President Izetbegovic mentioned, “When we talk about Islam and Muslims in Europe, it is necessary to immediately refute the view that Europe is exclusively Christian and that European culture is exclusively Judeo-Christian. It is especially important to refute the dangerous fallacy about the alleged cultural and civilizational conflict between the supposedly progressive Christian Europe, on one hand, and supposedly retrograde Islamic-Oriental threat, on the other hand.”

“Europe is not the birth place of any of the great monotheistic religions. Jesus Christ was neither born, nor did he preach in Europe. All three great monotheistic religions came from the same source, from the same, relatively narrow geographic region. Most importantly, all three religions brought nearly identical messages and teach identical basic values. Islam is no stranger to Europe. Nor is Islam alien to the spirit of Europe,” said Bosnian President

Islam intensely present in Europe
Quite the contrary, he said, “there probably would not be what we know today as the spirit of Europe without Islam’s contribution to the formation of European identity and culture. Islam has been intensely present in Europe for over 1,300 years, having arrived in some of its parts more than two centuries before Christianity. The Umayyad Caliphate was established on European soil in the early eighth century. The Islamic state had reached heights in philosophy, science, technology and state organization by the time Christianity expanded to eastern, central and northern Europe. Islam influenced the formation of spiritual and cultural identity in north-eastern Europe through the Golden Horde and the Crimean, Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates; and in south-eastern Europe through the vital and powerful Ottoman Empire.”

Humanistic revival in the West
Islamic thought introduced historical science and scientific method and laid the foundation of the Italian Renaissance. Bosnian President said, “Islamic thought initiated the humanistic revival in the West, introduced historical science and the scientific method, helped Scholastics reconcile philosophy with faith, stimulated Western mysticism, laid the foundations of the Italian renaissance, and directed modern European thought until Kant. Muslims were the bearers of progress in that era. They were the bridge between the philosophy and knowledge of the ancient Greece and the science of the Western world. Much has been written and said, including at this Centre, about the contributions of Islamic scholars to medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, geography, architecture and finance. All of this clearly confirms that Muslims are the co-creators, and thus co-owners, of European culture and civilization.”

Bosnia: A meeting place of ideas,
religions and interests
The Bosnian Muslims, Bosniaks, are an indigenous European people who have been Muslims for half a millennium. Although small in number, they carry a great burden of history. Mr. Izetbegovic mentioned, “In their struggle for survival and freedom, the Bosniaks have, in their own microcosm, passed through many temptations and resolved some of the critical challenges that Muslims worldwide face today and will face in the future.”

“Throughout its existence, Bosnia was the point of contact of the East and the West, a meeting place of ideas, religions and interests. Above all, it was a place of largely harmonious coexistence of followers of the Abrahamic traditions. Unique to medieval Bosnia was the existence of the indigenous Bosnian Church, which was heretical and close to Catharism and Patarenism. Members of the Bosnian Church, who were called “The Good Bosnians,” did not recognize sacraments, liturgy, church hierarchy, icons, or statues,” he said.

Bosnia: a multi-cultural multi-religious society
Explaining the multi-cultural and multi-religious character of the Bosnian society, Bosnian President said, “What Bosnia really was – a multi-cultural and multi-religious society – was built through centuries of peace, tolerance, and respect for the other and the different. Sarajevo is a city with hundreds of minarets, but also a city of many great churches and synagogues. Amid Catholic cathedrals and a striking Orthodox church, there is a large Protestant and an Adventist church. Located within one square kilometre in the historic part of Sarajevo, these houses of worship almost physically touch and lean on one another. “

“The Bosnian language and the Bosnian script appear in the Charter of Kulin Ban of 1189, in which this ruler of Bosnia gave certain guarantees to the Republic of Dubrovnik (Republic of Ragusa). The first vocabulary of the Bosnian language was printed as early as 1631,” he mentioned. .

Bosniaks accepted Islam before the arrival of Ottomans
Speaking about the Islamic faith of the people of Bosnia, the Bosniaks, President Izetbegovic mentioned, “The Bosniaks had already begun accepting Islam before the arrival of the Ottomans to Bosnia. The mass adoption of the new faith gradually occurred during the first century of the Ottoman rule. The Bosniaks and Bosnian Church had resisted – spiritually, politically and militarily – the East and the West, the Vatican and the Byzantium, popes and kings. The Ottoman invasion, however, was not understood as catastrophic because the Turks had in several turns been allies of the Bosnian kings, and because Islam was, in many respects, a natural extension of the faith of “The Good Bosnians.”

Mentioning about the nature of the Ottoman rule, he said, “While the Ottoman Empire was conquering territories, it was not enslaving peoples. It was not obliterating their cultures or forcing them to convert to Islam. Non-Muslims were given the choice of opting out of military service in exchange for a cash payment. They were also given the opportunity to accept Islam, which they often took, and with it military duty and a chance to progress to the top ranks of the Ottoman Empire. After the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire within the borders of present-day Turkey, churches, monasteries, synagogues as well as countries, peoples and cultures were fully preserved. Some historians, therefore, believe the correct translation of the phrase “Osmanli Devlet,” which was the official name of the state, should be the Ottoman Commonwealth, rather than the Ottoman Empire.”

Bosnia under Communist regime
Talking about the life and property of the Bosniaks under the Communist regime, President Izetbegovic said, “The Communist regime that ruled for the following nearly half a century brought some good to the Bosniaks: the nationalisms were muffled, their lives were protected, they had a chance to educate themselves and be part of the government and military establishment. They were not entitled to owning significant assets. Factories, forests, farm fields and larger residential houses they owned were expropriated. They had no right to have their own ethnic name. In censuses they were classified as “undecided,” their language had to be the Serbo-Croatian. They were not allowed to have their Academy of Sciences or other national and cultural institutions.”

“Mosques, madrassas and other institutions of Islamic education were shut down or severely constrained. The Grand Mufti was de facto appointed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Political parties (except the Communist Party) were not allowed to exist. Free media was abolished. Those who resisted the ideological terror of the Communist regime were imprisoned. The resistance of the young Bosniak intellectuals who were organized under the illegal organization “Young Muslims” was crushed with draconian measures and penalties. Its leaders were executed or sentenced to decades in prison. The terror against the Bosniaks that stretched throughout the twentieth century, changing only in form and intensity, caused the bulk of them to seek refuge in exile abroad,”he said.

President of Bosnia also mentioned that about two million Bosniaks live in Bosnia today, while twice as many went to Turkey, the United States and European countries through several waves of emigration.

Complicated government structure
Speaking about the complicated governmental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, President Izetbegovic said, “The structures of government established by the Dayton Peace Agreement are very complicated. The decision-making procedures provide too many opportunities to block progress. This is why Bosnia is seriously lagging behind on its path towards membership in the European Union. Forces and actors that devastated Bosnia with military means are still strongly present in its political life, and there is always the danger they will try to complete their war aims by political means, by blocking the state and making its institutions dysfunctional. This must be prevented, and stabilizing reforms must be continued, with the help of the international community.”

Bosnia; a crossroads of civilisations
Rebuilding of the multiethnic matrix is needed. Bosnian President said, “The rebuilding of the multiethnic matrix of Bosnia that was torn by force and crimes must be completed. Bosnia is one of those places where relations and emotions from the whole world entangle and untangle. It is a meeting point, a crossroads of civilizations, a bridge between the East and the West. The restoration and preservation of this microcosm is important not only for Bosnia and the Bosniaks. It is of crucial importance for the whole world. It thus should be supported by the whole world.”

President Bakir Izetbegovic said, “ As Surah Al-Balad conveys to us “We created man into hardship ... to climb the steep trail.” The struggle for freedom, dignity and democracy is akin to climbing a treacherous steep trail. “The Bosnian experience teaches that it is easier to climb this trail if you hold tightly to the rope of faith, morality and knowledge; if you are forgiving; if you are not afraid of freedom; if you are not afraid of the other and the different; if you are inclusive; if you protect and nurture diversity; if you embrace change that brings progress; if you can unite diverse forces around a common cause and if you have leadership that is moderate, wise, patient and genuinely rooted in the nation.”

We must harmonize our actions
with His (God’s) Will
Concluding his lecture, Bosnian President said, “We belong to a living faith whose return to the global stage will mark the twenty-first century, a faith that will have to contribute to stopping negative global trends. The growing power of humankind brings progress and prosperity. Yet, the selfish side of that power cuts into the very substance on which our future depends – our physical habitat and our spiritual essence. Our world is changing at a speed and in a direction that is worrysome. There is ever more violence, alienation, injustice, inequality, intolerance, pollution and depletion of natural resources. And there is ever less goodness, justice, compassion, humanity, solidarity, healthy relations and family life.”

“The direction in which the world is going must be changed. Ideologies that do not respect God, or are against God, are obviously not capable of doing that. It can be done only by those who respect the One who created the world and the order of things within it. The wondrous planet on which we live and die is completely unique in the universe. There is nothing like it in the sight of the most powerful telescopes. We are used to it, so this wonder no longer astonishes us,” said Bosnian President and added, “Everything on this planet is a testimony to the Almighty Creator’s touch and His intent to make a home for us. He endowed us with a miraculous gift: free will in a world that is completely determined. We must show appreciation and responsibility. We must harmonize our actions with His Will. We must bear this gift properly, with devotion. Particularly those of us He calls the Devoted.”

No comments: