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M.Sc. Nedzad Grabus, Mufti of Ljubljana and President of Meshihat of the Islamic Community in Slovenia
IT WILL BE REALISTIC TO SPEAK ABOUT AN ISLAMIC CULTURAL CENTRE IN LJUBLJANA ONCE WE OWN THE LAND
Mufti Grabus: I greet you and your readers. Thank you for your question. I have carried the duties of the Mufti of Ljubljana since June 1, 2006. As we know, the Islamic Community in Slovenia adopted its Statute in 1994. Ever since, the Islamic Community in Slovenia has had its organs such as Congress (Sabor), Meshihat and others. In the year of 2005 the Islamic Community experienced a specific crisis in institutional terms. In the end it had to seek protection of its rights in courts. We have not made a big deal of it yet it needs to be said that the Islamic Community in Slovenia won the court cases and in so doing established that an institution is more important than individuals. It is due to the members of organs of the Islamic Community in Slovenia, and especially due to persistence, endurance and committed work on behalf of Ibrahim ef. Malnovic, the then President of Meshihat and its Secretary, Nevzet Poric, that the Islamic Community has weathered the crisis. Yet, the trust in the Islamic Community was shaken. Therefore we had, from the very beginning of my work, identified the clarity of our goal as being a gradual return of trust, of the social community at large, into the organs of the Islamic Community . It was a difficult process, where some experiences have permanently been impressed in my memory - but I do not want to lament upon that. When the time comes we will speak about the questions which are of interest to broader audience.
Bosniaks.Net: Following occurrence of certain problems, division, and even a law suit, has the Islamic Community been able to win back the trust of its members and of those who pretend to be its members?
Mufti Grabus: The Islamic Community has, by large, won back the trust of the believers and the believers have rewarded au by way of supporting our projects. A Statute of the Islamic Association was adopted in January of 2007. Based upon that Statute, elections for all of the organs of the Islamic Community in Slovenia have taken place. In July of 2007 we signed an agreement with the Government of Slovenia about the legal position of the Islamic Community, and in August of 2007 proper markings were put upon the graves of the Bosniak soldiers in Log pod Mangartom. In addition to that, the Islamic Community has completed several significant projects. A vakuf house was bought in the vicinity of Ljubljana. It is the possession of the Islamic Community and the dowry of this Administration of the Islamic Community in Slovenia. The Community has been paying substantial rent for that house. Thanks to God, that has come to an end. All the funds have been contributed by people of big hearts from Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Slovenia. Then we bought a new building for the needs of the Ljubljana dzemat, which building offers excellent conditions until the Islamic Cultural Centre is built. Through these projects I have met admirable people, proud in their faith as well as proper vakifs who do not complain about a good deed. Of course, there are negative people everywhere, why would the Slovenia dzemats be an exception? This world is not Paradise. It is not easy to reimburse the years of laziness therefore the opponents and those who promote the status of inaction are more vocal in discussions than those who are committed in their work. However, thanks to God Almighty, a core is created - a core of activists who know how to face the challenges of work upon the path of God. Our other dzemats have also progressed: Maribor, Trbovlje, Jesenice, Postojna, Kocevje, and so on. We have engaged young Imams in Trbovlje and Koper. We have helped the dzemat in Trzic to regularly perform their activities. The Islamic Community has also significantly established a profile in the media. Tens of affirming articles have been written about the Islamic Community in Slovenia. Our web page, which is mostly in Slovenian, was accessed some four hundred thousand times in a year and a half. While it is voluntary work, we are proud of that fact. In addition to that, we have organized successful events, evenings of Qur’an, mevluds, hatmas and so on.
Bosniaks.Net: How did the Meshihat perform in the previous fiscal year?
Mufti Grabus: When I took over the leadership of the Islamic Community I was surprised that the Meshihat of the Islamic Community, given the reports, was not able to cover its operating costs. Meshihat has, for the first time, operated with a positive balance in 2007 and that was a great success for all of us. President of Meshihat has to take care also of the economic and financial operation of the Islamic Community.
Bosniaks.Net: You have, also, founded an institution?
Mufti Grabus: Yes, the Islamic Community has founded the Cultural and Educational Institution Averroes. We have already hired an employee in that Institution. He was born in Slovenia and his schooling , from the elementary school, all the way to the university level, has been completed in Ljubljana. Naturally, all these projects are also of importance for the community at large.
Bosniaks.Net: What potentials does the Islamic Community have in Slovenia?
Mufti Grabus: The Islamic Community in Slovenia has excellent potential. It has young, promising, university educated members. That strength needs to be well articulated. I was really emboldened and proud at teravija in Maribor, on the 13th day of Ramadan, of the 1429th year of Hijra calendar. I saw the success of the fifteen years of work and best fruits of that work, of Imam Ibrahim ef. Malanovic. In Maribor there is a substantial number of the dzemat members who are engineers, physicians, university graduates in Arts, and so on. That is the way to success and that is why our dzemat in Maribor is an example of how to work. In short, it takes at least fifteen years of hard work in all of the Islamic Community in Slovenia in order to have significant improvements. It takes that long to separate wheat from chaff.
Bosniaks.Net: Esteemed Mufti, we are in the month of Ramadan so please tell us how Muslims in Slovenia celebrate it and how the activities during Ramadan are organized?
Mufti Grabus: Ramadan offers an excellent opportunity for spiritual and mental revitalization. The modern way of life does not allow us to enjoy the benefits of this world. Therefore the time of Ramadan is filled with mercy. We read Qur’an more frequently, see dear persons more frequently, talk and promote the values which are of essential importance to our human dignity. We, who live outside of the traditional environments where there are Muslim customs, regular practice of respect toward Islamic values, try to create a kind of an instant Islamic ambiance. That is, only for a short period, possible to do during Ramadan. According to the information from dzemats, the Ramadan atmosphere is excellent. This year, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Arabic Republic of Egypt, we have hosted karia Yusuf Nidaa from Cairo. Sheikh Yusuf, with his brilliant teaching of Qur’an, fills the souls of believers and makes the best juices flow in our bodies. It is planned that he will visit most of the dzemats in Slovenia. We also have two hafizes who are our guests. They are hafiz Bekim from Tetovo and hafiz Ibrahim from Istanbul. Together with muderris Senad ef. Karisik, Imam in Ljubljana, we have temporarily renovated new space for masjid, God willing, until the mosque is finished. We also have regular activities in all of our dzemats in Slovenia.
Bosniaks.Net: This year’s Ramadan has brought special joy to Muslims on Slovenia and especially in Ljubljana. After a long wait, you are at the doorstep of making a decades old idea reality - that is that Ljubljana will, finally, have a mosque. Please tell us about the history of this idea to build a mosque in this city?
Mufti Grabus: According to the archives of the Islamic Community in Slovenia, Reisu-l-ulema Sulejman ef. Kemura, r.a. , visited Ljubljana in 1969. Two years before that, on September 12, 1967, a Committee of the Islamic Association was formed in Ljubljana. The idea of building a mosque in Ljubljana was first promoted in May of 1969. During the ensuing 39 years several locations have been considered. In 1971 it was the location on Deckova ulica, in 1973 it was on Tomazevi cesti in Stozice. The urban authorities adopted a proposal, in 1976, for the location on Pokopaliska ulica and Smartinska cesta, and in 1979 at Zale between Zalska ulica and Savska cesta. There were other locations considered, across from Plecnikova zala in 1987 and in 2001 between Malo grabno and Cesta dveh cesarjev. Finally, in 2006, a location was offered in Bezigrad, between Parmova and Kurilniska ulica. In 1987 there was a design competition published for the constrauction of a mosque in Ljubljana. It called for an area of 760m square. Today the situation is completely different. We need a much larger space, including all of the amenities. Authorities, mayors and leaders of the Islamic Community came and went yet the issue has not bee resolved. I ask Allah Almighty to reward from His treasury all those who have helped, in any way, that the issue of mosque has been kept alive for all these years, and to help us buy the land for the mosque.
Bosniaks.Net: Ljubljana is the only city of the former Yugoslavia which has seen its authorities delay the requests by the Islamic Community, or brush them under the carpet in evading to decide on building of an Islamic centre. Why has it taken so long to arrive at a positive decision. What has been the main motive?
Mufti Grabus: There certainly are a number of reasons. Of course, I offer my views of this problem. In Slovenia there has existed a historical negativism toward the Ottoman period in the Balkans. That has left a marked imprint in literature, arts, history, folk lore and similar. Some forces used that to awaken or promote fear, which naturally has no connection with Muslims in Slovenia. However, it is difficult to explain it if you do not have an opportunity to offer a different view upon that subject. Globalization brought with it new trends, such as multi religiousness multi culture... so that in the past ten years that issue became an intensive one, so much so that the media has played a significant role in the shaping of public opinion with respect to building of a mosque. There was a complete or silent obstruction surrounding this issue on the one hand, and insufficient articulation of the issue on the part of the Islamic Community, on the other. Unfortunately we have no archival material concerning this battle to build a mosque, nor do we have monographs. I am of opinion that leaders of Meshihat of the Islamic Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia have been paying but lip service to the issue of building of a mosque in Ljubljana. The mosque in Zagreb had priority - thank God that it had been a success. From the moment the Islamic Community in Slovenia became independent, from 1994, a lot of work has been done, although the Ljubljana dzemat fell into disrepair. To agree that twenty thousand of the Ljubljana Muslims have 120m square for prayer and for social activities speaks volumes about the state of our spirit and relation to ourselves. So, fruitless debates about the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana have completely disabled the Islamic Community in Slovenia and at one time caused serious problems in its functioning.
Bosniaks.Net: Although there were conflicting opinions with respect to building a mosque in Ljubljana, especially on the side of conservatives. How did non-Muslims in Ljubljana and Slovenia take this news?
Mufti Grabus: In democratic systems there are always groups for, and against, an issue. I am, of course, more interested in what Muslims think about a mosque, rather than those who opposed it. Their positions are clear to me and I am surprised if they are positive. Substantial number of Muslims has welcomed, with delight, the news about purchase of land for the mosque. Some are surprised, such as municipal services in BiH - they get surprised by snow in December or January, as if it were a disaster, rather than natural occurrence. So, some are, after forty years, surprised. We had to borrow almost 50% of the funds in order to register to compete for the purchase of land. Regrettably, there are those who dislike that the Islamic Community was able to purchase land. I pray to the Almighty to show them the right way. It is now time to bring the whole thing into reality, to stop useless debates and to purchase the land. It is clear that there can be no mosque without the land. Ljubljana has very stringent conditions regarding construction. Therefore, our goal at this time is to purchase the land for the mosque. Members of our association, across Slovenia, feel relief and joy that the process has finally started. We were never able to purchase the land before, now it is a reality. The clock for land purchase started ticking on July 31.
Bosniaks.Net: How about the media, how are they looking at this project?
Mufti Grabus: The Slovenian media have substantially helped solve this issue. There were several very critical columns which analyzed the slow pace and inadequate solution to this issue. Naturally, there will still be an article making it into a sensation. However, the overall media response to a mosque has helped to arrive to this moment. Both the print, and electronic media in Slovenia, have been properly covering our activities in building a mosque in Ljubljana. We are very grateful for that.
Bosniaks.Net: The previous questions were not in order to bring us back in time, but to explain that the road to building a Centre has been full of potholes. Would you please tell us about the project, its users and its uses?
Mufti Grabus: You are right, the road was full of potholes, but we are nowhere near the end of our efforts. There will still be obstacles to be overcome by way of committed work and sustained endurance. In the past two years we have completely renewed the Islamic Community in Slovenia. Our motivation is to follow up on projects which we can materialize. Only at the opening of the Islamic Cultural Centre will all well wishers be able to take a deep breath, and until such time small souls have plenty to do.
The concept is that Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana encompasses a mosque, an area for ibadets, educational work, cultural, sports, social, etc. Therefore, we plan to have a living quarters for employees and musafirs, classrooms, an amphitheatre, a restaurant, a sports arena, and so on. The Centre ought to be a meeting place for Muslims from Ljubljana and the rest of Slovenia, but also a meeting place for Muslims and our Slovenian neighbours and others. Architectural details will be left to experts, with a proviso, naturally, that it is the most beautiful mosque in European Union.
Bosniaks.Net: In which part of city is the land for the mosque?
Mufti Grabus: The location is in Bezigrad, between the streets Parmova and Kurilniska, some 300 to 400 meters away from the leading Slovenian daily, “Delo”. The location will make it possible for Ljubljana to become and look like a multi-religious city, and also for Muslims to become integrated in the city of Ljubljana.
Bosniaks.Net: What is the cost of this project?
Mufti Grabus: It is difficult to estimate as we are currently focusing on land purchase. My position was clear from the start. There is no mosque without a land. Only when we become land owners do we to the second stage, the call for tenders for the architectural project of a mosque in Ljubljana. I need to stress that on May 30, 2007, Mr. Zoran Jankovic, Mayor of Ljubljana, and I on behalf of the Islamic Community in Slovenia, signed a letter of intent to build an Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana. In that letter, the price of the land was listed at EUR 402,000 per square metre. That price was given by an official expert in pricing real estate, Mr. Rajko Srednik. The Municipal Council of Ljubljana adopted, at the end of June of 2008, the amended initial decision for providing services to the land for the mosque. The City of Ljubljana announced, on July 18, 2008, the sale of 11,364 square metres of the land for construction of mosque. The deadline for applications was July 28, 2008. The Meshihat had, in its session on July 14, 2008, brought forward a decision to have the Islamic Association apply to purchase the land once it is tendered for sale. By way of attorneys “Mirko Senica in advokati”, the Islamic Community had offered an amount of EUR 4,568,329.00 which was EUR 1 above the initial bidding price. It was done in a symbolic fashion as in majority of cities across the world land for religious buildings is being offered at a symbolic price. However, we have to pay for the land, there is no other choice. The price does not include taxes, nor municipal services. Islamic Cultural Centre, due to the costs, will have to be built in stages. Our duty was to buy the land. Only when we own that land can we talk, in real terms, about construction of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana. Major sponsors for building of the mosque will invest only when they are certain that we have the land and the necessary permits to build the Islamic Cultural Centre. We are aware that it will be difficult to buy the land but it is not impossible.
Bosniaks.Net: We were glad to note that, a few days ago, the esteemed Reisu-l-ulema, Mustafa ef. Ceric, as well as Mayor of Ljubljana, business and other leaders, attended the Sponsors’ iftar. A significant amount of money was collected. Please tell us about this event...
Mufti Grabus: We try to do as much as we can, within our local community. The story about a mosque in Ljubljana is so condensed - there were those who kept notes about promised donations - and according to elder members they were waiting for this opportunity to show their good heart and generosity. I have to admit that the Krajisniks led in donations. Mayor of Ljubljana, Mr. Zoran Jankovic, himself donated EUR 5,000 and Rijaset of the Islamic Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina donated EUR 50,000.
The rest were donations from members in Slovenia and Croatia. We expect that those who are still skeptical will join in the project.
Bosniaks.Net: Do you expect that Muslims who live outside of Slovenia, in the East and in the West, will contribute to the project?
Mufti Grabus: The project is prohibitive for our means, that is why there is this effort to buy the land at least. We have pledges for help in construction of the Islamic Cultural Centre but those pledges need to materialize. We will knock on more doors. We shall see.
Bosniaks.Net: Do you expect The Bosniak Diaspora to contribute?
Mufti Grabus: It would be good as the mosque in Ljubljana is an issue which had been raised by Bosniaks. However, I am aware of the fact that there are too many requests in BiH from the Bosniaks in Diaspora. On the other hand, Bosniaks throughout the world manage the issues of infrastructure for their religious and cultural needs. In the end, I am not sure about the importance of the Bosniak elite with respect to the importance of building an Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana. We expect assistance, but the Bosniak Diaspora has been worn out in the activities of the past fifteen years. Therefore, I especially wish o thank you, Esad, and the web magazine Bosnjaci.net for devoting this Ramadan to help the construction of a mosque in Ljubljana. In spite of various challenges, I am certain that we will have a significant assistance from the Bosniak Diaspora.
Bosniaks.Net: Have leaders outside of the Islamic Community of Bosniaks, such as Muftis, main Imams, and others, contacted you to offer their assistance?
Mufti Grabus: For the most part, friends have contacted us. I am not going to say anything that is great news when I say that we do not have a developed conscience about our collective responsibility with respect to strategic issues, nor do we have a refined sense of (understanding) the importance of certain projects. A moment, in politics, is of great importance. Now is the time for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ljubljana - it was not possible earlier, therefore it is important to take this opportunity. I wrote to the leaders in the Diaspora. All leaders from the Islamic Community of the Diaspora have expressed their readiness to assist us.
Bosniaks.Net: Given that Bosnjaci.net have devoted this Ramadan action to the purchase of the land for a mosque in Ljubljana, please tell us what is the simplest way to contribute funds from abroad?
Mufti Grabus: The funds may be sent by the following means -
Rijaset of the IA in BiH, 17 Zelenih Beretki, with a note “for mosque in Ljubljana”, to the bank account number 1602005500015065, with Vakuf Bank.
From other parts of the world:
Islamic Community in the Republic of Slovenia
Account: 0201 2025 7347 076
IBAN = SI56 0201 2025 7347 076, SWIFT = LJBASI2X
Bank: Nova Ljubljanska Banka, d.d.
Trg Republike 2
Bosniaks.Net: According to your estimates, how long will it take to build this historically important building?
Mufti Grabus: A this time we are focused on buying the land. We estimate that it could take between five and ten years to complete. However, we don’t know the plans of the Almighty.
Bosniaks.Net: We wish success to you and all members of the Islamic Community in Slovenia and, God willing, that we soon hear ezan from the Ljubljana Mosque!
Mufti Grabus: Amin! Thank you. I wish to thank you and the Editorial Board of Bosnjaci.net web magazine for your steadfast support of the Islamic Association in Slovenia. I pray to the Almighty to give you long life and joy.