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The Islamic community in BiH - Two decades of Raisu-l-ulama Dr. Mustafa CERIC
THE EUROPEAN MIND AND THE MUSLIM SPIRIT
BOSNIAN / BOSANSKI
What has been the reaction to the Declaration of European Muslims?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: We can talk about the reaction in three ways. How was it understood by Muslims? How was it received by non-Muslims? Have my expectations been fulfilled?
May be it is best to first answer this last question - my expectations were below the positive ratings about the Declaration. The idea was to put on paper that which I had been collecting for over five years. I wanted to express myself about issues facing Europe, Islam and Muslims in Europe, as well as the Muslim world. I have not envisaged it as a document to be adopted by an official body somewhere, but as just an idea which can be debated. According to the verbal and written reactions so far, especially after those horrid caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, a.s. in Denmark and Norway, I am pleased with the reception the Declaration has received. I think that I have succeeded in motivating Europe, its religious, political and diplomatic officials, to understand that Muslims, as well, live in Europe, that they have their rights and obligations, and that the question of the European Muslims is on the rise as one of the most important questions of the 21st century.
Muslims have understood the Declaration just like any other declaration which has appeared in the recent past. They were not particularly excited. There have been a number of declarations about Islam and Muslims published in the West and many have viewed this Declaration as one of many which is not going to substantially change anything - the West is going to continue with its story of “Islamic terrorism”, while Muslims will continue to think that the West is waging a Crusade against Muslims.
However, I wish to emphasize one of Muslims comments about the Declaration, given by Ambassador Akhbar Ahmad, Chair of Ibn Haldun for Islamic Studies in the United States, the author of a well known book “The Living Islam”, who has said about the Declaration:” This document has been long overdue...Islam has been facing many challenges since September 11...this Declaration shows that Islam has the capability, spirit and thought to come to grips with the current challenges...Declaration is more of a crie de Coeur (the call of a heart) rather than an academic thesis...(therefore) read it and recommend it to others to read it, talk about it and act in its name”.
As far as the non-Muslims are concerned, I have been pleasantly surprised by the role of Zagreb and Croatia. I think that the Declaration was met with the best and warmest reception by media and politicians. It appears as if the acceptance of Zagreb of the Declaration had been of influence so that others have started expressing interest in it. The attendance by great number of diplomats, secular and religious intellectuals at the promotion of the Declaration in the Zagreb Mosque was really impressive. As well, the opportunity for me to hand in the Declaration to the Archbishop of Zagreb, Msgr. Bozanic, and to President Mesic, shows that Zagreb has well understood the message of the Declaration. A comment by Milan Kucan, the former President of Slovenia also needs to be added here:” Declaration is a most timely document which ought to be welcome in discussions about the realities of Europe, about the intersection of paths and the dilemmas about the future of Europe, her identity as well as the values which she is true to...The formation and publishing of the Declaration of European Muslims certainly presents a great intellectual, cultural, political and spiritual challenge for all of Europe and Europeans. I understand it as a serious and responsible search of the contemporary ways of coexistence of varied cultures and traditions in Europe, so that we could not only minimize possible misunderstandings and conflicts, but assure a productive coexistence in the responsible community of Europeans. The proposal by Dr. Ceric, which comes out of an environment of hard challenges for the autochthonous European Muslims, is taken as an important contribution to the forming of a contemporary vision of Europe and her role in the ever more dependent, globalized, world. The proposal seems to me to be very important. I am certain that we would, sooner or later, arrive at a debate about the position and role of the large Muslim community in human relations, irrelevant of the current occurrences. Due to the state of the affairs in the aftermath of September 11, and in the wake of discontent and violence because of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, this proposal seems even more necessary”.
Following the presentation in Zagreb, the Declaration was presented at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo.
I am pleased. It has not missed its mark.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Muslims are tired and confused. In reality, it is about their mixed feelings of fear and anger. They are afraid due to the overbearing military and media forces with which they have been continually threatened ever since September 11 in New York, March 11 in Madrid and July 7 in London. And they are angry because of the injustice committed against them just because they are Muslims. Do not forget that 70% of exiles and refugees in the world are Muslims; almost all of the wars today are being waged in Muslim countries, where the majority of those killed are Muslims.
It seems that the Declaration cuts down the middle between those extremes and says: We regret what has happened but that is not the picture of Islam.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There does not yet exist in Islam the conscience of self-criticism as a means of testing a standpoint. For example, Tariq Ramadan has published his “declaration”, rather a moratorium of the death penalty. In reality, it has occurred to Tariq Ramadan that it is inappropriate to constantly present Islam in the form of a criminal law which calls for cutting off hand of a thief and those who escape ought to be killed. Islam is much higher and much wider than that perception. Islam is much more powerful and much more vital than to prove its might upon the criminal law of cutting off hands and killing of escapees. However, Tariq Ramadan’s proposal has not been accepted by Muslims. Neither the West wanted to understand him. The United States withheld an entry visa. To put it simply, Muslims were not prepared for such a radical turn-about, while the West has not been ready to accept a Muslim who thinks with his own head.
Declaration of European Muslims is meant to mobilise Muslims to seek their rights in Europe, but also requests of them to accept some things in Europe as their own. Muslims in Europe today are between these two premises - that which they need to accept and that which they need to offer to Europe. That is the goal of the Declaration - to motivate European Muslims to publicly testify to their loyalty to Europe, but also to their demands from Europe. It appears as if Muslims have yet to reach that level in order to understand the main message of the Declaration.
Muslims have to face Europe, but Europe also has to face Muslims. Regrettably, none of them are ready for that. Muslims in Europe often emphasize their presence in a mistaken way, while Europe still evades the fact of the presence of Muslims.
The political establishment of Europe and governments in Europe have not yet accepted Islam and Muslims as a matter of fact. Although many Europeans will say that they know that there exist European Muslims, that they are neighbours of theirs, I think that Europe still takes it that it is but a temporary issue, that Muslims are there but as temporary workers, that it is not yet such an important issue for Europe to take it seriously. I think that Europe is hugely mistaken as Muslims are in Europe and they are going to stay in Europe and that the sooner Europe comprehends that the better it will be for Europe, and, of course, for Muslims.
Is this the beginning of the institutionalisation of Islam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: For the time being this is but an idea which needs to be discussed and developed. I believe that institutionalisation of Islam is the proper path both for Europe and European Muslims. I take Europe as a complex organism within which all of the elements are correctly organised in a way which most beneficial to society. Therefore, institutionalisation of Islam in Europe means that Islam is being “organised” so as to be one of the important elements in the complex European society. In other words, institutionalisation of Islam means self-discipline of Muslims in fulfilling their obligations and discipline of Europe to respect the rights of Muslims.
Is it because Europe understands that terminology, because it is searching for someone to talk to, and that someone needs to be an institution?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Certainly, as institutionalisation means a lot of things. Among others is equality of Islam. Further, institutionalisation means that Muslims are free to educate its teachers, imams and khatibs, who will be able to respond to the demands of the multicultural, secular European society. Muslims in Europe do not have that freedom today. And third, Europe must accept the autochthonous European Muslims as her own, so that genocide will not be perpetrated upon us, Bosnian Muslims, as was the one in Srebrenica in 1995. We, the autochthonous European Muslims are here the hosts and not “European ghosts” as some would like to see us. We are capable of presenting ourselves as Muslims and also to present Europe as our home of peace and coexistence. We are also called upon to articulate Muslim interests in Europe as Muslim immigrants face problem which has been exploited by Europe, especially lately. It is not just about the rights or law but also about the psychological burden which follows Muslim migrants in Europe. I am satisfied that Europe offered refuge to many Muslims for the East but Europe has to comprehend that there are Muslims who have lived in Europe for centuries and who do not have the complex of a guest, but the honour of a host.
Are we talking about a civilisational ghettoisation in a way?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Europe simply can not accept that there are autochthonous Europeans who are Muslims! Islam is still taken as a kind of an interloper in Europe. That, regrettably, has frequently been given more and more emphasis in the way that Muslims are seen as newcomers from Asia or Africa who now demand equal rights enjoyed by Europeans - Christians, Catholics, Protestants, who have lived here for ages. The fact that Europe did not know or did not want to know that there exist autochthonous Muslims in Bosnia, so she allowed genocide to be committed against them in 1995, clearly speaks to the attitude of Europe toward the autochthonous European Muslims.
So it is upon us, the autochthonous Muslims of Europe, to engage in a struggle of life and death in preserving our Islamic identity in the European civilisational surrounding. Europe is, most certainly, being now tested as to her maturity so as to show the world what level morality and civilisation she stands upon before the Muslim question, especially before the question of the autochthonous Muslims who are still waiting to be clearly and unambiguously told that they will not be subjected to yet another ethnic cleansing and genocide the likes of the one in Bosnia.
Has that sacrifice, that genocide in BiH, which was perpetrated upon Muslims, awaken the European conscience to the fact that Muslims are here, in her house, in her backyard? Is that a part of God’s message with these people here?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It still is not clear what the term Europe means, but it is clear that that Europe, whatever the term means, wears a lot of historical sins around her neck a because of that she should not have allowed yet another sin, that of genocide upon Bosnian Muslims. No, God is not satisfied that genocide or holocaust is committed upon any peoples. There is a saying in our tradition:” Rulers can survive with atheism (kufr), but not with injustice (zulum)”.
Genocide in Bosnia is a challenge of Biblical proportions. Europe has behaved like a biblical pharaoh over Bosniaks as Israelites, who have perished in Srebrenica, but also survived in order to testify about their “pass over” (pesah) - the transition from the shores of death to the shores of salvation.
God has saved Musaa, a.s. (Moses) and his people so that he would then reveal to him, on the Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments as a message and a lesson for all the times and all the generations.
God has saved Bosnia so that he could remind Europe and world of the Ten Commandments which equally apply to all peoples in all times - do not kill an innocent being. Unfortunately, Europe has problems finding medication for her Turkish complex. Because of that Bosnian Muslims have paid the ultimate price with their blood. For over one century they have lived under the weight of the Turkish guilt. It is not easy.
That guilt has constantly been threaded in the fate of those people?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The Turkish guilt, which is historically and constantly present in Europe, has been most promoted by the Belgrade historiography, although it is not marginal in Croatia either. Luckily, there are people in Croatia who think differently, who are not burdened by the Turkish syndrome as much as the Serbian history has been. While not matching that of Serbia, the European history has also been burdened by the Turkish syndrome. Berlin, London and Paris are not obsessed with the Turkish historical phenomenon the way Belgrade is, but it does not take much to say that Turkey is still not welcome in the European Union. It is not difficult to conclude why it is so. Turkey is a Muslim country, although it is more secular than the United States.
So, when debating Turkey, Europe can not free herself from the prejudice and notion that Europe is exclusively a Christian continent.
If you keep that in mind then it will become clear why Europe evades opening the process of institutionalisation of Islam. I am convinced, however, that Europe has no choice but to accept it sooner or later. In a recent conversation with the Cardinal of Munich, he asked me what was understood under institutionalisation of Islam in Europe. My answer was that the subject is a complex one and therefore there is no simple answer. However, should we open that subject, I am sure that we are going to find the correct answer.
Muslims are aware that something needs to be done in organising Islam and Muslims in Europe. Europeans, also, feel that there has come a time to approach the questions about Islam and Muslims in a more serious and principled way. Unfortunately, Muslims are not yet well versed in presenting the problems facing them while Europeans are still hesitant whether Islam ought to be adopted as European property.
Just about every discussion about Islam ends with a debate about Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine. Muslims have no way but to accept that discourse although it is not their primary problem. Their problem is within Europe, not in Afghanistan or Nigeria. When, in 2003, the first conference of imams was organised in Graz, we wished to study our, Muslim, position in Europe. However, a problem of the Nigerian fatwa about a certain Amina, who bore a child out of wedlock, was forced upon us. We were requested to damn somebody or something based upon the views of the Western media which are largely biased and unreliable when it comes to Islam and Muslims. We have rejected to do that. In Europe we wish to speak about European-Muslim relationships issues, and they are numerous, and there is no time to take on other problems.
Certainly, European Muslims can be a bridge between the East and the West under the condition that in Europe there be developed the identity of Islam with European experiences from which the Islamic spirit and the European mind ought to emanate. European Muslims can not solve problems of others before solving their own. And one of their biggest problems in Europe is the tribal or ethnical presentation of Islam in which the universal Islam is not recognized. In Declaration I wanted to warn that that premise is untenable.
Muslims need to understand that Islam is above any nation, tribe or ethnic group. Islam can not be subsumed as a “low culture”. Islam does have elements of low culture, but the true meaning of Islam is in development of high culture which comprises universal values acceptable and applicable at all times and in all places, including in Europe.
I think that Europe and the West in general, is a good place to develop universal Islam which can not achieve its full expression due to the nationalism which brought grief to the world of Islam. Many Muslims discover the beauty of the universal Islam once they are in the West, as it is there that they come into contact with the interesting phenomenon within the Muslim cultural diversity brought together by the exalted idea of Islam. Unfortunately, Muslims have limited knowledge of the European history in order to see that the highest European values of freedoms and human rights are not only compatible with Islam, but that they flow from an Islamic well. The idea that there be no coercion in religion is an original idea from the Noble Qur’an; idea that every being has inalienable right to life, religion, freedom, possessions and honour is the original idea of the Prophet Muhammad, a.s.
How is that possible, if someone has lived for 40 or 50 years in the West, where their children have been born, attended schools...?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Muslims in Europe have no institutionalised protection, including legal. They are often subjects to arbitrariness of individuals or groups who abuse their (Muslims) condition for their ideological or political goals. There does not exist universal, global institution to take care of Muslims in the sense of offering them suggestions so as to comport themselves properly in the global community, or around global issues. Muslims act more along their instincts and the sense of ethnic or national affiliation. Islam is, certainly, the strongest lever to help them find the meaning of life and not get lost in a society as complex as the Western one. Although they come from the village milieus with the habits of culture of patriarchy, great number of Muslims in the West manage to complete high education and obtain jobs in schools, universities, hospitals etc. A great number of Muslim elite live and work in the West. Those are intellectuals, physicians, professors, who are at the top of lists of experts, especially in medicine. Muslims in the United States represent the greatest number of surgeons.
How do you rate Islam in Europe spiritually? What level is it at? What grade could it be given?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is interesting to note an observation by Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt. When I told him that the world today can not be divided in a so-called zone of Islam and a zone of “Non-Islam” or war, as there is a middle way called “the social agreement”, he responded:” It is no loner possible to divide the world into “the home of Islam” and “the home of war” as today there are a lot of non-believers who live in the zone of Islamic world while, on the other hand, there are a lot of believers - Muslims who live in the zone of the West which, in this classical division could be called “the zone of war”. I leave it up to you to, based upon this statement, to arrive at your conclusion as to what level the Muslims who live in Europe today are.
The key in the Declaration is exactly what you are talking about: Turning away from jihad (war) and hijrah (move), so as to seek the social agreement and to open a new path that way. Is that possible to achieve?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: One can not talk about the possible paths in history until you make the first step. In order to embark down a path one needs to take that first step. I do not wish to overestimate the role of the Declaration or to bring forward some great prophecies, but I am pleased that the Declaration is being talked bout. Our goal is for the Muslims in Europe to become equals, and for Europe to understand that it is not a one-religion continent, for Islam to be naturalised on the European continent and that Muslims do not get exiled from Europe again.
I believe that reasons for hijrah (move) for the European Muslims will disappear and together with them the need for jihad (struggle) for staying and surviving. Unfortunately, the European history is not too optimistic in that Jews had to leave Europe in the end. We, in Bosnia, were subjected to that which we had to live through - concentration camps and genocide - before the eyes of the whole Europe. That has taken too long. Europe was merciless. Whether the United States will be more sensitive to those problems remains to be seen, however, I wish to believe in the young generation, in Muslim Europeans who have been born here, in the third and fourth generation which will fuse the European mind and the Islamic spirit. I believe that to be the overriding demand for the Muslims in 21st century. If Muslims succeed in creating that fusion, if they connect the European rational mind with the Muslim spiritual body, then we will have resolved a lot.
Muslims need to admit that today they are inferior in relation to the intellectual and scientific achievements of Europe. On the other hand, Europe is much too tired of rationalism. She now needs a spiritual stimulus in order to survive the undesirable consequences of dry rationalism. It is not that Europe now necessarily needs the Islamic spirituality, as she is too opinionated and self-congratulatory to be able to feel that need. Just as Muslims do not feel the need for European intellectualism, as for the time being they find that Islamic spirituality suffices.
Muslims are satisfied in consuming that which is created by European minds. Yet, Europe will inevitably face a strong spiritual revolution which will be deeper and wider than the intellectual revolutions known as humanism and renaissance. As it was then, Islam is again going to have an important influence in “spiritual enlightenment” of Europe and the West in general.
Whatever could have been spent has, indeed, been spent in terms of rationally explaining the world. What has been left are the spiritual supplies which have been saved mostly by Muslims, be it intentionally or not - but they have saved those supplies the same as they had in bygone eras guarded and saved the European intellectual supplies which Europe herself threw into garbage. The fact that the most read book in the West is “The Da Vinci Code” speaks that people are searching for something higher, something which is outside and above them, something upon which Islam today insists the most.
History knows those eras in which humans searched for “something higher”. Am I going to go too far in saying, as many have, that from time to time one can feel the schizoid atmosphere of prejudice against Muslims, which was felt by Jews in the thirties of the previous century?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I am not inclined to make such comparisons as the circumstances are different from those in the thirties. Europe has travelled a certain distance and can not return to the conditions of those years. Europe has learned a lot. You can think whatever you want about Europe. That she is facetious. That she is cruel and unjust. That she was created in blood and with fire. You can also say that she is immoral, but there is an indisputable fact and that is that Europe is an experiment of the human history, which has created a path from slavery to freedom, from mythology to science, from the power of law of the so called Theory of State of Plato, Aristotle, Al-Farabi, Thomas Moore, all the way to the legitimacy of the state, or what we refer to as democracy. So, Europe is an enigma in human history. Let us not forget - Europe gave birth to the United States, regardless of the fact that the United States are what they are - a superpower. But Europe gave birth to it. America is, as Jewish writer Stanford J. Shaw says in his book “Turkey and the Holocaust”: “Took over the role of the Ottoman Empire in protecting the minorities”. Of course, Shaw talks about Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492 and found refuge here in Sarajevo. He speaks from the position of his Jewish experience in relation to Europe.
Now Muslims find themselves in that “European grindstone”. The question, therefore, is - what should Muslims do?
You claim that it is possible to truly live Islam and also be a good European?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Of course! An important question is whether Muslims today are in the position in which Jews were and whether the history will repeat itself upon them as with what was done to Jews. I think that is a key question for Europe and Muslims. History repeats itself, most often in the worst form. Europe is always threatened by fascism, anti-Semitism and racism. Islam-phobia is present in Europe today and one can not exclude that they will not be subjected to something similar to what was done to Jews, albeit due to different reasons. The circumstances are different. It depends on how the world will organize itself in this 21st century. I take it that this century is a key in relations between Muslim world and the West. USSR used to be a kind of a tampon zone between the Muslim world and the West. That wall has been brought down. Muslims and the West are now face-to-face. Unfortunately, neither is a match for the challenges of a dialogue, as a condition of all conditions for global peace and security. At this time Muslims, Christians and Jews have in their hands such destructive power that they can annihilate the globe. In a situation like that dialogue is not an expression of the power of arguments but power is the expression of arguments.
The West feels superior and takes it that Muslims must accept that to be the real state of affairs, the way most of the rest of the world accepts it. The West does not understand Muslim protests. It does not understand why some Muslims refuse to adapt to the Western lifestyle. On the other hand, Muslims think that, one day, the West will understand Islam and accept it as its religion. Muslims feel that they have been deprived of truth and that injustice is being done to them and therefore they have no faith in international institutions which are dominated by the Western influences.
Nothing can justify the killing of the innocent children and women in Lebanon, nor can human heart endure the spilling of the innocent blood in the Holy Land - Palestine. Iraq has become a nightmare. Sadly, Muslims are protesting in a wrong way. Instead of wisdom we see violence. Instead of dialogue we see destruction. We see Muslims killing one another. If there is no tolerance among Muslims there will be none on the outside. Now it is clear even to the people in the West that dividing Muslims is not in anybody’s interest. It is evident that the today’s generation of Muslims is too tired and choked and can not see certain signs which are being offered in order to be able to open those doors in the West. The West, on the other hand, is too arrogant as to wait for the smoke enveloping Muslims to clear. We all are now in that smoke.
I have confidence and I feel that the next generation of Muslims is going to be the one to really understand what has really happened and set the relations upon a different basis.
Islam-phobia is constantly feeding upon new insanity. Today we read about the “white Muslims” being recruited into terrorists in these very regions as the dark skinned ones are too obvious.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I have recently given a lecture at the International University in Sarajevo, where there are a number of students from Turkey in attendance. I spoke about re-Islamisation as in re-integration of Muslims in the world, and not as isolationism. A Hungarian reporter asked me:” Can Bosnian Muslims lead the European Muslims into integrating in Europe”? While I have not thought about that before, I answered:” We can, unless they kill us beforehand! That is, what the real context of the “white Muslims is”.
Europe, Belgrade, Zagreb, Budapest or others need to know that there had not been a single incident following Dayton. Even Condoleezza Rice admitted that at the tenth anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. And now, after all of that, we, “the white Muslims”, are being put into the context of al-Qaida, terrorism, and everything else that goes with it. Who is cooking this up? The very those who had perpetrated genocide in Srebrenica! The very ones who had erected concentration camps in Herzegovina! The very ones who had raped 20,000 women! The very ones who had prevented the screening of the film “Grbavica”!
All of that is related to the debate about changes to the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Whenever there is a drive to establish a normal Bosnian state a phobia of “the white Muslims” is being spread. Certainly, Bosnian Muslims are the obstacle to dividing Bosnia. They are the obstacle to accepting the results of ethnic cleansing. They demand that in Busovaca be a multicultural school. After all that we had lived through, the Bosnian Muslims are still the only problem?!
Look at the paradox with which we live - following Srebrenica, following that the Dutch military had not defended the very people who were under the protection of the United Nations when everybody knew what the Serbs were preparing, after all of that, what do we have? We, who have lived through that, as Muslims must overcome our fears and continue to have confidence in that military (be it Christian, non-Christian or whatever) and those people? We are not trusted as we could take revenge. Muslims must, without question, have confidence in those who had committed genocide?! That is the world we live in. Those are, therefore “the white terrorists” which could, somehow, endanger Europe! What kind of Europe is then Europe? And which is that Europe that we must believe in?!
The civilisation of fear, which lives in continuous reheating of its own fear.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: That is the way to homogenize peoples, but that is a sign of weakness.
Let us go back to your claims that it is possible to live true Islam and also be a good citizen of Europe. How?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is simple. Muslims are not moving westward. They come to Europe, the West, with a suitcase and manage to find a job, a place to live. And they want to stay here, they bring up their families. Further, they strengthen their Islamic identity. I have seen that many Muslims have become aware of their identity because they came to the United States, and more so than their colleagues in some countries which are majority Muslim. Many Muslims do lose footing and get assimilated and simply forget that they are Muslims. Also, Christians from Europe had gone in the past to Muslim world in search of intellectual freedom. And they would find it. Christian intellectuals went to Baghdad, Cordoba, and Granada, where they would find libraries, teach in schools. One of them was Dante Alighieri, who in Andalusia, Spain, came upon the idea of writing his “Divine Comedy”. That was the way it was in the old times.
The situation has reversed itself today. Now Muslims go to West seeking intellectual freedoms and a space where they can prove themselves. That is civilisation which lasts, and which gives an opportunity to all who can and are able, to take part in the establishing and maintenance of it. That was the way with the Islamic civilisation - it was established jointly by Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. That is now the way with the Western civilisation. And that is the way it will be until the West start to become introvert. I am concerned that has started to happen. The West has started shrinking into the narrow circle of its culture and civilisation. That is the first sign of the weakness of Europe, who has started to close the door before Turkey as she is afraid of a different culture. She is afraid of a different way of life. And when a civilisation enters a state of phobia, when it starts to doubt itself and others, then it denotes the beginning of its end.
I can not fathom that the West would fall into the trap of fear of terrorism the way the terrorists themselves have set it up. It is obvious that the West is not as powerful as has been believed. It is not capable of defeating fear which it propagates, whether consciously or not. What should we, in Bosnia do, after everything that was done to us? What should the women of Srebrenica do?
In its interpretation of itself Europe speaks of itself as of a Christian continent, of Christian roots, although it is unambiguous that Islam has participated in her development?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Just the need to speak about Europe as being a Christian continent speaks that it is not so. For, if it were so, one would not need to talk about it! That means that Europe is uncertain of her identity and it is necessary for her to emphasize that and say that just by saying so she is less than what she is. By the same token, there are a number of countries in the world which are called Islamic countries. Why are they called Islamic countries? It is because they are not. I always call for studying of the classical works of great Muslim authors, in which you will not find a title with an Islamic attribute. They speak bout mind, about faith, about introduction to history, such as Ibn Haldan, yet we know that it comes from the Islamic experience. Conversely, when in the West, great thinkers the likes of Kant, Hegel, Descartes, do not write a single thesis with a Christian prefix. But when you start to read them, you find that all which has been built into their works is their Christian experience.
Therefore I will be happy as a Muslim if in my life I see that Muslims have no more need to explain to anybody that they are Muslims but that their work will be recognized because it comes from Muslims.
Do Muslims with their lifestyle, present the adequate quality of their religion?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: No, they do not and it is one of the key points in the Declaration. There is something which is evident and that is the state of cultural insecurity, such as was the predicament of Muslims in the past two centuries. There exists a miracle, or an enigma in the Muslim history in that at the beginning of the 7th century, form a perspective of a Bedouin conscience and world, the idea of Islam is being developed, which in a relatively short span of time manages to defeat two civilisations, manages to absorb them. It manages to conquer territories in such a short time that is without a precedent in historical terms. Now, when historians study that, they can not rationally explain it. Of course, we, Muslims, explain it as being the will of God, but rationally and historically it is difficult to explain it.
Another enigma in the history of Muslims is that this civilisation, which has been an inspiration for the whole world in development of science, mechanics, technology, has preserved the intellectual heritage of Europe in Baghdad, Cordoba, Grenada, that it had been, in the 17th and especially in 18th century, completely disconnected from the mainstream of history.
Muslims had, all of a sudden, lost their political, economic and scientific power and simply been thrown on the margins of history.
In 18th century, three great powers, Great Britain, France and Italy controlled 85% of the world. The most part of that world was inhabited by Muslims. From Africa, Asia, India and Indian subcontinent, to the Middle East and the Balkans. From 18th century, as well as now, Muslims have struggled to return into the mainstream of history. It has been two centuries of Muslim struggle to attract attention to themselves and to engage in the global events and achieve a point of influence. Over the past two centuries they have been the object of the events rather than the subjects of history. Of course, during those times, the British had not stayed in Egypt and India, the French had not stayed in Algiers, the Italians had to leave Libya, there is the Palestinian problem in the Middle East, in the Balkans we have what we have, and there are no more Muslims in Spain, etc.
In their struggle to return into history, Muslims have been offered two approaches - either secularisation or Islamisation. Turkey has, together with Tunis and others, chosen the path of secularisation while having, from time to time, sporadic attempts at Islamisation of Muslims, or return to Islam, in other words re-Islamisation.
Muslims today live with that experience of secularisation, which is not their original product. Attempts have been to transplant it as a European experience - as it is so - and in two aspects, metaphysical and political. Metaphysical aspect was to offer Muslims to live in this world as if there is no God, as that is the main thesis of secularism, and in political sense it meant separation of so called institution of church from the institution of state. Muslims have never accepted metaphysical secularism, while they have somewhat adopted this political secularism and now we can say that that secularism in Muslim world has eventually failed. It did not pass.
Muslims find themselves now in the process of re-Islamisation. The key question for Muslims is: what path will that Islamisation take? Is it going toward isolation, rather creation of a so called Islamic zone, where they will isolate and have something like their Islamic civilisation, or will it take the path of integration with the world, the West, the East, the North, and the South? At this time I estimate that the forces of integration in the Muslim world are still weak and there is not enough of the intellectual critical mass which can turn Muslims toward that integrative aspect. There exists the silent majority as well as minority, which offer Muslims isolation. What the result of this competition among Muslims will be nobody can predict. I can only wish and call Muslims not to fall into isolation.
Is that wishing for isolation not, really, the realisation of the ancient dream of pan-Slavic state - hilafet - which is sufficient to itself?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The institution of hilafet is far from reality. That idea exists among many Muslims, but the way the things are the institution of hilafet will not materialize any time soon. I would not say never, but certainly it will not be for a long time.
In Declaration you have defined which groups of Muslims live in Europe. But how to define their habits, standards, needs for life, rather all that is necessary for them to be recognized?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Habits, needs and life expectations of the Muslims who live here, especially of the third generation, which has been born in Europe, do not differ much from other Europeans in Europe. Their habits are easily recognized: school, career, good job, good pay, having a nice home, nice car, taking care of family. Certainly, it includes belonging to their community. Their expectations are to live freely, to live in freedom, to be protected by the state they live in, to materialise some of their personal ideals. Yet there is one difference with respect to Muslims in Europe, as by definition they still are not equal to all European citizens, and I have mentioned this once before, that it is my ambition and legitimate wish that I take it as normal that one day a Muslim becomes Minister of Foreign Affairs of the European Union. I am not saying that he/she needs to be Minister of Foreign Affairs of the European Union such as Javier Solana, because of being Muslim, but I am saying that he/she should not be prevented from being Minister because he/she is Muslim. That is a big difference! However, Europe is still far away from accepting that a Muslim is a Minister of important things, as opposed to Minister for Floral Arrangements just so that he/she would be produced when a foreign delegation visits.
When Europe reaches that level then it will be a completely different Europe from the one today. But we also have a Muslim problem as I think that Muslims have no such ambitions to reach such a goal as they believe it is beyond reach.
The future of Europe, given the speed of progress, is excellent if she can improve herself in the sense of developing to be open. Such Europe will be much more secure. In the times of Khalifa Abdurrahman III, who ruled for 50 years in Spain, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a Jew. This, of course, is a message to Muslims throughout the world that something like that was possible. Conversely, Europe has not recognised that fact. Those Muslims who follow developments say that, because of that, Muslims have been exiled from Spain, since their Minister was a Jew (laughter).
You have once said that you had found yourself in the position to have moral duty to explain Islam to Europeans, as your personal loyalty to the religion, but also at the same time a patriotic duty to explain Europe to Muslims within the borders of your own national capability?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I was in a Muslim country and debate was about a problem with respect to that country and I was asked to support a complaint against the West with respect to that country, as it was about Islam. It was expected of me, as a Muslim, to show patriotism and love for that country, which ought to be shown just for the fact that one is a guest. Then I posed a question:” What bigger right do you have than I do, to use Islam for your patriotism?
Why do I, as a European, should not use the same right for my European patriotism? Why should I as a European attack the place where I live? I am free to criticise and point to many phenomena, but we should not generalise as you need to know that I come from that Europe and I have to return to that Europe”.
I, as a European, have feelings and right to show my European patriotism. Of course, I do not know why God has not sent a single Messenger to Europe. Not a single Messenger is European. Maybe it is because we are so good that we do not need God’s Messengers, or maybe God’s Messengers can not help us at all. I do not know the reason.
We have borrowed everything from the East. We, Europeans, ought to be aware of that and exactly because of that we need to accept the equality that sun raises in the East and that it warms us up equally. All the religions have been created in the East and they all warm us up equally! My grandfathers and great-grandfathers had adopted Islam, I am their great-grandson and I am proud of that. Some of our neighbours had been offered something else, Christianity, Judaism, and they had adopted that. They are, certainly, proud of that and enjoy it. And if we, Europeans, comprehend that then it will be easier for all. If we put it in our heads that that some of us need to be superior related to others then we are standing at the beginning of our end.
Recently I read Al-Ghazalia who said that every being who thinks that he/she is better than the other is vane and arrogant as, he says, if you see one younger than yourself say that he/she is better as he/she has not sinned as much as I have. If he/she is older than you, say that he/she has prayed more, and went to mosque more. If you meet an educated person, say he/she is better than I am as God has given him education. If you meet an ignorant say that he/she is better than you as he/she makes mistakes because of ignorance while I sin while having knowledge. Therefore, the penalty for me is greater than for him/her.
Where have you been born, into what family? How was your youth?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I was born into a humble Muslim family by the name Ceric, in a small village of Veliko Cajno, near Gracanica. There is also Malo Cajno which is an even smaller village.
That is the only Ceric family. I know about my grandfather, uncle, my father - there are no more Cerics in that ;place which means that my grandfather - and I have not researched it in detail - probably came from around Visoko in Veliko Cajno on some business. The Ceric roots come from the vicinity of Prijedor or Bosanska Dubica, in Krajina. I don’t know if the theory can be confirmed but the root of my surname comes from the root of the word “asker”, or soldier, so my interpretation is that “cer” once was “ćer”, as in Turkish soldier “janićer” or “janičar” as we here say it. I find an indication that it could be so in the book “Bosnian Captains” by Sabanovic, who states that one of the Captains in Bosanska Dubica and Krajina was Ceric. That would mean that it was a family of military personnel, but I would need to research it further to find out if that is so.
While I was born in the vicinity of Visoko, there was no talk about the Visoko pyramids, but today there is.
My mother comes from Zupce near Breza, from the Abdukic family. I do not remember my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side as they died before my birth, but I know that my grandfather Huso was a trader. His only son, Mustafa, my uncle, completed the Shariah high school and I was named after him. In Visoko he was known as kadija. The Shariah high school was then the elite most school between the two wars. My uncle had an important role in the society although he never was a member of the (Communist) Party, but given his capabilities he was Director of Health Centre in Visoko for a long time. My cousin, Sadza, now lives in Zagreb. That family had a preference for Zagreb.
I have four sisters and one brother. Our father was a miner, he worked in the mine in Gorusa. We lived a humble life and when I finished the elementary school my father sent me into the Gazi Husrev-beg madrassa, which in those days was the only private school outside of the regimen of other schools in Yugoslavia. Therefore, I had no medical coverage, no student benefits that others did. I finished madrassa in 1972 and went to Cairo in 1974, where I graduated in 1978, etc.
Have you been in the Pioniri, the youth organisations? Did you participate in work collectives?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I do not remember the days of the Pioniri. Maybe it is because my mother sent me to school earlier. In those days we started school at the age of seven, while I started at the age of six. AS there were six of us she said that she wanted to free herself from us so she sent me to school earlier. Because of that I finished the elementary school early, but with difficulties. We had a lot of teachers from Montenegro. I would often elope and hide in the mosque. I did not feel any love toward that school but toward what I was going to became later on, preacher, imam. So, I completed the elementary school with mid-grades.
When I first applied in madrassa, I failed the entry examination, so I took a pause of a year as was ahead already, and in that year I took private classes. I studied, in particular, with Dzemal Salispahic, who now is the director of the madrassa in Visoko. When, the following year, I took the entry examination again, I failed again. However, since I had by then mastered the technique of teaching Qur’an, then Raisu-l-ulama had introduced a workshop for preachers and imams as many who would complete the madrassa did not want to be preachers but went into other professions. Because of that we had a lack of preachers and their position was very difficult. They did not have guaranteed wages or other benefits that others had. That workshop lasted eight months and in that time one would become a preacher. That eight-month course was taken as the first year of the Gazi Husrev-beg madrassa, which then was the only madrassa with a five-year curriculum. So I then started in the second year of madrassa and completed studies with honours and so I did not have to take the final exam. There were six of us that year who had achieved that. We were the “striker generation” as we demanded the introduction of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology as our madrassa only offered religious subjects. There was very little history, some biology, and we found that disturbing as we were lacking a lot of information which our colleagues in other schools had.
Of course, nothing came of our strike as they closed the madrassa and we were sent home. We had to reapply in order to proceed with the studies. Following madrassa, I discharged my compulsory military service duties.
Where did you serve?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I started in Brcko for the first four months and then was relocated. I can not remember the name of a Colonel, I think he was a Croat and he knew the meaning of school more than others. He liked me and when the time came for relocation, he said:” You area going to Sarajevo”. So I joined the “Titova kasarna” barracks in Sarajevo and spent the rest of the service time in the quartermaster unit. I was a courier, I delivered mail, and as most of the personnel in the quartermaster unit were marginally literate or illiterate, we, who had completed madrassa, had the role of delivering “political courses” in the sense of explaining what was said in the newspapers yesterday. I carried the mail and worked in a command centre where I brewed coffee for the officers and operated a cash register. I would buy coffee in the market and charge them a few Dinars. I do not carry and special memories, nor do I have the dates of my arrival and final departure.
How was your first day in your work?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I entered that profession as a child, so to speak. I am not sure that I could have according to some criteria in the Shariah, as I was not even fifteen years of age when for the first time I prayed a teravih prayer for a man in the village of Vjesolici. The preacher who taught me in my mosque in Gracanica, in Lozinak, was a certain Osman ef. Kaplan, who, literally speaking was illiterate - he could neither read nor write in Bosnian, or Latin alphabet. But he knew Qur’an. He was a trader and he served in that mosque and I took religious classes from him. He was a nice, gentle man. He wore the old Bosnian dim-pants and always wore a fez. He did not use a tie. He was handsome, proper and clean. I would say that he was a good teacher and he transferred all of his knowledge unto us. As I was good at teaching Qur’an and had strong voice, he noticed me early. He had a friend who also was a trader, who wanted to have his imam, or teravih-imam, during the month of Ramadan in his own house. As mosque way quite far away, he wanted to have everything done in house.
I was recommended by ef. Kaplan just at the time I took a one-year pause at school. Those were my first experiences as imam, preacher, and they have remained deep in my memory. I still remember everything very well. Luckily for me, neither that person was well schooled so he could not notice the mistakes which I had probably made. But he was satisfied that I had a good voice and that I met his criteria. He was very proper and when later on I returned from my studies, Osman ef. Kaplan would say to his colleagues:” I used to be his preacher”. Those are the things which you can not share, which I have not experienced in America or Europe. You can only experience it at home, in Bosnia.
How was your experience in Chicago where you were imam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I had completed the studies at Al-Azhar in Cairo and worked as imam in Gracanica but still I had gone to America completely unprepared. About America I knew that it was a large country populated by enemies of Yugoslavia, which was very important in our definitions of the inside and the outside enemies. I knew that there were Ustasha, Chetniks, Balists and members of the Handzar-Division living in America.
I had noi knowledge of English, I took my family with me as I was told that I must go into a completely unknown ambience, I was as lost as lost could be.
When I arrived I was sent to take English courses in the South Side of Chicago, then I was taken to the University where I could not say what I was looking for there, but I had a translator who spoke for me. I enrolled in the class of Professor Fazlur Rahman at the Institute for Oriental and Middle East Languages and Civilizations. Four years later I received a diploma of Doctor of Islamic Studies. In the meantime, America has opened up to me as a miracle. In addition to English, French, German and Arabic, I also took Turkish which was taught by a certain Robert Dankoff, a Jew, to whim I am endlessly grateful.
In Bosnia we are frequently insulted calling us “Turks”, yet a Jew taught me Turkish. I did not know a single word in Turkish before, but now I could translate the works of Turkish writers and poets, such as Kemal Jasar. I delivered my PhD thesis on a Monday and the next Wednesday I was already in Zagreb. I ran away from America although I had an offer to stay with the university as a junior and later on take over from Professor Fazlur Rahman but I knew if I had stayed another day in Chicago tere would not be a chance of ne returning.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: With all due respect to my heritage and my love toward Islam and the studies at the great Al-Azhar, the most beautiful and most productive part of my life was those five years spent in America. That country is an unbelievable phenomenon, a laboratory of life, where nothing is resolved, everything is questionable and everything must be proven I believe that Allah decides on everything, and so the existence of America as such and I think that she is the utmost which a human mind could produce as a free ambiance within which an individual can fully prove himself/herself. Even today I can still remember the feeling when, for the first time, I sat at an old Macintosh in Chicago and realised that nobody was going to ask me why I had written something and that there will be not political commission debating my texts. That was the moment when I freed myself from self-censorship.
The feeling of freedom is among the most beautiful memories one can bring from America. My two children were born there and they hold the U.S. citizenship. So, I experience America and Chicago in particular, as that which I would wish for all Muslims to have. I say this without any calculations or need to prove something about Americans, but America has taught me to be a free man, to stand up for my rights, to see the world farther and higher. In America I came to understand the values of universality of Islam as I could substantially deeper and more accurate see the Islamic world in all its diversity than I could from the perspective of Cairo.
I am grateful to that country and feel indebted to her in a way. Because of that I have both spontaneously and thoughtfully experienced the attack on New York in a special way.
Are you a Hafiz? What kind of people are they?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: In the old, classical times, nobody could seriously get involved in Islamic studies unless he was a Hafiz (Guardian). During the course of studies at Al-Azhar, one of the conditions for the Egyptians was that, during the four years of study, they would have to learn Qur’an by heart. That is taken as a norm. Those people in Egypt are not called Hafiz, as in Bosnia, to be specially recognised. All of those who come to us from Egypt, for instance for Ramadan, they are Hafiz. We would call someone Hafiz because now is not the way it used to be. I am not Hafiz in the sense that I demonstrated before my professor that I have learnt the whole Qur’an by heart.
The foreigners at Al-Azhar only had to learn a third of Qur’an by heart. Of course, if you were more studious, you could learn half of it by heart. But we were not asked to learn all of Qur’an as it was taken that if you knew a third of Qur’an it would satisfy the needs that we would not digress from the Right Way. The most important was that we could read and interpret, that we knew Arabic, etc.
When I returned from Cairo, as an imam in Gracanica from 1978 to 1981 I had an urge to teach. I would go to Sarajevo, to Hafiz Kamil Silajdzic, and I worked through a lot with him. But then I went to Cairo and then to Chicago. But I kept what I had learned from him and even today I know a lot and am able to recognise, when someone is quoting from Qur’an, whether it is a Qur’an text or not. But I am not Hafiz. My deputy is, and when I do not know something I ask him.
Is your “head in Qur’an”? Do you think during the day in terms of Qur’an aayat (verse), in ordinary situations?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: This is a good question. I want to believe that my whole life has been in the light of Qur’an. Whether that light always shines upon me and whether I am always worthy of that light of Qur’an is something which I can not judge, but in key issues, on borderline questions, certainly Qur’an is the source of my arriving at a decision and judgement.
There are situations which do not pertain to Qur’an, which could, perhaps, be brought into connection with Qur’an, but they occur when walking and sometimes I do not have the time or am not able to verify whether that is from Qur’an. But for as long as I have known myself, from the year fifteen and on, I feel that I live with Qur’an. You know that every year, during Ramadan, Qur’an is being studied from the beginning to the end. That is renewed every year. When I was imam in Gracanica and had fewer obligations than I do today, I could study Qur’an more. My current obligations often deprive me of that allure to study Qur’an.
It would make me unhappy if I could not study or read Qur’an and understand it directly. We probably cause it that certain things become dear and beautiful to us and we develop that, but I could not imagine my life without Qur’an. It is such a dependency that it is difficult to imagine that I could one day be without Qur’an. If nothing else, then at least let me see it, and read something from it.
We take prayers five times a day and every time we learn something from Qur’an. So, Qur’an is an intricate part of our lives.
Which part is the dearest to you?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is a blasphemy to grade Qur’an as to which aayat is better and which is weaker. But there exist some aayats of more recognition. It depends on when you heard it, in what situation, what psychological state you were in when you heard it, etc. I recently went to Madison, to the University of Wisconsin where an American Muslim sent something brilliant - he emphasised ten aayats from Qur’an which speak about Moses, Isaa, and Israelites and so on. When you read that, and if you don’t know what it is, you would think that it was Old Testament or New Testament. He would run that DVD with ten aayats and ask the people to tell what they thought it was.
So, when I was in Madison, at the Lubar Institute, where there were a lot of professors and students, I asked that they bring that DVD and then asked them to tell me where the text came from. Of course, many said that it came from either Old or New Testament and when they were finished, I told them:” You see, all these quotations are excerpts from Qur’an. You read what I read!” So, if you ask me then I will say that I like to read what others are reading, what Christians and Jews are reading. That is, essentially, the so called hiero-history, or rapprochement of those who had determined our psychological and every other state. They are Adem/Adam, Nuh/Noa...
What does Qur’an say about enemies? Or about friends?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Qur’an often says: he is not the same who see and the one who can not see, darkness and light are not the same, etc.
There is an aayat which says: good and evil are not the same, if someone perpetrates evil upon you, you return it with goodness.
Or this one: As in that way you will see that he who was yesterday your bitter enemy will become today your staunchest ally.
As Al-Ghazali, who wrote “The Jewels from Qur’an”, calls those jewels from the depth.
Some people do not want to swim in deep water. They stay in the shallows, hit the rocks, or a sea urchin. But when you go into the deep then you can find jewels.
There is another category, which says that Satan is the greatest enemy and that friends of Satan are your enemies. Therefore, friends of your enemies are also your enemies.
I asked this also because the Americans have started, en masse, to read Qur’an after the September 11 attacks hoping to decipher within the causes of terrorist attacks.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: One can find what one wants in all holy books, including Qur’an. If one wants to find a text which will justify enmity toward somebody whom one has already classified as an enemy, one will find that in Qur’an as well. If one wants to seek friends one can find it in Qur’an as well. It is a matter of interpretation. Unfortunately, if Americans search for something in Qur’an as you say it, they will find that as well. They will find that Qur’an has motivated those people to do it. I, on the other hand, can find a lot more aayats which answer that one could not find such a motivation in it. It all depends upon what one wants.
There is a rule - if one wants to have an enemy, one can have it in a second. But, if one wants to have a friend, it takes more effort and patience. This is where the confidence broke and the moment that confidence is broken those who are on opposite sides look for arguments. One does not have to look for them in Qur’an, one can look for them wherever. Still, I do not agree with that approach as it is malevolent. If a Christian transgresses, or a Jew, Muslims are not going to act like that - at least for the time being and I hope it stays that way - because they have great respect for Moses, Jesus, Mohammed a.s., as well as for all of God’s Messengers.
Regardless of the fact that we put Qur’an before the Old and New Testament, for us those are the published books. We, Muslims, because of our religious reasons can not say that if someone does something to us that Moses or Jesus are responsible for that. Jesus is not responsible for genocide in Srebrenica! He is not responsible for concentration camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We can not say that if a Muslim transgresses then Qur’an, or Mohammad a.s., or Islam is responsible for that. I have tried to explain that to some and some have understood it and some have not.
Terrorists of any colour - although now when one mentions a Muslim they think about three things, he has oil, or pyramids, or explosives - do want that they be called Islamic terrorists as in that way they identify themselves with a billon and five hundred million people.
Why is it called Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism while Hitler has not been called a Christian fundamentalist?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is because, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims. I do not want to finger Christians or others at this time, but it is evident that Islam, due to what it is being called in such a way, as well as Mohammad a.s., is a value and a challenge to that. For when one is not powerful, when one has no arguments, one reaches for labels. Then it is easy to say that they such because their religion, Islam, is such. Or Qur’an, or Mohammad a.s., it really does not matter.
Europe and the West in general are just looking at the political side of Islam and they do not see anything else. They are, simply, blind. They do not wish to see the cultural face of Islam, the spiritual face of Islam, or the economic face of Islam. For the West, there exists but the political face of Islam.
Muslims are not well versed in the political waters and therefore they counter the political questions with theological arguments which, in and of itself can not be bridged and no resolution can be arrived at in that fashion. Consequently we need to speak the political language and free Islam of that abuse which exists in the West - in Declaration I speak that Islam is the victim of the East and the West.
It is facetious, for example, with respect to the Western tradition and culture, to attach names to Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd. If one were to ask a European who were Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd they would not know the answer as they were Muslims, Arabs. But if one were to ask them who was Avicenna they would know that he was a leading philosopher who had influenced Thomas d’Aquino when the latter wrote his “Summa Theologica”. But Thomas d’Aquino knew very well who was Ibn Sina and he borrowed a lot of material from him. Why did they have to change names? What logic was used? There was not left that one face of Islam which would be recognisable to everyone, to be recognised by name and surname.
Using that logic, tradition and habit, it was necessary to add a name to Osama bin Laden and call him, for instance, Smith. It is known that he is an Arab, a Muslim and terrorist. Europe needs to have those bogeymen as based upon them we are to have heroes. There is no more USSR so all those European heroes are called to go somewhere there and save Europe from some Osama bin Laden who is going to just happen out of somewhere. It is unfathomable why Europe today, with all its might, has the need for that. It does not justify anything and I have no answers to questions as to why those people are as irresponsible and challenge the fate of all Muslims in the world. If there is somebody who is interested in global peace and security then those are Muslims as they live in all parts of this globe. It is improper to take an event in Far East, if done by a Muslim, and then blame me in Europe, me who has nothing to do with it. It is more than improper. But it is difficult in this world which we live in, with the world the way it is, to free oneself from it, to rid oneself of it, of that generalisation, those stereotypes.
I have had experiences when some new Europeans arrive, or ambassadors, and we meet for the first time, and they tell me that they know Muslims as they have seen an Afghanistan, or have been to Afghanistan, and they know that they are Muslims. My response is:” There is no need to go to Afghanistan as I am that Muslim! The next time you have the need to say that you saw a Muslim in Europe, here I am!” Those are the stereotypes as if sending a message - they are somewhere there and we are here. It will take a lot of time for Europe to heal herself from it, if ever. But, we are here, to heal.
How did you experience September 11?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: When I came back from work, I turned on the CNN, as usual. There was a banner “Breaking News” and there was fire. Although the scene appeared to look like something from a movie spectacle, the longer I looked the more I could understand that there was something horrific going on. I was not able to understand what was going on though I could recognise New York. I was shocked and it was difficult to understand the feeling inside me, but it probably was fear. I did not know who would be named as perpetrators, but remembering Oklahoma, in which case the attack was immediately blamed upon Islamic fundamentalism, I tried not to think that this was committed by Muslims. I was aware of what consequences it would have, first for Bosnia and then for all Muslims in the world. Even today I am gripped by fear, but no more for Muslims but for where the humanity is heading toward.
Who is that who today can be the example of constructing the Noah’s Ark? Qur’an says that Nuh was a grateful slave to God; he was grateful, but his people were not. God had directed him to build the ship, while others laughed at him. On September 11 I thought about that and wished fervently for President George W. Bush not to retaliate. It would have been good if he would hold himself as the point of light and an example to all in the world as how not to use the right to retaliation. When you use the right to retaliation you use the right to moral superiority, and on that day America was morally superior.
I would compare that to the Bosnian example. Bosnian struggle for survival had the moral superiority until the crimes in Grabovica and Celebici. I said that to our generals when I was in The Hague. If you were in those days in that horrific 1993 to ask Sarajevans whether they were for retaliation, I believe that ninety percent of them would have replied:” Yes!’ just as would ninety percent of the Americans. But moral superiority is lost in that way. I naively wished that America would have kept it. Those ordinary, true Americans, who live on their farms and in smaller towns, they are the paradigm of a good man upon this globe. They are unburdened people who are ready to help and who do not ask what religion you belong to. They are curious. If you start explaining what religion you belong to they will listen attentively. They will find that interesting and would start to like you because you are not the same, because they know that there exist others who are different. That typical American is the paradigm of the civilised man today.
On the other hand, there is the other America as America can not be viewed from one angle only and it is not productive to generalise and sort is a super-good or super-bad as she has all of it. I think that she has a lot more good which emanates and which can serve the world today. But there is also that other America, the one which starts to worry people as in certain moments she does not behave at the level expected of her by the small people and small nations when it comes to the three fundamental values of this civilisation: freedom, human rights and democracy. When I was in Birmingham and in Davos I had the need to thank the Americans for having stopped the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Balkans, but we, small nations are worried by America’s talking more about security rather than freedom. If they have insecurities and have the need to constantly talk about that security, and keep forgetting the human need for freedom, then something is wrong, it is not functioning. There has to be somebody in the world who will champion freedom
I would like to quote the late Alija Izetbegovic who said that there are some who wish to help but can’t and then there are some who can but do not want to. The United States is the only country in the world which still wants and can help and get involved in certain things in the world, which should affirm the mentioned values - freedom, human rights and democracy.
But only if it is in their interest?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I don’t have the right to deny them the right to have their interests. But it is quite legitimate to have an interest in the world tat we live in. When a man marries there is an interest beyond love, as love is not everything. But when you marry the two ten it is much better, like in this case, when a moral need, a moral motivation meets an interest.
Take, for example, that there exists something which has become more of an anachronism that the American intervention in Iraq is more about oil than anything else, since it was found that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Historians will prove that on the sidelines. The great powers, he who has power has the right to facetiousness. The weak have no such right. Only the powerful can be facetious and help both sides. But in case of Bosnia and Herzegovina I think that the moral duty has prevailed over interest. We don’t have here oil or other natural resources. As a Bosnian I do not wish to speculate to which extent that moral motivation was at play as it also clashes with and loses weight before interest.
I want to believe that the Americans came here because of moral and ethical idealism which they wished to show the world, as in spite of everything that is happening, they think that it was a sin, that it is untenable, that the world ought not exist like that, upon genocide and annihilation of a people as are Bosnians, as are Bosnian Muslims.
You see, we are here today in Sarajevo, the year is 2006, and we are having a nice conversation. It could have happened, and thank God that it had not, that another reporter, instead of reporting this story is reporting “once upon a time”. I am not a pessimist nor do I have ideas about Apocalypse, but the relations in the world are not simple, which is what we, Bosnian Muslims, realized later on. If you are naïve and believe in morality ten only at the end you will face everything - as one professor in Kuala Lumpur said to me:” Understand that war is business”. Yet I could not understand that, that war could be business. Of course, I have learned later on that war is business and that the two who fire at one another during the day, trade during the night. That is what needs to be learned, but in those complicated relations between the East and the West one superpower certainly looks at the things differently than I do. What is the extent of the moral motivation, what the percentage of interest is, are big questions.
How can one then interpret that America holds in one hand the anti Islamic hysteria and waves with it, yet it saves part of Islamic world in Kosovo, Bosnia, which have survived only because of her initiative?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is too harsh to judge that America is in the zone of anti Islamic hysteria, I think that the Americans don’t know to be that. At least I want to believe that. There are peoplein America who are racists, who despise Africans, Spanish, people with blue or light coloured eyes. I admit I do not want to believe that America is in an anti Islamic movement. That, of course, changes nothing in terms of facts, nut it is my right to believe that. There are many arguments that can be presented so as to see that America is not anti Islamic. She can not be pro Islamic. Between an Islamophobe and an Islamophile - you can be in between. Muslims perhaps expect more from others to be Islamophiles and, maybe, it is because one is not an Islamophile that one is taken to be an Islamophobe. But it does not mean that that if one does not have affection for Muslims that one is against Muslims.
After what America experienced following September 11, we should not expect too much. Some have, most certainly, taken it too far but it only hurts the American image than what is the issue of the Muslims throughout the world. On the other hand, I am more concerned with Europe’s (attempt at) overcoming that Islamic phenomenon of Muslims than with America’s. I think that future for Muslims in America is much brighter than is future of Muslims in Europe. That is my thesis only in so far as I read that Europe seems to be regrouping into anti Islam posture. And it is exactly because of that Turkish guilt, which I have mentioned before, that they can not rid themselves of.
Americans don’t have that. In his book “Who are we?”, Samuel Huntington tries to teach Americans to be extremists, nationalists, to reduce and ghettoise themselves in relations to other civilisations, he scares America with hispanisation, proclaims that America must protect Anglo-Saxon and Protestant cultures, etc. I think I am right, and let it be recorded: Americans don’t know how to be nationalists! IN spite of their wishes, I think that Huntington will not be able to tech Americans to be nationalists or extremists. I am aware of that which could be held against America, as it is a heavy issue which she has to think about, as it is not only in her interest but in the interest of the world which has affection for America. They whose thesis is that “he who is not with us is against us” have been proven wrong. Irrespective of the moment in which it was said, it does not stand and it is an unfortunate statement, which America does not need.
As much as I am sad about September 11, and it has also had negative effect in my affairs as it disrupted certain things which I was about to foster, equally sad for me are the fact of prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo, where people have been jailed without being advised whether they are guilty or not. A serious country, which has ambitions to be an example for the whole world, ought not to have allowed something like that to happen. That should not have happened to the Americans. Of course, my voice here from Sarajevo is weak but I have the need to say this. I feel it is my obligation and my right. If Americans are able to take it as a statement of a “bitter” friend - as we have bitter and sweet friends in life - then I accept to be a bitter friend. Many Americans came here to see me, and I received them, who were bitter friends to me. I have not received them as sweetly when they would give me their advice, but I am now grateful for those. I am very grateful for what they did and that I took their advice. Therefore I feel it is my right to say this now to them. It is because those “sweet friends” give you sugar which drives up our blood pressure, but when you take some lemon, sour and tart, then it will be very beneficial for your health.
Could one understand that a Muslim, ordinary person, hates America’s policy?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: We first need to define what an “ordinary Muslim” means. As far as the American issue, there is consensus among Muslims that foreign policy of the United States of America is improper. That is a consensus in the Muslim world as it has lasted for too long and in that time such an image has been formed. However, America is not the only culprit in that. There are many culprits in the Arab world, for instance, for the conditions in Palestine absolutely. Those Muslims who do not go deeper and farther certainly have the perception that American foreign policy is one-sided and is improper.
Your two children have American citizenship?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Yes, they have American citizenship, American passport.
Does it offer them more freedom when they travel?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: They do not need visas. My son studies in Vienna and he does not need visa when travelling. However, since he also has a Bosnia and Herzegovina passport he will not have to pay the scholarship as there is still in force an undertaking that students from the regions of the former Austro-Hungary will have free education in Austria. That is very interesting. Americans, for example, charge for education. So, that sometimes it is better for him to be a Bosnian, and sometimes it is better to be an American (laughter).
What does Islam say about suicidal people? When there is news about a suicide-bomber we automatically identify it with Muslims?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The idea of suicide warfare is not a Muslim idea. It is Japanese idea. Because of that I have recently bought a book “The History of Kamikaze”. There is an idea which says: you can take my home away from me, you can take the land, you can exile me, but you can not take my soul and the right to die as I want to. When we talk about this we usually refer to what has been happening in the Holy Land, I think that this method of struggle for Palestinian rights is wrong, counterproductive. It is one thing what happens in Palestine while the theoretical question about suicide is quite another.
Suicide is sin as life is the gift of God and as such nobody has the right to marginalise it and destroy it. The act of suicide, outside of the context of these occurrences is sin according to Islam. What is happening in Palestine and Israel is on the level of personal experience and can not be taken to be within Islam. It is wrong to take it as Islam as that is the thing of kamikaze who can justify as much as they want as if you wish to do that you will find the way to do it. It is not pleasant for me that these issues are taken as Islam so that we are always being made to explain something while we are not competent to explain it. I do not feel competent to explain why someone goes to his death to prove his case or why Israeli soldiers walk behind tanks into Jenin and destroy everything around them. What is relevant to say is that a holy war is not being waged in the Holy Land but that holy peace rules in it. And in holy war, if you want to call it, there is no difference if you have an organised military which kills so many people or children, or someone who gets organised and in a suicide kills so many people. I do not see a difference in the effects of that crime committed against civilians. Nobody has monopoly to retaliation, nobody has monopoly to pain and nobody has monopoly to compassion. There is no monopoly there! You can not say that it is acceptable to take revenge for something and justify that they are taking revenge because of this or that. The only solution is to say: nobody will take revenge, a holy peace needs to be established, and we are not going to attack you, and don’t attack us, let us solve the issues peacefully.
What I would like to say to our Palestinians - and we have affection for both of them, as Jews did a lot for Sarajevo, and in order to keep our traditions toward Jews whom my grandfathers had when they welcomed them in Sarajevo in 1492, is - suicide attacks are counterproductive in what they want to achieve and obtain in order to have the world understand their struggle for survival. It is equally counterproductive for Israel to want to solve the problem militarily and I think that Israel needs to understand that it lives surrounded by 250 Million Muslims. I, in Bosnia, also need to understand that we live surrounded by 400 Million Christians in the European continent. You can not, for years, threaten with military might, as there is something called honour and pride, which can not be controlled since you can not rule the people’s souls. You can exile him, take his home, but there is something which stays with him and which you can not take away from him. Israel needs to understand that, just as Palestinians need to change their relation toward themselves, toward their lives and understand that the world watching hits is not approving of this as such way of struggle is counterproductive.
Do hundreds of virgins in the Heaven await him who sacrifices himself in this way for Islam, which is what we can often read about in the western media when discussing Islamic suicides?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I have not been there and I don’t know if they wait. I can not answer this question except to say that there is a prayer in the Bible or somewhere else which says:” God, give me patience, but do it right now!” There is a misconception and I wish to specifically point to Muslims that some want an instant Paradise. Paradise, or Jennet, is earned with patience, long and demanding labour and sacrifice which is not as instant as for you to say:” I want Paradise and I give my life to get it”. Much harder is the other way for us to earn Jennet and meet the virgins and all those gifts awaiting us in Jennet.
What is Taliban? When mentioning Muslims we frequently tie them in with the term Taliban. Who are Taliban?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is both a simple and a complicated question. It is simple in that there was the need in Afghanistan, after the communist experience, that Muslims intensify their re-Islamisation. To meet the needs they established a process of education called Taliban, or student, in Arabic. It is a movement of the students who wished to refresh their knowledge of Islam and that process joined not only children, but also teenagers and elders. That movement bay way of school, and the need to spiritualise, to learn Islam and refresh their knowledge, over time grew into something which we know as a way of thinking, as a system, a state project and an armed movement.
What existed before that, related to resistance to the USSR in Afghanistan, were Afghani mujahedeen. In those years, in the eighties, I was in the States, when Afghanistan was pertinent and it was interesting that the term mujahedeen was politically criticised in Palestine while the term mujahedeen in Afghanistan was interpreted as “freedom fighter”. That has, of course, grown into political terminology.
What is complicated and what prevents us from understanding all of the details from our point of view is in that the Taliban interpretation of Islam became an interpretation of exclusivity and a form of violence. Muslims whom I meet throughout the world get very irritated that Taliban blew up the Buddhist monuments which had survived all of the Islamic history before that. Those are places which were visited by much more intelligent and better educated people, military leaders, and nobody would touch those monuments, but these Taliban were of opinion that it ought to be blown up. That is really unexplainable.
But such moves throughout the world have helped spread the opinion that Islam itself is such teaching which wishes to blow up everything around itself which is different?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is always easier to generalise that to delve into a problem. That generalisation of Taliban and identification with all Muslims is, for those people who know no better, quite acceptable simply because it is associated with Islam. Identification with a negative, a prejudice which has an example in relation to everything else is, unfortunately, something which follows us all. If someone were to ask me what first comes to my mind when mentioning religions I could say that it is, for example, the Inquisition, and I would like very much to talk about it, as it represents a problem for that other one. Conversely, if you have to put heat to somebody, then you impose the complex and the stereotype of Taliban.
We all need to have some reasons as to why we are what we are and why we are not what we are not. That is part of human weakness. My value and civilisational level is measured by how much I am able to control myself in relation to emphasising a stereotype about somebody else. But for one to have a good opinion about another takes a lot of energy in order to arrive at that intellectual or other state of mind as it is always easier to have negative opinion about another who is different from you. It is especially so if you have the media which is feeding it on a daily basis.
It is easier to accept all the stereotypes than rid oneself of them. I had in that respect, a number of inquiries particularly after September 11, in meeting some people which we talked to in the West. They would mostly face us with questions which are very difficult - violence in Qur’an, Jihad, the status of women, etc - to the extent that there were those who, unapologetically, demanded or suggested that we change Qur’an and discard some texts from Qur’an as those texts were deemed un-civilisational in the way they wanted it. Naturally, it is easy to say that in Europe where you have the majority. But that speaks more about those people and their character. My response was:” If I had been under the media pressure which you listen to, and had the information given to you, I would probably think that way”. We are all victims of such prejudices which are constantly being spread. As it came to a conflict which it did come to, it was very easy to spread those prejudices further as people listen to and accept negatives about others easier than they do positives.
Has that persistent oversimplifying and repetition lead to something called “Islamic terrorism”, which is conflicting in and of itself?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There exist certain terms or stereotypes which, over time and with repetition, become less credible for those who listen. Muslims had several stigmas applied onto them over the past two centuries, such as pan-Islamism, fundamentalism, nationalism, fedaism, jihadism, etc. Currently jihadism is in the vogue. The best way to counter that accusation is not in screaming that you are not, but to say that you are. And when you say:” Yes, I am what you are talking about” the other side stops talking The more you defend yourself the greater the need of the accuser is to keep saying that as it makes you tense. One of the reasons that those stereotypes have negative connotations is to make you tense, to hurt you and keep you under pressure. The biggest favour done to the terrorists is in giving them the qualification of “Islamic terrorism”. It is quite another thing when you isolate someone from one Billion and five hundred Million people, or if you identify with them. That is what he wants
But the fact that it is tied in with Islam is the consequence of the general relation toward Islam in the West, in the political circles which have not yet overcome the stereotypes still being spread about Islam, with the beginning in the Middle Ages.
How do you comment upon the fact that Europe at the beginning of the war was idly watching the euthanasia of Muslims in these regions, yet today she seeks a way to establish dialogue and extend her hand to Islam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: As a first, that term of Europe is rather stretchable and it is very difficult to ascertain who that Europe is, but we need to say that the essence of Europe, at least in the political sense, is in the axis Berlin-London-Paris, while we should not overlook other countries, especially Scandinavian ones, as well as the fact that the former USSR is largely here. There is one constant in that Europe still lives on although she had to heal from the consequences of the First and the Second World War as those wars have divided Europe into several zones. In relation to the Balkans, which includes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe has varied interests and varied desires to influence and varied powers of influence. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which had been here for a long haul, has left its footprints. But we should not neglect that the Balkans was always a place of bountiful recruitment. The great empires, from Romans, to Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians and the communist international existed and survived for as long as they had the support of, and could recruit, the human potential in the Balkans. For as long as the Ottoman Empire had the influence and possessed the Balkans, it was an empire. The moment it lost that, it ceased to be an empire; it was reduced to one national state, Turkey. The same also applies to Austro-Hungary. As soon as it lost Hungary it ceased to be an empire. The moment the USSR lost Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and South-eastern Europe and the Balkans, it ceased to be what it was. All Asian countries have remained in a relation with the former USSR, but that no longer is USSR. In that relation the European centres, London, Berlin, Paris, have kept certain memories of those and such events
The previous century began with the war which started in Sarajevo and the previous century ended with the war in Sarajevo and aggression against Sarajevo. The symbolism is an interesting one. Although, viewed from a centre, this outskirts seem peripheral that periphery is a rather important one in terms of European relations. We are but the victims of those clashes of interests and at the moment when former Yugoslavia entered crisis and when it came to collapse of the state and the society (the collapse of the state happened due to the collapse of the society as it abandoned the false idea upon which it was established, the socialism and the communism). When that matrix, that rug was pulled from under the feet, then that society and that state collapsed. What were left were ethnic communities grouped around their headquarters and in our conditions the headquarters was either a nation or a religion or a blend of both. Now that Europe was no longer relating to Bosnia from the point of a power of universal values but she had also to measure herself against those headquarters. Everybody was looking at his relative in a headquarters. Croats and Serbs actually were closer to those centres of power than were we, Bosniaks. We were to be reduced to a religious category and, in contrast to the case of Albanians in Kosovo, we speak the same or similar language and then the definition of who we are, who Bosniaks are, is that Bosniaks are Muslims. We can not say that Muslims are Bosniaks as there are Muslims in other nations. But when we want to define who Bosniaks are, in that all encompassing sense, then we can say that Bosniaks are Muslims. In that category it was always necessary to rely upon Islam as Bosniaks had not succeeded or had the strength and the opportunity to develop their Bosnian patriotism and nationalism as did Croats and Serbs. Bosniaks lived in the shadow of Croatian and Serbian nationalism, escaping into a wider world called Islam. Because of that we do not emphasise our religious identity over our national identity. Bosniaks have erred, in a way, in that they had not developed their national identity in terms of belonging to statehood and national feeling with relation to the ground, the land, but have, due to troubles coming from Croatian and Serbian nationalism, escaped into Islamic universalism. That is where they felt comfortable as they had an explanation as to what they are and who they are, but over time it became obvious that the lack of Bosnian nationalism, as a positive, was weakening their resilience to defend their state, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Europe trusted Milosevic, operating from Belgrade, to quickly solve the problem of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in a way that the Slovenians were going to leave, that there will be a smaller war with the Croats which will be followed by some peace. Bosnia was not going to be a problem as it was about Muslims, for whom Europe harbours no special feelings, while they are far away from those who can help them.
The key argument of Huntington’s clash of civilisations is Bosnia and for us to identify ourselves more with those who are far away then those who are closer to us in Europe which is, most certainly, his malicious message which was of no help. I think that everybody has underestimated us. The Muslim world did not know that we exist at all and when they discovered us they had no strategy in terms of what would need to be done for Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Theirs was an emotional relation and they have helped us with emotions. Of course, their help was also a material one but there was no strategy in the background in terms of saving, helping and enabling those Muslims to be able to stand on their feet. It was a sporadic assistance. Europe was of opinion that the question of religion was no longer of any import that it would make her have to deal with some Muslims over there in the sense that they needed to be defended.
Our problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not due to us being Bosniaks, as we were not killed as Bosniaks but as Muslims. That is our sad, but true, message. Europe had, practically, by way of Bosnia, unaware and unwillingly, identified herself with some stereotypes from the bygone era and brought shame, upon herself, of that Europe from the Middle Ages which was notorious for her Inquisition. This time that Inquisition was not promoted by church, it was not done in the name of church, but some remnants of some of the ugly terms of Europe’s, which had materialised in a dose of a Crusader logic, in the sense that those Muslims who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not worthy enough to warrant special efforts to save them. I think that Europe will not recover from that very soon.
Sarajevo is called the Jerusalem of Europe due to coexistence of the three religions. I have not been to Sarajevo in a long time and it seems to me that the streets are different, that one can feel a stronger presence of Islam which is evident in the clothes women wear and the covering of their heads. Have you Islamised Sarajevo? Can that Sarajevo become a spiritual centre of European Islam, which is what Europe could expect?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I d not think that Sarajevo has changed as much as we have changed in our relation to Sarajevo. When now you arrive in Sarajevo you notice many things you haven’t before. You could always hear ezan in Sarajevo, there were always women who covered their heads but it went unnoticed as that was not in the focus. Now it more in the focus but there are in Sarajevo a lot of people who had escaped from Foca, Visegrad, and so on, so that Sarajevo has inhabitants it did not have before. On the other hand, many have left Sarajevo, such as Serbs and Croats. It is not because Sarajevo became more or less Islamic. I think that Sarajevo has not changed in its character, in its spirit of metropolis in which you can find and see that which you can find and see in all European cities. When you go to London you will find in some quarters that they are much more Muslim than some areas in Sarajevo and you will see a lot more women with head covers and you will recognise them as Muslims, than you will see in Sarajevo. It also applies to Zagreb. If you go to the Ban Jelacic Square you will se a lot of women with heads covered, coming out of the Zagreb mosque. But in Zagreb nobody notices it. A reporter sat in Bascarsija and counted all those with head covers, but he did not count those without head covers. He remembered only those with head covers and said that there were a lot of them. I told him:” Those who are not covered are a lot more dangerous. Just try to touch them. But those with head covers are peaceful and Europe will see no harm from them”. Those who are not covered could be a lot more dangerous based upon someone’s prejudice that Sarajevo has been islamised. Sarajevo was, indeed, a city with over 72 mosques and today it is a city with even more mosques, a city in which the tradition of madrassa was cultivated, there always was ulama, Sarajevo was always a spiritual centre of the Balkans and Europe. Could Sarajevo become a spiritual entre of Europe and be an inspiration in every sense? I am not particularly thrilled with the idea of Sarajevo being the Islamic centre of Europe. Muslims have their centres, those are Mecca and Medina. I am not thrilled with that idea as I do not think that we could be the complete, real measurement of what European Muslims need, but we could be a kind of an inspiration. It is erroneous to take away the right of Sarajevo to participate in the European life of Muslims, that it be an inspiration, but I am not sure that it ought to be a centre as by sheer numbers we could not carry that responsibility, that burden, which European Muslims would demand from us.
WE have the right and the duty to take part in creation of Europe in which European Muslims will be equal. That goes without saying. The condition, of course, is that we survive European history. Our brothers in Spain did not survive European history. I hope that we, on the Balkan Peninsula, the way we are, will be able to survive European history and in that sense be a motivation for Europe so that she can interrogate herself with respect to herself. Europe is richer with this Bosnia and this Sarajevo exactly in the colours of own history, heritage and spirituality.
Has an inflation of building mosques occurred in Bosnia?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I would rather not talk about it in that way whether there are too many or too little, whether we should build them or not. Whatever people need they will make it. If they did not need mosques they would not have built them. There are two arguments in our favour when discussing mosques. Most of the mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina were razed. We operate with the number of one thousand mosques which were razed in attacks against Bosnia, including the monumental ones such as those in Foca and Banja Luka. Aleksandar Popovic, in his book “The Muslims of Yugoslavia”, before the war, points, among other things, to three obstacles - he did not say it explicitly, it is my interpretation - for the creation of the Greater Serbia policy. Those were madrassa, mosque and preacher. I can not think but that it was an instruction to the paramilitary and JNA formations.
Wherever they entered, a village or a city, they first razed mosques. In Kotor-Varos they burned the mosque together with imam and those who came to pray. There were attempts to bomb the madrassa in Sarajevo; there still are traces of it. That is that argument of ours in which we say how we expect help when others ask us how to help repair those mosques which were razed in every village. Not only were they razed, but the stones were carted away from those places so that one could not recognise that something used to be there.
That happened in Stolac and in 1993 I suggested, as I suggest it now - when they would object and say that Muslims razed chinches - that all the churches which were razed in Bosnia and Herzegovina for which the Catholics and the Orthodox say were razed by Muslims, we the Islamic community, are ready to rebuild. But have them rebuild our mosques. I think it is only fair. The answer was that it was not done by Catholic Church.
That is correct. But did some Mexicans or Eskimos come and razed those mosques?. We all know who razed the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka, where there was no war or grenades. For that destruction, in the middle of the day, many trucks were needed to cart away all those stones!
The other argument in our favour is that during the times of communism there were areas, such as newly built subdivision, where the urban planning did not envision building of mosques. Communists took it that the religion was dead beyond resurrection and that there is no need for a mosque. Where in Sarajevo you can notice that there are new mosques, where there were none before, they were built in places where they were not allowed to be built before. Such is that case in Ilidza, in the Novi Grad, in Ali-pasino Polje. Those are new constructions where there was neither a church nor a mosque. We actually have less mosques than we need to have.
They say: why do you build mosques and not factories, people need to be put to work. I agree with that but we, the Islamic community are not qualified to build factories. The people who donate funds for mosques only want to donate funds for mosques, and we, indeed, invest those funds into mosques. However, the funds with which those factories ought to have been built were somehow eaten by cats, before they get to those factories. And then there are no factories. Therefore, they need to ask of those who were supposed to build factories why they are not building them. Where are the funds which they received for those factories? We are not tasked with building factories but mosques and we do it as best we can.
I read a statement of yours in which you instruct people not to live off faith but for faith?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: When graduates complete madrassa, they are told:” Do not live off Islam but live for Islam”. It is said in a way so that they not become commercial, professional, Muslims. Islam is more than profession; it is a way of life, a fate. That message is a good one, when you tell people not to do commerce with faith. Faith ought to be a motivation to serve someone and not to serve some. It is more than that, it is ideal, the meaning of life, which needs to motivate a person that he is in service of someone and that he is to help that someone and not just seek help.
What about the assertion that Muslims are the people about whose religion others talk more than they do?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: In my meetings in international conferences I have noticed that people talk about Islam the most and to such degree that I felt I had to say:” I would like to hear about your religion, so that we stop constantly talking about Islam”. Others, indeed, talk a lot about Islam, there are Oriental studies at faculties throughout the world, in the East, in the West, Islam is debated everywhere, and sometimes in greater detail and with greater seriousness, and sometimes even deeper, then Muslims do that in their world. Muslims take that as God sent and that it should not be debated, although I am of opinion that we need to debate it as we need to remove some ambiguities and so as to make certain details closer. In that way Muslims themselves would see Islam much clearer. In many issues Muslims are not well versed in their own faith except for that which had been passed down with traditions and that is, largely, superficial.
There is a saying that there are Muslims and there are also people with Muslim names?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is easy to understand as you could say that for any other religion, that there are formal Muslims and the believers who practice religion. They know what they are, who they are, where they are. And, then, there are those who only wear the name.
You often say we all are descendants from Adem and Adem is of dust?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: That is the famous saying of God’s Messenger, before his death, during his last hajj which he made when 63 years of age. Having carried out his last hajj he gave the famous address on (the Mount) Arefat when he said:” We all are Adem’s sons and Adem is of dust. An Arab has no advantage over a non-Arab; neither does non-Arab over an Arab or the white over the red or black, or the black over the white, except in character, in morality”. That is what I experience as a great advantage of Islam, which Muslims did not know how to exploit and institutionalise it in the context of the world. That means that there is no racial discrimination. America abolished the law about racial discrimination and segregation only in 1963. The law that the blacks sit in one corner of the bus and the whites in another was abolished. I saw in Birmingham how that bus looks like. Yet Mohammad a.s., in the seventh century announces such a phenomenal and universal idea. I am of opinion that Muslims have not worked hard enough on that in order to market it and sell it, they have not sufficiently exploited it as a principle and have not fought for it to achieve universal values of global proportions. Global ideas change slowly. From the idea of justification of slavery and abolition of slavery, to the introduction of freedom as a universal principle took centuries before it had changed.
Aristotle died convinced that some people are born as masters and others as slaves. He believed in that and that was his philosophy. Some of those “simple ideas” often take a long time to change in human conscience. Just take a look at how long it took to change the idea of racial discrimination, including calling upon God, to prove that it was unjustified.
There is, also, another idea, an original Islamic idea, and that is about not proselytising in faith. There is no force when it comes to faith. That is from 7th century, it is a very simple idea in Qur’an according to which there is no inquisition or murder because somebody converts, etc.
But what with the cases in the so called Islamic world, where Christians, including priests, suffer as they are of other, or rather Christian faith?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: That is, most certainly, in conflict with the idea, the thought which was expressed. It was expressed in interesting circumstances, when a tribal leader in Medina went to God’s Messenger and told him that his son converted and that he forced him back into Islam. That is when the announcement came about - there is no coercion in faith. Today it looks so ordinary as we have Charter of Human Rights, the UN, declarations about human rights, etc. But you need to imagine that in those times, in that world. I think that Muslims did not take advantage of that idea and promote it and market it to the world so that it would become the idea of all and not just of Muslims.
And the third thing which is characteristically of Islam is that Mohammed a.s. abolished the institution of priesthood.
Or the monopoly of priests over spiritual truth?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Indeed. He abolishes priesthood and says that it does not exist in Islam. You see how long it took Europe to come to some equilibrium, from reformism, from the monopoly to truth through an institution, to enabling people to read Bible on their own. It is important what the institution says as we, also, promote institutional teaching of Islam, which has its value, but at the same time is not without fail. Mohammad a.s. abolished the institution of priesthood when it was very powerful, when people did not know further than the priesthood for which it was believed that they were almost extraterrestrial people. To promote such a grandiose idea in those circumstances means that one cuts deep into history. Muslims ought to speak more about those three things - no racial discrimination, no coercion in converting and no monopoly to the spiritual truth - and they need to identify themselves as such.
One of the reasons why Muslims have problems with the West and the West with Muslims is in that Muslims are always told and always subject to a forced feeling of guilt, of being undesirable, that they have no right to be good. It is being felt that there are some people who have monopoly to philanthropy, monopoly that they are good and that the other one is bad. I suppose that by doing so they wish to have an appearance that those people improve but what happens in reality is that Muslims accept such discourse and do not manage to get out of those negative connotations to turn the things to their own benefit in that they will speak about those positive things and emphasise them and practice them. In that case that wave of negative relations would be diminished if not eliminated. We are, I think, in the process which will take a long time before there is equilibrium.
Do you know that joke when a man enters a café, orders a drink and when he sees a Jew standing next to him, takes out his gun and kills him just like that, right away, unperturbed. He then surrenders to police and they ask him:” Why did you kill him? What has he done to you”? “He hasn’t done anything to me, but do you know what they did to Jesus”? The police say:” Man, that was two thousand years ago.” He responds:” Oops, I only heard about it yesterday”.
As soon as we know of an elementary ignorance, today there are no excuses, from any sides. In ethical terms there is Decalogue as a joint platform of all great religions.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: We would need to write a separate book upon that theme as it is a very important issue. Problem among the three religions of Abraham / Ibrahim - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - is not in differences but in similarities. We have a problem with our similarities! It is not about how to overcome the differences or how to accept the differences of others, but it is about how to live with our similarities. We are afraid of similarities. In fear of these similarities we then deepen the differences which, in reality do not exist in matters of essence.
In the question of cosmogony we have mutual trust that that God created this world. Adem and Hava, or Adam and Eve are our father and mother. We have Nuh or Noah and his Ark which saved humanity. Jews have a prayer which they say five times a day just as we pray five times a day in this way:” God, bless Mohammad and his family as you had blessed Ibrahim”. Jews have a similar prayer where there is the paradigm of blessing Ibrahim or Moses / Musaa a.s., to whom God spoke directly. God had not spoken directly even to Mohammed a.s. but through intermediaries, meleks, sound, bells and through dreams and apparitions. It is said that God spoke directly only to Musaa a.s. on the Mount Sina / Sinai, when he received the Ten Commandments. Isaa a.s., is the son of Merjema. He was born by the virgin Merjema. Those are our joint beliefs. Of course, there are differences in that Muslims believe that he is the son of Merjema and the son of God and that he was not crucified. That is our belief but there is also a debate among Christians whether something is or isn’t. To us Mohammad a.s. is the Last Messenger of God and Qur’an is the published book and Christians and Jews van not be indifferent to that whether they admit it or not. They can not take into consideration non-existence of Qur’an and Muhammad a.s.
What do Europeans need to learn about Islam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There is a lot which Europe needs to learn about Islam. There is always the most important issue and thee rest revolve around it. Europe needs to learn one essential thing around which all others revolve, and that is that Europe is a multi-religious continent. She needs to learn that she is a continent of many religions and that Islam in Europe is European religion. Islam is European religion! I am not saying European Islam, but that Islam is European religion as Christianity is. Let’s not talk about whose Europe is, is she Christian, Islamic or Jewish, but let’s say the opposite: which religion belongs to Europe and not which religion Europe belongs to. It is not to whom Europe belongs but it is about which religion belongs to Europe. In the sense that we can say that Islam belongs to Europe and Christianity belongs to Europe and not talk about whom Europe belongs to, is it Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or, naturally, to all of them together.
Europe has the right and the obligation to say:” Islam is my religion too”, in the same manner it says that Christianity is European religion. I think this is the key question for Europe but at the same time I think that she is not ready to comprehend that. She is in a sort of confusion. Over the past several centuries Europe has tried to establish a new ideology of the so called democratic liberalism which is but a mix of atheism and all kinds of other things. In the least, relations toward religion were indifferent, in the sense that we live as if there is no God. English philosopher David Hume taught that morality is not a matter of religion but of every man. If a man sees himself in a mirror and says that it is good, then it is good and there is no need to call upon any sources of religious values, such as the Ten Commandments or similar. He spoke to live life as if there was no God. Well, there probably is, but you live as if He does not exist.
Europe has that experience which validity is now being disputed the world over, including in Europe. Europe is now returning to some religious values in but is doing it so in confusion so that the question needs to be posed - what is Europe returning to? Is Europe returning to religion as bureaucracy, as an institution, or is Europe returning to religion as morality, as faith. There are three different and distinct terms, at least the way I see it, to differentiate between them - faith, religion and moral. Faith is a personal act and a gift of God, which everybody has. Everybody upon this earth has that dose of faith or trust without which individual human life is not possible. We all carry in ourselves that kernel of faithfulness. They say that Jalaluddin Rumi used to say:” I went to church to find God and I did not find him. I went to synagogue to find God and I did not find him. I went to mosque to find God and I did not find him. I returned home and found God in my heart”.
That is a very interesting Sufi affirmation that in every man, in his soul, there is a part of Divine Spirit. In Qur’an we would say that Allah dz.s., inspired his spirit into Adem. Nobody can take that away, it is a private matter. In that faith in one we are all the same, there exists that faith but maybe we differ in the quantity of that.
Another term is religion. It is an organised religious community which has bureaucracy and hierarchy. For everything which exists in this world there is a reason and there are reasons for people to establish religion as Church. When we talk about it we need to differentiate between believers and non-believers in the sense that we appreciate his faith in comparison to his relation toward the bureaucracy of faith or organisation of faith which he does not accept, or his relation toward faith as a God’s gift. We need to differentiate here as, in reality, there are no non-believers. In our language there isn’t an original word, or a root thereof, which denotes non-belief. If you want say that somebody is against faith you can not find the root or the word for it. We have good and evil which are two roots. But if you want to say that somebody is a non-believer you need to use the prefix “no”. That does not exist only in our language but also in Latin - theism and atheism. You are just negating something but that negating means that something exists, it is just that you are negating it. Yet it naturally exists. It is interesting that in our language there is no root word for non-belief. That says a lot as a language is the best indicator of some realities we live in. If in a language something can not be expressed as such, having a root, that means that it is questionable whether it exists at all. There are “non-believers” who do not accept a certain structure and organisation of religious life.
There exists something called moral which differs from religion. The motivation to be good or bad in religious interpretation has two forms: a method when something is beautified (if you are good God will reward you) and the opposite (God will punish you for misdeeds). Establishing moral values upon the principle of attracting with promises or being under the threat of punishment works on some and on others does not work. There were times when people were more inclined to accept moral values and be good if they were promised something nice, then if they are punished. I have experience in my life that if I said to somebody that he was bad he never improved, but I have examples when somebody was bad and I told him to be good he tried to be good. It is about the way we judge about what is good and what is bad, but in any case, Europe now needs a new philosophy. The atheism of David Hume is passé, it has been spent. How will the theologians and people in Europe get oriented, will they be able to offer a new philosophy based upon their experiences of the past centuries, a philosophy which will also include religion with these three meanings - faith as a natural state, religion as organisation, and moral which will be motivated by desire to come together and be in God’s pleasure. Time will tell.
Islam prescribes and regulates a certain way of life which an ordinary European, a Christian, may take as a rather reductive way. They look at what is allowed and what is forbidden. What is forbidden to a Muslim? What is haram and what is every Muslim ordered to do?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It would take a while to specify what is forbidden. But let me put forward two theses upon which your question can be understood. I believe that the world rests upon halal, upon that which is allowed, and not upon that which is forbidden. The principle it rests upon is the principle of good. Sin is an incident or an accident, if you will, but not a rule. World can not rest upon sin; it can not rest upon haram. The reason for emphasising haram in religious teaching, and for saying what is forbidden, more than listing that which is allowed, is the result of a certain cultural insecurity in which some think that through threats and fear they will more easily get people closer to God. I think that is a wrong methodology. We have two examples which are common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam - Noah’s people, in spite of warnings and the flood that happened did not listen to Nuh a.s. This means that treats and fears often are not the best pedagogical measure. Quite to the contrary, if in children you provoke fear or beat them, you in reality block their thinking and their power of recognising things and that fear will not make them better. The other example is the case of Moses, after they had been delivered through the sea and when they reached the shore, they made a golden calf and began to pray. In other words, faith is not fear. Faith is joy. Therefore faith needs to be presented as joy and not fear.
In that sense we can talk about halal and haram and I am more inclined to talk about what halal is and that we be close to it and in that fashion we will do more of what halal really is. When you talk about haram you unconsciously initiate a wish or a need to taste or test it. Of course, it does not mean that we should not warn about haram.
There is the question of reticence and openness. There exist today what is called Islamophobia and Islamophilia. How are you going to recognise an Islamophobe and an Islamophile? Islamophobe takes it that Islam is a closed religion, inflexible, unapproachable, refuses outside influences, conservative and isolated. Islamophile takes it that Islam is an open religion, which accepts influences and influences others and that it is in constant interaction of taking and giving, etc. When looking at the comportment of some Muslims an Islamophobe can arrive at such conclusion, just like an Islamophile. What I, as a Muslim feel, is that Muslims in the broadest sense of that expression, do not emphasise enough that openness of Islam. Without exclusivity and without desire to emphasise the exclusivity of Islam I need to stress that Qur’an, quite likely, is the only holy book which talks affirmatively about other religions. In Qur’an there is literally stated that those who believe (meaning Musilms), Jews, Christians, Sabeans, if they believe in God and in the Judgment Day and do good deeds, then they have no reason to fear. You don’t have that anywhere else! There is no such thing in any of the holy books which will say: among Christians there are good people, there are good people who every day and night do sajda, i.e. worship God. You have that in Qur’an! I could quote aayats from Qur’an in which it is said, among other, that saved are those who believe in God, it is meant Muslims, etc. It is a holy text which I study (read) in prayer and bow without anybody’s command.
Sometimes I can not explain how Muslims came into such position that they are viewed as a closed religion. Qur’an says very clearly when it addresses and does not speak only to Muslims, but says:” Oh, people, we have created you of one woman and one man and then we interspersed you throughout the world...” For such grandiose ideas in some other religions or movements they battled for centuries to say that there exists another who has a chance to be saved. How did, then, Muslims came into being viewed with the eyes Islamophobia? I am convinced, and live with the relief of that conviction, that Islam is an open religion which accepts influences and that it has always accepted them, but that it also gives them, influences others. And the thesis, which I test at numerous international gatherings, has an effect as it is shocking when I say that our problem, that of Jews, Christians and Muslims, is not in the differences but in our similarities. We have the problem of living with our similarities as those similarities direct us toward one another, to share space, time and some things that scare us as sometimes we are unsure of our identity and we fear that we will lose it because we are going to get to know the similarities between one another. I think that 21st century will be in the sign of these very problems, how to find a formula of life in those similarities of ours.
Once you had described that formula like this:” It is time for Islam to be seen as the blessing to the West and that the West be seen as an invitation to intellectual awakening in the Muslim East”.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Yes, that is it.
How many times did you go to hajj and why is hajj important in the life of a Muslim, and how does hajj look like?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There is one thing which is easy to explain in Islam. Islam is first and foremost personal act and expression of identity, which identity manifests itself through a simple witness of the faith and we say that God is but one and there is no God but Allah dz.s., and Mohammed a.s. is God’s Messenger. That is a shahadat and with that formula you practically identify yourself, or, as Sufis would say, you only remember that which is within you. And you just repeat your memory as in the ancient times God called Adem and his offspring and asked them whether he was their Lord, and they answered that he is. From that moment on the whole humanity has been aware of God’s presence and when we are born we do nothing but remind ourselves of that which is already in us. From that personal act, that personal formula, we enter some Jamaat and we become a community of Muslims. Our obligations to that Jamaat are to give 2.5% of annual income to help your neighbour. We also have Annual renewal of faith and that is Ramadan and fasting. When we pass through those phases and states, the last and most important instance is in becoming aware that we belong to the universal human community. And that is hajj.
In that hajj, which is obligatory to be taken only once in a lifetime for those who are healthy and wealthy, to him who carries it out the sins are forgiven and he is, as we say, as when he was born by his mother. That is, in essence, sublimation of all which is yours individually, that which is Jamaat, the manifestation of faith and reminder of memory (as identity means the continuation of memory) of Adem, Nuh Ibrahim, Musaa, Isaa, etc. In that sense is your sensation of your cosmic position in the world, the universality, the unity which you experience at hajj. Of course, hajj is so wide and challenging that we could talk a lot about it, but that is what is the most important as to what a man in this earthly life will do as he brings himself closer to that world which he came from. We believe that Adem, upon exiting Jennet, went down to the Mount of Mercy where he met Hava. Going to hajj is getting back to your original root. You return to where you came from.
Fasting is something important in the life of believer. Islam cherishes fasting which is stricter than fasting in Christianity, at least for ordinary faithful. Why such strict fasting of importance, that they don’t eat, for example from sunrise to sunset?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Virtually all ideas, including in faith, are clean at the beginning. They develop depending on who holds them and how he experiences them and over time they get some other meaning. I would like it very much if Muslims were to be consistent in that original idea about fasting. It has two dimensions. Fasting is purification of body and purification of soul. As Sufis would say, there are several passions. There are physical passion, intellectual passion and spiritual passion. The stronger the physical passion is the more it endangers the intellectual and spiritual passions. That physical passion we smooth out so that we increase the intellectual and spiritual ones. We don’t need to say that it is physical passion, everybody knows that.
Intellectual passion is in an extreme desire to for the man to feel the truth, to feel its beauty. Spiritual passion is a passion for wisdom, courage, nobleness, goodness, etc. By diminishing passions, especially physical ones, there exists the possibility to strengthen your intellectual and spiritual passions. Do Muslims achieve that result with their fasting is a big question. There is a hadis of God’s Messenger in which it is said that when Ramadan starts all sheytans become bound by chains, they can not act. What I carry as my experience is that Muslims during Ramadan have a special feeling and wellbeing which can not be seen or felt outside or without it. It is very important to that Ramadan renews that religious feeling in Muslims. There exists nothing else that could achieve it but Ramadan. There are people who do not have spiritual profile, but when Ramadan arrives, if nothing else, they know then how to appreciate the one who is spiritual. Though they have no spirituality of their own, during Ramadan they respect the spirituality of others, which means wellbeing. Some have observed and say if it were not for Ramadan there would be no Islam.
How necessary is mosque in the life of Muslims? I went to the Zagreb mosque once and I have already stepped inside when an elder man stopped me and asked me to go back. I had entered, not knowing, of course, in mosque with left foot instead of the right...
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There are places and times which to us represent a special state or wellbeing and the feeling that we are touched by gentleness and light which we need. Mosque is exactly that place. It is difficult to speak about a mosque and such holy places in an ordinary language. But using a very sophisticated vocabulary would complicate it and it would not be clear what you are talking about. Mosque in Islam is not a mystical place which is shrouded in mysteries. Mihrab is very accessible, everything is visible. We have a saying of God’s Messenger who said that the whole Earth is a mosque and wherever you stop and pray that is a mosque to you. Mosques are built in order to gather together at a specific time. Mosque has its details such as mihrab, minber, etc. When you stand inside mihrab, in that façade, you then do not stand there, but you have the feeling that you are connected to something which is outside of you and that is Mecca, something higher and farther. But, in reality, everything is near. It was written, as tradition of God’s Messenger that certain things are done with the right leg or with the right hand. You eat with the right hand and you enter mosque with the right hand, as in paying respect to that place. You exit mosque with the left leg as it is meant that you exit into a less holy place from the space designated as blessing and a special place where God’s mercy descends upon when released by God. And when you exit that place you will exit with your left leg.
What about praying? Muslim prays five times a day. What is with those who don’t do it that way? Not in the sense that there are sanctions for them, but are they in a kind of a heresy, a sin?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Namaz is the pillar of faith. He who does not keep that duty of namaz weakens the fundaments of his faith. That is a very strict duty which has many reliefs. Namaz is a principle of Islam and could be defined as personal experiencing of faith. There is no intermediary in namaz. You know whether you pray or not. Namaz is the most magnificent relationship with God which Muslim experiences. Some Muslims have the need and the habit to always be in that most magnificent relationship with God and some don’t, or have it sporadically. Those who do not practice it regularly pray to God to forgive them to endear themselves to do it, and that this opportunity of the most magnificent relationship with God they always live in joy.
Do, perhaps, in the eyes of Europeans, mosques’ minarets disturb the background of European urbanity?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: To me it makes for a beautiful architectural setting and it fits into Europe as she is full of mountains and forests so that mosque fits into it very well. Minaret is a pleasant architectural context. You don’t even have to look into minaret but you will see it as it is so prominent. That is, at least, how it looks to me, a Muslim. Just the same way that it looks to a Christian who is looking at a large cross, as Croats erected in Mostar and it looks very pleasant to them. It is about personal experience. Europe needs to get used to minarets and once she gets used to them then it will be a normal thing. Just as it is normal here, in Sarajevo, for the Sarajevans, to see the old Orthodox minster, the Catholic cathedral and mosque. Some in Banja Luka told me that Banja Luka is not Banja Luka anymore after the Ferhadija mosque was destroyed, as they have grown with minaret, they walked as children by it and minaret was as if it sprung out of the ground. It is a matter of habit.
The whole life is a matter of habit. When I go to Vienna and see the main cathedral I look at it as a Muslim and to me the interesting questions are: how long did it take, how much patience and love it took for all of that to be built. When you go to Istanbul and see the Blue Mosque, how it looks and how those munaras look, then you adore that it was built that way. Without that Istanbul would not be Istanbul. Europe will, over time, get used to mosques. By forbidding and preventing Muslims to build beautiful munaras Europe is now forcing them to build exactly that which is not European architecture, and that is that they have to build some stubby munaras which are ghastly looking. They do not look like a mosque and they do not look like a non-mosque, they are unrecognisable. Neither is a dome a dome, nor is a munara a munara. That spoils the European architectural image.
If Europe wants to exhibit an ugly picture by not allowing Muslims to express beauty then it is quite another thing. Europe needs to understand that Muslims, since they are not allowed to build mosques on the surface now must build their spaces underground and that is what we have. Then Europe wakes up and asks where all those Muslims have come from and demands of us to be transparent. How are we going to be transparent if they do not allow us to be transparent?
I have been to many European countries and have seen Muslims who have their maktabs and masjids down in the basements, which is very ugly and frightening. I as a Muslim do not feel well in the basement. And, why? Because Muslims in Europe are still not welcome above the ground. You saw how long it took to build the mosque in Zagreb. Zagreb was right to insist that mosque be built in the Folnegovic settlement as it is now clear that it was the best location although it was believed that it would be unacceptable for Muslims. You see how many difficulties we have with building a mosque in Ljubljana, and that is unacceptable. And even when they allow in Europe for a mosque to be built, the price of the land goes up so much that it is horrible.
When I was in Birmingham Muslims told me how they buy churches. It often happens that a Christian denomination expands, moves into a larger church and then sells the smaller one and Muslims buy that. I would often say to those Muslims that it would be better to build a mosque on a clear lot than buying churches. In any event Muslims do not see anything wrong with that.
There is still a big problem with Muslims cemeteries in Europe. It is difficult to find position for a cemetery.
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The issue with Muslim cemeteries is not about separation from someone as you need to be in relationship with every cemetery. It is difficult to segregate, isolate or create something special. More important thing for Muslims is to get any space for a cemetery. I do not see a reason for Muslims not to have their own cemeteries. If they have their houses and mosques, they will day one day so they need a cemetery. This is that Europe which, seems to me, can not comprehend that people who came have other needs too aside from going to work and working. They are given birth and they die, and everything in between. If you go to the cemetery in Sarajevo, especially the part from 1993, you will see that there are all confessions in one place. There are, of course, separate cemeteries, Jewish Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox. I don’t think that anyone is bothered with that. You get used that it is so. Why Europe still have problems resolving that, is not easy to say. It is easier for Europe to talk about a problem in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Pakistan than it is to resolve Muslim cemetery.
Continuation of the interview in 2008.
How come that you, Bosnian ulama, was elected to lead a delegation, within the project “A joint word for you and us” , in meeting with the Pope in Vatican?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The relations between Muslims and the West entered a void following September 11. INJ those moments nobody knew where to start and how to overcome the state of shock, both in the West and among Muslims. Accusations flew from both sides. However, it quickly became obvious that it was not leading anywhere. That is why 138 Muslim alims - intellectuals, including the Zagreb mufti Sevko Omerbasic, wrote an open letter to Christians titled: A joint word between us and you about love toward God and neighbour.
That had attracted a lot of attention in the West, especially in America, and opened up the possibility of dialogue as witnessed by the conferences at the Yale University and then Cambridge and then in Rome in Vatican.
The idea of the Joint word is a project of this century whose owners are 138 Muslim alims - intellectuals who on every detail seek consensus. Therefore, the decision a Bosnian alim be the head of the Muslim delegation in dialogue with Vatican is the result of consensus of alims-intellectuals, the owners of the project. That is, so far, the biggest recognition which the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina received from Muslims in the world not only because that was probably the most open and constructive dialogue between Muslims and Catholics in recent history but also because it made the front pages together with the news of election of President Barack Obama.
Some have in that coincidence seen a sign of hope for a better future. It is good for people to have reasons for hope, for better future.
Has any progress been made in the Christian - Muslim relations with respect to the state after Regensburg of two years ago? Do you think that Pope Benedict XVI has corrected his positions about Islam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: We are satisfied with Pope’s speech at the reception and think that Pope is aware of the importance of open and constructive dialogue with Muslims. In particular we were impressed with this Pope’s sentence:” We can and must be worshippers of the One God, who has created us and who cares about every person in every corner of the world. Together we must show , with our mutual respect and solidarity, that we take ourselves as members of one family which is loved by God and which He gathered together from the beginning of the Creation until the end of human history”. Further, Pope’s quoting of hadis (reference) of Mohammad a.s. :” Your faith will not be whole until you wish to others what you wish for yourselves”, is the best proof that Pope Benedict has corrected his opinion of Mohammad a.s. and that the Regensburg issue is an incident which is best forgotten as soon as possible and open up a new page in relations between Muslims and Vatican, a page which will be written with mutual respect and mutual solidarity for the benefit of the humanity.
His prayer at the Blue Mosque was received as an excuse but he, really, did not excuse himself before Muslims?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: We all have the right to our interpretations of the Pope’s visit to Istanbul but I think that the visit is of historic significance and has greatly contributed to the Muslim - Christian dialogue. I know that there are Islamophobes in Europe who blame him for aborting his statements in Regensburg. Luckily, they are a minority. There are also Islamophobes who do not approve of Muslims meeting with Christians, especially with Vatican. They, too, are a minority. That is why it is important to continue with the dialogue which has no alternative. It is important for the people feel the advantage of that dialogue in the sense that coexistence and tolerance among faiths be translated into everyday life.
In your speech to the Pope you asked if the purpose of our times is the clash or the unity of civilisations, if the purpose of our times is violence or reconciliation?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Unfortunately there are still those who think that clash of civilisations is unavoidable and they behave in such a way to divide people and nations. Some politicians in our surroundings still think and act that way. Ethnic cleansing is the result of a philosophy of clash of the civilisations and the apex of the crimes of that philosophy is genocide in Srebrenica. The continuity of that crime is denial of genocide in spite of over 8,000 names of victims written on a plaque in Potocari and in spite of all those witnesses including the International Court of Justice in The Hague. I was given an opportunity to share with Pope Benedict a hope that spirit of of unity of faiths and cultures will be victorious and that truth and justice will overpower revenge and violence.
How could then, in 20th century, Srebrenica take place?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: There is no answer to that question. Explaining a crime means understanding it and that is but defending the crime. Evil can not be explained, can not be understood. Evil can only be punished. As Dostoyevsky would say:” The criminal has the right to punishment”.
Of course, we have our own opinion why genocide was committed especially against us in 20th century Europe. We did not want war against or because of former Yugoslavia. We were not an enemy to anybody, in any way. We did not have nationalist or territorial designs with respect to our neighbours. We were punished by aggression upon our state and with genocide upon our people.
Europe has missed to protect autochthonous Bosnian Musilms form ethnic cleansing, rape, crimes against humanity and genocide and after that she left them without a strong, functional and self-sustaining state. All ethnic and national communities of the former Yugoslavia - Slovenians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Albanians have realised the exclusive right to motherland and national state. Only Bosnians are denied the right of majority, only the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina has three presidents, a tribal constitution and a police divided along ethnic lines.
Only Bosnian Muslims are made to make peace with those who committed genocide upon them. Only Bosnian Muslims must be monitored as they are not to be trusted, while they must trust everybody including those who had committed genocide upon them (Serbian police are still in Srebrenica and they welcome mothers of sons who were murdered in genocide). Only Fata Orlovic, Bosnian Muslim whose sons were murdered in Srebrenica genocide is taken before a Serbian court because she dared to demand that her private property be returned, where an Orthodox church was built upon, where there are no Orthodox believers.
After South Africa there is not a place in the world, except for Bosnia and Herzegovina where the principle of “one person one vote” would not be recognised. Only in Bosnia and Herzegovina an individual is not a person, his individual right is invalid but his right is in a constructed national corral in which he can not recognise himself as a person with a name and a surname but as a part of a herd or a tribe in which the elite have everything and an individual has nothing
I hope that Europe has understood and confessed her sin toward the autochthonous European Muslims, Bosnians which she will show if she declares July 11th as a day of commemorating the victims of genocide but also that she undertakes that Muslims or Jews are never again going to be murdered or exiled from the European continent because of their faith and culture.
You stated that the dialogue between Christians and Muslims is imperative not only because of Ibrahim’s / Abraham’s heritage but also because of the heritage of historical interaction. What did you think by that?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I thought about the current state of affairs between Islam (East) and West (Christianity), for which we could say that it is at the lowest level of trust in the recent past and that is untenable. Things have to change as the West owes the East for its present and the East owes the West for its future. Those two worlds - East (Islam) and West (Christianity) are twins of the present civilisation and equally are responsible for the future of humanity. The West currently holds the edge in terms of technology and military in relation to the East but the East holds the edge in demographics and spirituality in relation to the West. The competition in 21st century is not going to be in the domain of conquering territories but in adoption of human souls. Military might or apathetic machine is not going to have primacy in this century. Human spirit and soul which is defined by faith and culture is going to have primacy in 21st century. IN the process of spiritual revolution in the world, which is unavoidable, Islam is also unavoidable and I would say that Islam is a key in all of that. Islam had, back in the 7th century started the process of deep spiritual or religious reformation in the world which lasts still today. That is the secret of Islam - the continuous returning to the origin of faith which motions man to go further, to acquire new knowledge, to not accept current habits and stereotypes, to reject slavery to kumirs, to not allow any nation to privatise it, to be the light of hope in the moment of complete darkness! That is what the West needs to learn from Islam and the East needs to learn from the West that the ideals of faith need to be applied in everyday life.
You shared your excitement with others after the arrest of Radovan Karadzic but how do you look as the indictments appear to be formed so as to evade the indictment for genocide?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: As far as it is known to me Karadzic will not be able to evade the indictment for genocide. We are waiting for Mladic who will, probably, bear the brunt of the weight of the Serbian genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have confidence in The Hague Tribunal and I believe that the prosecutors and the judges of the Tribunal do their job professionally and with good conscience. It is good that Karadzic was arrested and it will be even better when Mladic is arrested. The best is to secure for these war criminals “the right to punishment” and with that the right to the victims to believe that there are good and just people in the world after all.
You met with Pope after Obama was victorious in the States. Is he going to open a new chapter in the relations with Islam?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: The world has enormous expectations of Barack Obama and Muslims, too, expect that the foreign policy of America will change in relation to Muslims, especially with respect to the issues in the Middle East - the Palestinian question, war in Iraq, and war in Afghanistan. It is not useful to look at the elected president through his racial, religious or other origins. I think he is a man of exceptional talent and character. Barack Husein Obama is already a historical figure who could turn the tides of history in the direction of a better life upon this earth the way we have not yet seen. But one needs to be patient and allow that theoretical image of Barack Obama turns into a practical historical reality. I believe that Barack Obama is not only earthly but also heavenly sign for humanity. America had shown that she is not only huge but also that she is a great nation. I am glad that America’s confidence is back on. With Obama America is not only a military power but is an example of moral strength which every reasoning man ought to respect.
But he expresses himself as a Christian although his father is Muslim. Is that an optimistic message for the dialogue which you strive for?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is not wise for Muslims to invoke Obama’s Muslim roots, nor is it wise to deny his Christianity. Obama himself, in one of his many interviews, had said that he still searches for the truth as all others who have an open heart for all feelings and an open mind for all cognitions. Obama is, obviously a good human soul which contains all which is good regardless of where it comes from - and everything comes from Divine God, who had created us all from one father and one mother.
We in Zagreb now hear the appeal of Croats Catholics form Bosnia and Herzegovina that they are discriminated against. What are you doing to maintain the coexistence and help them?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: I do not like the word “help” as in it is hidden the superiority of the one who is helping over the one who is being helped. It is better to say “service” as in that way we are equals. When we are in service of one another then we are equal to one another. Mother Theresa used to say:” We serve life, not because it is broken, but because it is holy”. Therefore our mutual life needs to be such to serve one another and not because someone’s heart is broken but because human life is holy.
I need to tell you this. During the summer vacation in Istria this August I was shocked by the report on the HTV that authorities in Sarajevo (read Muslims) demand that the frontage of the Catholic abbey in Sarajevo must be painted green. Goebbels would have been proud! I was shocked by realisation that the state TV, HTV, has lowered itself to such level of dirty propaganda against Sarajevo, which honourable and proud Sarajevans did not deserve, especially from Croatian television. The last thing to come to the mind to anybody in Sarajevo is to dictate to Catholic abbey in Sarajevo what colour to use to paint the frontage of their building, let alone that they demand it to be green.
With this I wish to point to my difficulties in understanding what, really, is the injustice or discrimination toward Croats and what the malicious plan to constantly emphasise the Bosniak - Croat mistrust is. We are tired of the wounds of war and due to that we sometimes have no strength to wrestle with some social problems, but we are not stupid. I accept the legitimate demands of the Croat s who are a constitutive people in Bosnia and Herzegovina which means that Croats have their legal and legitimate representatives in government at all levels. I am sad because of the apartheid in Mostar where Croat and Bosniak children are not together in classes and where Croat and Bosniak teachers do not sit together in the professors’ quarters. I am surprised by the silence of the Croat intellectuals with respect to that fact. It serves neither Bosniaks nor Croats. It is a shame which every sentient human being should feel. As you can see, the list of our mutual complaints could be very long. But we need to take the example of Martin Luther King who did not say:” I have a complaint”, but who said:” I have a dream that my children not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the character of their person!” Do you think that Barack Obama would be elected today if Martin Luther King went on to continuously complain?
Bosnia, just like Croatia, gravitates toward European integration. Are there sceptics among Bosnian Muslims in that they are afraid of their religious and national identity? Is there Europhobia among Bosnian Muslims?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Bosnian Muslims are not xenophobic. In their genes is planted experience of many centuries and they are in relation to those foreigners or foreign experience rather curious while remaining faithful to their tradition and culture. It is an impressive historical fact that Bosnian Musilms saved their faith and culture in such rapturous history of Europe, from disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, to the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the rise and fall of the old and new Yugoslavia. It is phenomenal how they managed to survive the aggressive atheisation or de-Islamisation during the period of communism. Because of the Bosnian Muslims are ready for the challenges of the Euro-Atlantic integration as in the company of big and strong states they are curious and they are tolerant toward smaller and weaker states.
The one thing which was unquestionable with Bosnian Muslims, regardless of the historical circumstances, is their Islam and their Bosnian culture. These times, however, demand of Bosnian Muslims something else and that is to clearly and loudly articulate own nation. Their having been preoccupied with Islam so far is understandable because they were denied the freedom to articulate Bosnian nation. Bosnian Muslims, without doubt, will always be proud of their faith, but in the family of European states and nations Bosnian Muslims have their state and national name and Europe needs to recognise them under that name. It is not proper for either Christianity or Islam that faith is reduced to a specific nation. Just as one can be an Englishman only by birth but a Briton by belonging to a state, so Bosniak, Serb and Croat could be by birth only but in terms of belonging to a state they are all Bosnians.
By the same token, every Persian is an Iranian but not every Iranian is a Persian. Every Bosniak is a Bosnian but not every Bosnian is a Bosniak, as Bosnian is also a Serb or Croat or Jew. That is in which Bosniaks need to be an avant-garde on the way to European integration - to affirm being a Bosnian as a joint state descriptor, where everybody will feel well in their faith, culture and ethnic determination. Belonging to Bosnia is not the same as belonging to Yugoslavia. The former is a historical fact and the latter is a political construction for one-time use only Kulin-ban was a Bosnian.
Tell us: is Dayton dead, is it time for new political sewing of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: Dayton is neither dead nor alive. It is, as we would say it, “So, so”. This condition has been around for a long time and the reason for that is that the state-Bosnian identity is till weak to contain all Bosnian identities - Bosniak, Croat, Serbian and others. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a clear and unambiguous articulation of the state-Bosnian identity. That is not just a right but also an obligation of Bosnians to bequeath to their children the historical and legal foundations of a functional Bosnian state based upon principles of democracy and human rights
Bosnian state is a democratic one and also a secular one in terms of equality of all faiths, cultures and nations before the state laws, which are enacted by parliament by way of democratic procedure, and which is applied upon the principle of truth and justice for all.
In the absence of strong state-Bosnian identity, religious and ethnic identities are being overemphasised in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Further, there must be loyalty to the state. In Switzerland, for example, there is a double state loyalty which is regulated by laws and does not impede the Swiss statehood. In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is also double loyalty which is not regulated by laws and which greatly impedes the Bosnian statehood.
I am not pleased with Bosnian intellectuals, especially Bosniaks, who do not do enough to articulate and propagate the state-Bosnian identity, acceptable to all ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There is no other way but for Bosnia and Herzegovina to become a strong, functioning state, which will protect human rights of all of her citizens. Postponing or delaying the process of strengthening of the state-Bosnian identity makes it difficult for Bosnia and Herzegovina to embrace Euro-Atlantic integration. Strong Bosnian state is guarantor of regional stability and progress as well as European peace and security.
In the end, I read in “Dani” that students accuse you of building the new home for Rijaset in Kovaci with haram-money of the rich?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: “Dani” just carried the information published by their colleagues in the Sarajevo “San”. An answer to that question was given by students using their names and surnames.
“Following text published by “San” on November 5, 2008, on page 2 in the column of news (we discover), students of the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo, advise with regret that they have not sent a letter with alleged contents. This is about fraud perpetrated against the students of the Faculty of Islamic Sciences and false representation of persons unknown to us. With respect, Association of students of the Faculty for Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo, President of the Association Amel Hadzic.
You are, as I hear, recipient of the award Eugen Biser behind which is a well respected Catholic foundation in Munich. The award is given for promoting the Christian-Muslim dialogue, especially by way of project “A joint word between us and you”. What does this award mean to you?
Raisu-l-ulama dr. Mustafa CERIC: It is a significant award which this year if given to Prince Ghazi ibn Talala from Jordan, Sheikh al-Jifry form Abu Dhabi and to me within the context of the project of the Muslim initiative “Joint word” for dialogue with Christians. That award means a lot in my future work in the sphere of interreligious dialogue.