Bosnia: A European Islam?

Bosnia: A European Islam?

With their European culture and Islamic faith, Bosnian Muslims want to act as a bridge between East and West but instead feel rejected.

There are times when Aida Begic gets on a plane and the looks she receives from other passengers remind her of people's fears and misunderstandings about Islam.

A well-known Bosnian movie director, she flies to film festivals all over the world dressed in fashionable yet distinctively Islamic clothing – a headscarf and outfits reaching down to her ankles and wrists.

"If you wear a headscarf, people immediately assume that you must be uneducated and primitive," says the 33-year-old whose first feature movie, Snow, premiered in Cannes in 2008.

The global fear of flying with Muslims has become part of Begic's everyday life. Despite this, she denies that there is any clash between her faith and her appreciation of western culture.

"I was shaped by European literature, arts and music, and Bach is as much a part of my identity as [Muslim mystic and poet Jalaluddin] Rumi," she says.

In fact, some experts believe the Muslim communities in the Balkans, whose Islamic faith developed in a European context, could serve as a bridge between the Islamic east and the Christian west.

But the allegiance of Bosnia's Muslims to both worlds has been sorely tested recently. They feel Europe betrayed them in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and has excluded them ever since. On the other side, offers of assistance during the war from some Muslim co-believers came at a price.


Wahhabism in retreat

In Bosnia, the Islamic Community faces growing criticism from liberal and secular Bosniaks who accuse them of having discreetly supported the rise of Wahhabism.

"It is possible that Ceric is inspired by the philosophy of the Wahhabi movement, whose harmful activities the Islamic Community has never openly repudiated," journalist Damir Kaletovic recently said on the popular investigative TV show 60 minutes.

Ceric flatly dismisses such criticism and describes his critics as "followers of ossified communist ideas who are ashamed of their own identity." He adds: "There are more Wahhabis in Vienna than in the whole of Bosnia."

Some security experts and scholars agree, claiming the concerns expressed over the rise of religious radicalism in Bosnia have often been exaggerated.

They view the attacks on the Islamic leadership as a reaction to Ceric's attempt to increase the role that religion plays in Bosnian society.

"What Muslims are fighting for is an ethnic and national, rather than religious, identity," Dino Abazovic, a scholar of religious sociology in Sarajevo, maintains.

"The experience of living in a historically secular society has had much greater influence on the Bosnian Muslim community than any of the religious debates in the short post-communist period," he adds.


We need to talk

Medina Velic, a Bosnian Muslim who now lives in Austria, remembers experiencing anti-Muslim discrimination in Vienna when she started wearing a headscarf at 16.

"The first day of school that year, my head teacher of five years told everyone I was a new student and asked me to stand up and introduce myself," the 22-year-old recalls. "For them, I was no longer the same person."

Velic was 11 when her family moved to Vienna, where her father was sent to work as an Imam and her mother as a religious teacher for the large Bosnian Muslim community. Despite being on the receiving end of "stereotypical perceptions" on the part of some ordinary Europeans, Bosnian Muslims like her insist that their interaction with Western civilisation has generally been mutually beneficial.

"It is very important for Muslims to initiate dialogue to help others get to know them; we need to talk," Velic says.

Other Bosnian Muslims now living in Austria agree: Islamic faith and European values are not contradictory. "We prove it is possible to be both Muslim and European," 45-year-old Belkisa Bulut says.

"We go to rock concerts and theatre performances, but we also go to mosques," she adds. "Our Islam is the best example of Islam in Europe."


Source: Balkan Insight (English)

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