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Muslims interpret Essay

After a brief discussion of how Muslims interpret the Qur’an to inform their attitudes toward and relations with non-Muslims, this paper discusses Bosnia as an example of a milieu where Muslims enjoyed good relations with non-Muslims, specifically with non- Christians and Jews. The period reviewed is the half-century or so leading up to the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

However, cordial relationship between Muslims, Christians and Jews in Bosnia can be traced back to the beginning of Muslim presence in the Balkans, according to sources consulted. Duran (1995) described Bosnia as “the other Andalusia” and compared interfaith relations there with the earlier period of Muslim rule in Spain. With reference to harmonious coexistence and scholarly exchange in Andalusia, Mann (1992) and others use the term convivencia to describe harmonious interaction.

Duran more than implied that Bosnian Islam before the war was the type of Islam Europeans should welcome as compatible with European values and ideals, the type of Islam Muslim minority communities in France, Great Britain and elsewhere ought to emulate because it removes many tensions that can exist between Muslim minorities and the majority population in these states. However, not all commentators represent Bosnian Islam as having enjoyed positive relations with non-Muslims.

Some represent Bosnian Muslims as having oppressed non-Muslims for centuries during Ottoman rule in the Balkans and regard them as race-traitors intent on establishing Muslim supremacy throughout the whole of Europe. Based on the writing of Rusmir Mahmutc? ehajic? , a former Vice-President of Bosnia, Duran and Douglas M Johnston and Jonathon Eastvold, this paper upholds the view that Muslims in Bosnia enjoyed positive relations with non-Muslims and that Bosnian Islam offers lessons to others on how people of different religions can co-exist in peace, with mutual respect and tolerance. Mahmutc? ehajic?

, argues that Muslim-non-Muslim co-existence in Bosnia, which he calls the harmonia Abrahamica, provides an essential balance against any single tradition becoming perverse, idolizing itself as the only true faith. After a brief general discussion of Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims, this paper turns to Bosnia, beginning with the origins of Islam there then discussing Bosnian Islam in the second half of the twentieth century. This paper argues that, as a consequence of the West more or less abandoning Bosnia during the conflict, relations between the religious communities became embittered.

Using mainly texts by Bosnian writers, the methodology used gives priority to insider voices while also listening to what outsiders have said. Muslim attitudes towards non-Muslims Much has been written on this subject. Muslims relate to non-Muslims in a variety of different situations. On the one hand, Muslims are guided by the Qur’an and by Islamic tradition, including hadith (sayings of Muhammad) in dealing with others. On the other hand, actual relations on the ground are also influenced by context. Where Muslims are a majority or a minority exercising power, this context influences relations and attitudes with non-Muslims.

Where Muslims are themselves a minority without political power, their attitudes may be different. Qur’anic verses relevant to attitudes towards other religions have been widely discussed, for example, by Esack (1997) and Bennett (2008). Some verses have been described as “verses of friendship”, others as “verses of hostility”. The first verses inform a friendly attitude toward people of other faith, especially toward scripture possessing communities (People of the Book) and even affirm that they enjoy a genuine relationship with God. For example, Q2: 62 and 29: 46. The second verses inform a negative attitude and include 3: 85 and 5: 51.

3: 85, which says that God will accept no religion other than Islam, has been interpreted as canceling the verses of friendship, replacing them with hostility. Esack says that this interpretation represents a “significant opinion” among exegetes (1997, 162). Esack argues that Muslims have tolerated others as social-political communities while denying the validity of their religions. In this view, non-Muslims in Muslim society are to be humiliated, treated as second-class citizens. Restrictions on their dress, occupations, travel and means of travel are found in classical texts (Bennett, 115).

However, there are also hadith on being kind to minorities, known as dhimmis, to not over burdening or over taxing them. Many Muslim rulers employed Christians and Jews in important posts. Others dismissed them. Friedmann (2003) suggests that Muslim rulers choose which verses and traditions they use to inform their dealings with minorities according to what they find compatible with their own views and disregard what is incompatible (116). Dhimmis are those who agree to pay a special tax and to live as a protected community, excepting certain restrictions (such as not bearing arms and trying to convert Muslims) in return for protection.

Discussion of the experience of dhimmis is complicated because it has become part of cultural war between critics of Islam and apologists. Friedmann refers to the claim that minorities in Muslim society fared better than they did in Christian contexts (4) while Bet Ye’or (1996) caricatures the treatment of non-Muslims by Muslims universally harsh, ridiculing the claim of tolerance or that they dhimmis fared better than minorities did in Christian Europe. The dhimmi system, she says, was designed to systematically exploit, humiliate, oppress and ultimately to destroy non-Muslim society (247).

Dhimmi may be majorities in territory under Muslim rule, not minorities. Bosnian Islam Islam entered Bosnia with the Ottoman invasion and conquest, which took place in 1463. Critics speak of forced conversions followed by centuries of oppressive rule, with longstanding enmity between non-Muslims and the Muslims, all of whom were called “Turks” although most were fellow Slavs. In 1991, on the eve of the Bosnian War, Bosnia had large numbers of Serbs (Bosnian Serbs; 31%) and Croatians (Bosnian Croats; 17%) as well as those who saw themselves as Bosnian, although all were actually Slavs.

It also had a substantial Jewish presence. About 43% of the population was Muslim (1991 census). However, use of the terms “Bosnian Croat” and “Bosnian Serb” are misleading, because these people are actually Bosnian Catholics and Bosnian Orthodox who choose to identify as Croats and Serbs because Croatia is a majority Catholic and Serbia an majority Orthodox state. In both of states, there is a close relationship between national and religious identity. Johnston and Eastvold reports that “99.

5 percent of Orthodox believers also considered themselves to be Serbs and 98. 1 percent of Roman Catholics considered themselves to be Croats’ according to a 1953 census” (225). It was not until 1968, under the Yugoslavian Constitution, that Muslims could register as ‘musliman’, or as ‘Muslim by nationality” although many preferred to identify simply as “Bosnian”. In Yugoslavia (which was Serb dominated) Bosnians had to be either Serb, Croatian and after 1968, Muslim. Mahmutc? ehajic?

sees this as the start of a trend that compelled Bosnian Muslims, who like to be called “Bosniaks,” to prioritize their religious over their national identity, driving a wedge between themselves and non-Muslims. Mahmutcehajic and Duran say that most Bosnian Muslims at the time that Yogoslavia began to implode saw their state as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious reality in which there was ‘unity in diversity’. They opposed “all ideologies that are based on exclusivity and ignore the call for charity towards others” (Mahmutcehajic, 2000a: 35).

Duran (1995) described Bosniaks as “leading in democracy and modernity, in pluralism and secularization” and as favoring “a state for all Bosnians regardless of their religious affiliation” (31). Duran points out that Bosnian Islam also itself diverse and that different schools maintained good relationships with one another. A traditionalist leader such as Hafiz Kamil Silaijich, Imam of Sarajevo’s largest mosque was in “close and amicable contact with reformist groups” (33). Mixed marriages were common.

Islamic law was not practiced and the prevalent expression of Islam might best be described as “Islamic humanism” not “fundamentalism” (32). Duran suggests that Bosnian Islam was just the type of Islam that some European Muslims describe as ‘Euro Islam’ (Tibi 2001, 226). Sells offers a very similar description to Duran, with the famous Mostar bridge as a symbol of an ethos of bridging difference, or of unity in diversity (see Sells, 148). Mahmutcehajic argues that Bosnia has a long history, pre-dating the Ottoman period and the presence of Islam, of embracing diversity.

He rejects the contention that different religio-ethnic groups in Bosnia had a record of hostility and antagonism, a picture painted by, among others, the political leaders of Serbia and Croatia before and during the Bosnian conflict, for whom Muslims represent “the evil Other, the embodiment of primitivism and inhumanity … opposed to the civilized virtues of European culture” (2000a, 61). Even if Bosnian Muslims and Christians had once lived together in peace, they could no longer do so; as Radovan Karadnic put it, “Serbs cannot live together with Muslims and Croats” (cited by Mahmutcehajic 2000a, 46).

According to Mahmutcehajic, Bosnians have always resisted centralizing tendencies, valuing unity in diversity. Bosnian Christians, known as Bogomils, did not reverence or kneel before icons or the cross (2000b, 121). While there was never any formal agreement between Bosnia’s different religious communities that “no single creed can have priority, nor that the right road lay in dialogue based on acceptance of the faiths of all participants”, this consensus nonetheless emerged (2000a: 119).

Following the Ottoman conquest, Islam became another religious option in Bosnia, so the stage was set both for non-icon, non-cross reverencing, Arianist-tending Bosnian Christians, or Bogomils, to convert to Islam and for all religious communities to continue to co-exist on the basis that each represented a viable “path”, based on “respect for the statement that ‘God gave every people their law and their way of life’” (200a, 119; citing Q5: 48).

Conversion to Islam took place over time. There were some incentives for converting but Mahmutecehajic argues that it was due to the work of Sufi teachers, whose presence in Bosnia preceded the Ottoman invasion that encouraged conversion. (2000b: 124). Q5: 48 is often cited by Muslim pluralists to show that religious diversity is part of God’s plan. Jews also lived in Bosnia. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492), Bosnia was one of the Ottoman provinces where many found refuge.

“Bosnia”, he says, “is possible the only European state where ancient ideas about the multiplicity of holy teaching have managed to obtain a foothold before being consumed by the desire for nation-states” (2000a: 120). As a result of the war, when some Serbs and some Croatians tried to destroy Bosnian Muslim society, Bosniaks developed a “more strident Islamic identity,” which was exactly what their enemies had set out to achieve – to reduce Bosnia’s Muslims to their Muslim identity, then to “portray” them as “radicals” who represented a “potential threat to global stability”.

Mahmutc? ehajic? resigned from the Cabinet when he saw his vision of “unity in diversity” compromised by those who appeared to want power for the sake of power. Despite this, Bosnian Muslims share power with Christians post- 1995 and many remain committed to living in a democratic, pluralist, tolerant state although boundaries between communities are now more rigid, with “divisions between … entities turning them steadily into areas of ethno-national government that communicate mainly through … international mediators. ” (2000a, 124).

References Bennett, Clinton. 2008. Understanding Christian-Muslim relations. London: Continuum. Duran, Khalid. 1995. “Bosnia: The Other Andalusia. ” 25-36. Abedin, Sayed S and Sardar, Z. Muslim Minorities in the West. London: Grey Seal. Sells, Michael Anthony. 1998. The bridge betrayed religion and genocide in Bosnia. Comparative studies in religion and society, 11. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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