Essay: Islam in Bosnia

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Bosnia Islam

The Islamic Faith in Bosnia: A Critically Overlooked Diversity

The Islamic faith represents one of the most widely spread and acknowledged religions in the world. Often misunderstood and even more often exploited, members of the Muslim faith have developed an identity in the modern world which is problematically associated to such issues as conflict and terrorism. However, an examination of Islam finds it to be a deeply complex faith based in a rich history of tradition. Moreover, it demonstrates that the perception of Islam as a violent and archaic faith driven by political aggression and a set of laws governed by an extreme orientation on human rights is neither universal nor accurately representative of all Muslim faith. An exemplary Muslim population for consideration in this discussion is that of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has endured in the face of centuries of communist rule, Civil War and, today, a revitalization that sees it as among the most accessible of global Muslim populations. And yet, Islam in Bosnia is colored by a recent history of political strife and a current reality of relative uncertainty. The people of Bosnia have worked to achieve a stable sovereignty in the last decade that is underscored by a simultaneous drive for its Muslims to reestablish themselves as a faith of cultural, political and legal influence. In its friendliness to the West, its proclivity toward religious freedom and national pluralism, and its efforts at creating a gendered modern faith with the intent to reverse Islam's often outmoded and cruel treatment of women, Bosnia's Islamic population represents a counterpoint both to perceptions of the Muslim faith as being radical, violent and anti-American and to the movement of Islam itself, which in other regions is categorically more sympathetic to fundamentalist aims.

The discussion hereafter denotes though that the Muslims of Bosnia are on a threshold. With the worlds of American materialism and Islamic tribalism clashing violently with another, the Islamic surge in Bosnia may still be formed to reflect either of these paths. Though to the perspective of American allies, Bosnia's Muslims are a breed apart from those North African or Persian Gulf Muslims that have intended us military harm and political undermining, there remains a concern over the cultural direction proceeded upon by Bosnia's Muslims. In a European continent itself noting a significant rise in the radicalization of the Islamic population, Bosnia's population is at a sensitive point in its history where proper support may continue its push toward modernity but where alienation and disenfranchisement could threaten to reduce Bosnia's Islamic people to fodder for a militarized movement against modernity and industrialization. Though Islam is today a majority faith in the secular nation, many Bosnians are concerned by evidence that its Muslims could be radicalized. Further, there is concern that this population could be radicalized to the point of threatening the secular sovereignty of the state.

Key to facilitating the continuity of an Islamic tradition with roots in the faith rather than in the modern politicization of its struggle against colonial occupation is a more accurate understanding of this population than that which already persists. Namely, because Islam makes up roughly 40% of the population in Bosnia, and because this makeup is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, the nation does have a cultural connection to the Islam which is practiced throughout the Middle East. This cultural connection is frequently overlooked though as we choose to understand Bosnia as a sort of bastion to a more agreeable sort of Muslim.

The text by Bougeral (?) explores the rationality of the perception, remarking that "the will to present Bosnian Islam as a sort of positive cultural exception sometimes entails a conception of this 'European and tolerant' Islam as homogenous and sui generis, set in opposition to another, implicit Islam, considered 'intolerant since non-European', which is located beyond the Bosporous and the Strait of Gibraltar, or represented by the 'non-autochthonous' Muslim populations living in Western Europe." (Bougeral, 97) To make this distinction is to understand the Islamic population of Bosnia as being somehow inherently more acquiescent to peace and the commercial interests of western nations.

And yet, because Bosnia is a nation less than a decade removed from war and from the oversight of totalitarian authority, its population is in an area of high risk where radicalization is concerned. Following a decade of attempted recovery from a brutal ethnic conflict that found Muslims as a secondary victim to the Christian majority which focused its 'cleansing' efforts on the ethnic Albanians in Serbia, the former Yugoslavia is now splintered into sovereign regions demarcated across cultural lines. This would mark a moment of inflection for Bosnia, which would become a template to Europe of a secular state with a majority Muslim population. Bougeral connects the fallout from years of conflict to the emergence of a self-sufficient Bosnian Muslim identity, reporting that "in the 1990s, the disappearance of the Yugoslav federation and the independence of Bosnia-Herzogovina, followed by its violent partition, deeply transformed the context in which these debates were taking place. Having proclaimed their own political sovereignty, Bosnian Muslims attracted the attention of the whole Muslim world and thus rendered such debates more significant than ever." (Bougeral, 98)

This would be a compelling emergence perceived differently in the western and Muslim worlds. In the former, this would be a positive demonstration of the capacity for Muslim coexistence in a modern secular state, with a significant degree less extremist proclivity than Muslim theocracies throughout the Middle East and North Africa. However, the transition would also enliven the imagination of Islamic leaders from more theocratic contexts in the Muslim world. This ascendancy in Europe corresponded with the implications of the Jihad, which called for the achievement of a pan-Islamic global regime. The disbanding of the atheist Communist forces that had held sway in Bosnia and the de facto emergence of a moderate Islamic voice in the region would suggest an orientation more susceptible to the ambitions of said Jihad but simultaneously moderate in its practice of faith.

This is demonstrated where Bougeral tells of efforts on the part of a rising voice in the leadership of Bosnia's Islamic communities to promote an agenda of Sharia-based administration. However, "the party's efforts to reintroduce certain religious prohibitions in everyday life came up against the multiform resistance of a largely secularized society. These inner dynamics of the Bosnian Muslim community, which are unusual and most often implicit, have escaped the attention of most external observers, or have been reduced to an inevitable consequence of the war. Since 1996, the transformation of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a de facto international protectorate has limited the room for menoeuvre of Muslim leaders." (Bougeral, 99)

It is thus that in spite of the contestation of its preachers, Bosnia's people and culture seem to be allied in a certain orientation denoted by recent cultural history. The thrust of socialism has been a crucial factor in reducing the amount of religious extremism or religious rule throughout Eastern Europe, where most living individuals of working, socializing and governing age emerged at a time when religion was illegal. Under the authority of sweeping Soviet aims, Bosnia would be largely inhospitable to all forms of religious expression. Thus, when finally Bosnia did gain self-rule with the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the relationship of its Muslim population to the international network of Islam would be limited at best. Instead, those who were Islamic by heritage would reflect a greater cultural proximity to western cultural values on religion than to those reflected in an ever more extreme global Islam. It is to this end that Cesari (2006) indicates that "in Europe and the United States, the hierarchies and clerical dynasties of the Muslim world symply [sic] cease to apply. Instead, the mobilization of ordinary Muslims is the deciding factor for the new forms of authority. This mobilization is seen, for example, in the development of mosques and Islamic centers throughout the Western world. . . . Such rapid growth in the number of Islamic centers -- not to mention the increase in Muslim funeral parlors, halal butcher shops, Islamic schools, and so on -- is a striking indication of how well Islam has adapted to its democratic and secularized context." (Cesari, 127)

Indeed, it also causes us to question the reason for the dominance of a single impression concerning Muslims where many in the west are concerned. Certainly, this is not done for a lack of exposure to these populations as Cesari reports myriad statistical figures in order to demonstrate their proliferation in North America and Western Europe. However, these populations who are integrated into their respective modern societies while still practicing some level of observation are significantly shadowed by the activities of the most extreme of adherents; those who consider themselves freedom fighters in contexts such as Iraq and Afghanistan; those who govern with ruthless theocratic intolerance as in the Sudan or Saudi Arabia; and those who act with impunity in the face of international law such as the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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