His Eminence Husein Kavazović, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia & Herzegovina, from 1 August 2014., was on a three-day visit to the UK. The visit was organised by the UK charity “Remembering Srebrenica”. During his visit, the Grand Mufti Kavazović met with leading Islamic scholars and leaders from the Muslim community in north Manchester and held a keynote address at the Living Islam festival in Lincolnshire.
Speech of Grand Mufti Kavazović at the Living Islam festival in Lincolnshire, London
Eminencies, Excellencies, dear friends, brothers and sisters!
Thank you for the invitation to participate at this event. Allow me to express my great appreciation for the hard work you do so that here, in this great and important country, the United Kingdom, the memory of the Muslim suffering in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the memory of the genocide in Srebrenica is preserved. On behalf of the Muslims in my country, I express my gratitude to the Government of the United Kingdom for making the decision that the remembrance of genocide in Srebrenica is marked permanently on its territory. This is also an opportunity to express our gratitude to the brave individuals and enthusiasts who have directly confronted the scale of the crime committed at the end of the twentieth century in our country. I owe special thanks to Dr. Azmiju, for his dedication and effort invested to raise this awareness.
I come from a nation which was, most likely, in the long Muslim history, the last nation to accept Islam during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Bosniaks are Muslims, people of Slavic origin, who from the seventh century inhabit the area in of the southeastern Europe. Today we reside mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Sandzak in Serbia. This small European nation, whose total number exceeds three million, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, formed their own feudal country called Bosnia, which was one of the most powerful countries in southern Europe during the fourteenth century. It was a country with a rounded territory, the ruling house of Kotromanić, noble families and own church organization. Bosnian Church, of which little is known, differed from the Catholic and Orthodox churches in religious ceremonies performed. The Bosnian state had all the characteristics of a state, same as the other European countries of early feudal period.
Bosniaks mostly belonged to the Bosnian church, which was persecuted because of its own doctrine, and for its autocephaly in relation to Rome and Byzantium. With the arrival of the Ottomans in the Balkans and the conquest of Bosnia in 1463, Bosniaks, gradually, in the course of two centuries, accepted Islam. Since then, our nation has developed its own Islamic tradition, based on the Hanafi madhhab and Maturity Akaid, with cultural characteristics that are a mixture of Islamic and European cultures. Over the centuries, along the territory of Bosnia, urban centers were built, cities with madrasas, mosques, tekke’s, baths, indoor shopping centers (BEZISTAN), craft centers, water supply systems, large Bosnian rivers were bridged with beautiful bridges, such as the bridge in Mostar, Visegrad and bridges of Sarajevo, which visitors can see today. Famous Croatian academician Miroslav Krleza said that Bosnian madrassas were the only truly organized schools in the Balkans during the Middle Ages. Our tradition of literacy from that time has been preserved in oriental languages and our Alhamiado literature vigorously developed. The oldest library in Balkans (Gazi-Husrev bey’s library in Sarajevo) even today preserves more than ten thousand scripts which testify the flourishing of knowledge and science in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Just because my ancestors had written in oriental languages (Arabic, Turkish and Persian), while carefully nurturing its own Bosnian language, my country was called the “Dark Land” by the aspirants to its territory from Serbia, although we were far better educated than them.
After the Ottoman Empire retreated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, most of my people found themselves within a new legal and social framework, much different to the one in which they lived for centuries. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a major challenge for Bosnian Muslims. The entire nation turned to search for an answer of how to align their lives to the new circumstances, facing European civilization. Movements Islah and Tajdida, conceived in the nineteenth century, are still alive, driven by the need to find own answers to a range of social issues.
World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century and the aggression of Bosnia and Herzegovina by neighboring countries from 1992-1995 were particularly tragic moments for our nation.
The crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims were part of a planned campaign, conceived primarily in intellectual circles in Belgrade, capital of Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, during the twentieth century. Bosnian Muslims were blamed for the faults of the reign of the Ottoman Empire over the Serbs. Since the planned revenge could not be carried out against the Turks, Bosniaks, as Muslims, were marked as targets.
Criminal Minds from Serbia knew that Bosniaks are a peaceful and tolerant nation and do not have the resources to fight of aggression and crimes. Guided by this ideological matrix, Greater-Serbia executors have committed terrible crimes throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, the sort of executions that were not seen since the second World War. Entire population of villages were murdered in Prijedor, Srebrenica, Zvornik and many other cities, people were taken to concentration camps, children were murdered and women were raped. Genocide has been committed against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it was carefully prepared, organized and implemented. The intent of destruction and complete disappearance of Bosniaks is more than clear, and its consequences are obvious. But, International Court in The Hague, adjudicated only genocide in Srebrenica.
Upon execution of mass crimes, the victims' bodies were buried in mass graves throughout the occupied and ethnically cleansed territories. But crimes didn’t end there, those mass graves were re-excavated and body remains were moved to different locations in order to cover up crimes.
In this terrible wickedness, the victims' bodies were dismembered, and often parts of one body were scattered in several mass graves. The peak of dishonor and hypocrisy is reflected in the fact that information on location of mass graves often has to be paid for, bought from Serbs, witnesses or even the perpetrators of crimes, because representatives of international community do not want to force the government officials to disclose this information, the government that was built on the foundations of these crimes.
Srebrenica and at least ten other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina with similar fate are a lesson to Muslims in Europe that they cannot rely on faceless "international community", amorphous public opinion and human solidarity, to which, in principle, all people faced with injustice should be able to turn to. Despite the difficult fate that has befallen upon us, we have to walk further, driven by a strong desire: to survive.
Today, it seems important to say that Muslims in Europe must strengthen their spirit by strengthening their intellect and emotions and by building bridges of cooperation with others. European Muslims must come together around a common European future. Closed Muslim communities, like distant islands, can hardly ensure their own safety, and their identity will always be facing challenges. We must do everything in our power to preserve our family, to honour our marital and parental responsibilities, and to consciously and deliberately develop and cultivate them. We need to take a bigger role in public life and with our work contribute to the wider community we live in. We need to make a greater contribution to knowledge, culture, sports and economy, and thus become respected and noticed. We have to be loyal citizens of Europe and strengthen individual responsibility, whilst moving away from tribal loyalties, threatening our universal community, the ummah.
As Muslims, the strong foothold to live with others we find in our faith. For us the most important is the Qur'anic call to be fair and to do good by those who are not aggressive towards us and our homes: Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Al-Mumtahine, 8) Differences in religion should be an incentive to compete in a good, not evil. Festebiku al-khayrat (compete in good) the Qur'an says.
One of the most effective ways of building solidarity and trust is to uncompromisingly stand on the side of justice and truth, wherever and whenever it is needed. So we will always testify that the first Muslims were protected by Christians of Abyssinia, as well as that the Ottoman Empire provided the protection for Jews, of whom many settled in Sarajevo; that many Bosnian Muslims during the aggression against our homeland found refuge in Europe amongst its Christian inhabitants.
Despite the difficult temptations of the past, we, the Bosnian Muslims carry in our spirit the willingness of forgiveness and repentance for our own mistakes. It seems to me that without repentance there is no real and sincere faith. If we have even a trace of Adam in us, it is remorse for the sins committed. We teach our children to be like our father Adam, that the nature of their faith holds remorse. Whenever we feel that it is difficult to build bridges of trust, as sometimes it is, we must think of those who are trying to minimize the number of these bridges. Their efforts need to be stopped, because we believe that our worlds are more beautiful when our shores are connected by bridges, than when there is a gaping void in our spirit.
Finally, allow me to express my respect for the efforts of the former and current head of the Anglican Church placed and still do in building trust between Muslims and Christians. As believers, we ask dear God to enlighten our hearts, to guide us, to save us from unbearable temptation, to give us the power of forgiveness and perseverance in good.
Once again, thank you for keeping us in your thoughts.