Rešid Hafizović on Bugojno
Oslobođenje/Liberation-July 31, 2010
There are no New or Old Muslims, instead, there are Wahhabis
Oslobođenje: Professor Hafizović, the terrorist attack in Bugojno reminded many of the terrible, almost prophetic significance of your article, published precisely in „Oslobođenje,” titled “They are coming for our children.” How did you feel when your darkest premonitions became true and that ignoring your words of warning proved to be disastrous?
Hafizović: When I wrote the text under the above title almost four years ago, and after its reprint following the terrorist attack in Bugojno, I felt awful and sad at the same time, because I realized that what I thought was definitely a thing of the past and, just another event in the history of Muslim literature, culture and civilization, instead had actually become our daily life, a new pestilence after the bloody aggression the Bosniaks barely survived, a new virus which ultimately will ruin a half-millennia old national, religious, and cultural identity of the Bosnian Muslims – Bosniaks. That virus has already destroyed every chance for Islam in Europe, Islam as it once existed in Muslim Spain, and now is ending its work with the autochthonous (indigenous) European Muslim groups in the Balkans and Southeast European region. I wish I never had to write that text, and I would be even happier if my predictions never became true and that I had been wrong.
Oslobođenje: In our community the issue of the “new Muslims,” as they are referred to by reis Cerić, or “Wahhabis” as often they are called by the media, or “Salafis” as they usually identify themselves, is by and large addressed superficially. Can you please explain to our readers, in a few words, this terminological confusion and briefly tell us what kind of Muslims that we are talking about here?
Hafizović: There are not any “new” or “old” Muslims. There are only Muslims as such, Muslims as they are defined by Kur’an and Sunna of the Islamic Prophet (a.s.), as they largely have existed throughout the planet for over one thousand and four hundred years. The above division comes from the top of the Bosniak religious leadership and it is just one of the unacceptable terms of their irresponsible use of language in public discourse. The use of this kind of language only deepened, throughout all these years, the gaps among the Bosniaks, caused quarrels among them and turned them against each other. On the other hand, by such undefined and distasteful tagging of Muslims as “new” or “old,” our religious leadership consciously and purposely absolved itself from every responsibility, as well as from the need of resolving some things on time and placing them in their rightful places for the sake of Islam and the Muslims.
In fact, traditional Bosnian Muslims make up the largest percent of Muslim population in Bosnia, such as described by the sources of Islamic faith themselves. And then, there are ‘Wahhabis’, Muslim puritans and perpetual world fixers. Traditional, authentic Islam, does not fit in any way into their twisted view, and even the Prophet of Islam (a.s.), as a true Meccan aristocrat, is not good enough for them. They are turning him into a caricature, a messy bearded shepherd and a completely ordinary camel driver. They trace their lineage to a Saudi grumbler from the Seventeenth century, Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an under-educated reformer who declared a jihad against all Muslims of that time with the aid of the later Saudi dynasty which he helped climb the political throne with his phalanxes. He carved in blood the borders of today’s Saudi monarchy in the heart of the Muslim empire. In a shameful alliance with imperialist Britain, he attacked Islamic rule executing thousands of men at Karbala, Najaf, and other places. He shed streams of Muslim blood in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Taif, and other places. Today’s ‘Wahhabis’ are tied to the name and ideological heritage of this man, which some of the Bosniak politicians in this country, inappropriately, irresponsibly, and wrongly have been equalizing with traditional Muslim legal schools or Mezhebs (Mddhhab). Wahhabism is, in fact, a puritan movement unsatisfied with and intolerant of everything which does not fit its ideological views, and, because of that, it is often predisposed to the methods of murderous ideologies that use any means to achieve their goals. As it is characteristic of every such earlier and later movement, within this puritan faction among the Muslims also exist ferments and certain stratifications which assume other names and different identities. When their mentality, psychology, and unacceptable way of acting finally became transparent, some of them found refuge under the name of ‘salafism,’ and, arrogantly and without precedent, tried to equalize themselves with the first three most exemplary generations of Muslims and their values and virtues. Others, the extreme radical ones for whom even those who shared their beliefs up to that moment were not good enough anymore, promoted themselves into Wahhabi avant-garde and became ‘tekfiris’ – those who have allowed themselves what even the Prophet of Islam (a.s.) did not do nor was he allowed to do, that is, they assumed the privilege to decide who is a true Muslim, and who is not. Basically, we are talking here about the one and same movement, the same intolerant ‘philosophy,’ the same mental framework. The difference in the names, by which they decorate themselves, is only virtual and not of any real significance. In essence, we are talking about unschooled, uneducated, confused people, who forbid their own children, for example, to study biology in school, not even being aware that the subject of study in this honorable discipline is in the closest link with God’s Name ‘Al-Zahir’ or God-Visible acting in the world of the senses. On the one hand they pride themselves for being the only true followers of the Prophet of Islam (a.s.), and on the other hand, by their ignorance and lack of knowledge of religious practices, they are attacking the very core of Islamic religious doctrine.
Oslobođenje: How did you experience the reactions of the public to the Bugojno attack, I mean, the reactions of the political leadership and those of the Islamic community?
Hafizović: I have experienced them as the apex of human and professional hypocrisy. All of them racing so aggressively, like Pharisees, to the place of the attack to address that terrorist act with the most vicious labels and harsh words. And that was all. None of them moved a finger after that, they didn’t even feel a bit of responsibility or readiness to take responsibility for our future. They all knew everything, but they pretended to be so ‘innocently perplexed’ and surprised. To make things worse, soon after the event, they began to repeat their old tales. They were ready to shift the responsibility to anybody in order to absolve the Wahhabi ideology, the ‘new Muslims’ who, supposedly, are the only ones able to defend the Bosniaks from genocide, as the Bosniak religious leadership puts it, and one of the highly positioned Bosniak politicians even decorates them with nothing less than the title of ‘mezhep.’ If this were out of ignorance that would be forgivable, but it is not. It is done from purely manipulative pre-election expediency, in order not to upset that ideology and its mentors from the Arabian peninsula from where, right now, are coming countless delegations of merchants, businessmen, and investors, just like four years ago, so that our voting public may get the false impression that something creative is being done and that, after the upcoming elections, only roses will bloom for us. Because of such ignorant behavior and indolence to look at these phenomena right into the eye, I am afraid, things will get even worse, and we shall all be deeply sorry for our irresponsibility for not acting at the right time.
Oslobođenje: In the last few months, an intense debate is taking place in several European countries about banning niqab in addition to the fact that some countries have already passed certain laws on the subject. What is your take on this matter?
Hafizović: As terrorism has become a global problem of the human community, so the most accountable political power-holders in the world, for the sake of the future of the planet, attempted to create a new system of culture security with totally new procedures and standards, in order to put somehow that unfortunate global phenomenon at least under control. For this reason, the question came up of identifying every individual on this planet as fast and unmistakably as possible. Because of these new security measures in the world, under assault were burka and niqab, integral parts of the dress culture of certain Muslim women in recent times, especially those for whom it is not enough the norm of Muslim women attire as stated in the Kur’an more than fourteen centuries ago, which prescribed that a Muslim woman come to pray with a covered head, unveiled face, covered arms to her fists and covered legs down to the ankles. If a Muslim woman can appear this way in front of the ‘Face of God’, why can’t she come up in front of any creature which He created? If this is not the result of ideological compulsion, as is the case of burka in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, or the result of someone’s own initiative to imitate the Prophet’s (a.s.) women, about whom the Kur’an explicitly states that they “are not like other women” (Al-Ahzab, 32), and, analogous to that, these later ones cannot be, even if they wanted to, as those earlier ones, then the insistence on wearing a burka and niqab is mostly a question of personal choice and the least a question of faith and religious belief. If the experts for human rights agree that this part of apparel cannot be omitted from the body of human rights, then I am the first one not to allow human rights to be touched, no matter what human rights are in question, but that should not be linked to faith and be justified by faith, turning one’s own religious tradition, in spite of the billion and five hundred million Muslims in the world, into a caricature and anachronistic phenomenon, but that issue has to be put on the level of a personal, individual fashion option and choice. All up to the time when the ‘ulema’ began to arrive to us from the Arabian peninsula, we did not have problems with burka and niqab. All these five centuries of Islam in Bosnia we had our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters wearing the recognizable native, Bosnian shawl, by which they covered their heads the way the Kur’an commands, so that never, not even during Communist rule, did this create any difficulty.
What bothers me, personally, in this entire confusion and artificially imposed problem about burka and niqab is this: Some Muslims are not able to comprehend that a billion more important issues exist which, for their own sake, should be resolved as soon as possible. After that is done, they can take the rest of their free time to debate the issue of burka and niqab, because that is the last of the ‘important’ things in the line of priorities which today stand before such a large number of Muslims, who can only prove themselves as a large biological factor but who have no vital influence in the world market of ideas and other kinds of accomplishments. I would be happier if I could see in tomorrow’s Bosnia as many as possible of the best trained Muslim women university professors, with a strong consciousness of their own religious identity and values, whether they wore a shawl or not, than to see a crowd of women captured in burka and niqab, cut from the world and from life. Islam gave freedom and dignity to many women in the Muslim world, but others were enslaved and humiliated by some Muslim rulers who took away their freedom and basic human rights in the twenty first century, and despised them as a necessary evil, something they cannot do without.
Oslobođenje: Such an atmosphere in Europe is being misused by certain circles in the Republika Srpska, who are demanding the outlaw of niqab in Bosnia and Hercegovina. How do you comment on this?
Hafizović: This is pure manipulation and abuse, as in everything else so far. The government in the smaller BiH entity [Republika Srpska] does not care about secular Europe and her struggle for secular European values. That government is only interested in the means of turning off the world’s attention from all that government and its institutions are responsible for. The said government knows that it rests on two criminal pillars, that is, the police and the military of that entity, while both of these institutions have been condemned by an international court for genocide, and that is why efforts have to be made to remove them. That government knows that it does not cooperate sufficiently with the state institutions of this land, that it ignores every criticism that comes from a variety of political and diplomatic international circles, for not arresting and processing hundreds of war criminals who not only walk freely throughout this land and the world, but many of whom have high positions in the institutions of that entity. That government knows that the entity it controls is marked by hundreds of massive graves with remains of executed Bosniaks and it is deliberately hiding the evidence from domestic and international investigators. Finally, that government, by misusing the European debate regarding burka and niqab, is trying, after not being able to break up this country, to convince the world that ‘Bosnia is becoming an oasis of White terrorism,’ and, because of that, it has to be stopped on her road to European integration and it has to be isolated as the bottomless pit of the Balkans. That is the ultimate purpose of the entire initiative regarding burka and niqab which comes from the smaller BiH entity.
Oslobođenje: Having also in mind the results of the referendum in Switzerland about the ban of minarets, can we talk here of a growing anti-Muslim atmosphere in the West?
Hafizović: In the West, in a lesser or greater measure, an anti-Muslim environment exists since the fall of Granada in 1492. The fact is that the West is not completely happy with the presence of tens of millions of Muslims in its midst, not being aware that Islam, with its basic values, after the period of Muslim Sicily and Spain, and later the Balkans too, is woven into the heart of West European cultural identity. Not knowing or not wishing to know that, the West, especially the integrating Europe, is not even able to finish the story of its own cultural identity. It will not be able to finalize that process until it recognizes what the Muslims gave to it, and that Muslim values are imbedded in European architecture, music, literature, philosophy, art, and other civilized achievements. They can easily find out about it, if they wish to, because there are mountains of manuscripts and written literature about it. In that way, the traditional anti-Muslim environment in Europe and in the West would disappear or, at least, diminish. The case of Switzerland only indicates how in Europe still, at least occasionally, the virus of Islamophobia reigns, but some Muslims in Europe and in the West often bear responsibility for such a climate. Inept in their own intellectual tradition and infected by the virus of Muslim puritanism, they are not able to establish even intra-Islamic communication, and even less communication with their surroundings. The words of Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf in his book Jews and Moors in Spain (Kansas City, 1887), in which he describes the situation in Spain after the expulsion of Muslims and Jews, can also be applied to them today. He states: “It was too late for Spain to call the Moriscos (Muslims) back. Arabs-Muslims, as they once lived in Spain, did not exist any more. Their descendents, unenlightened Bedouins, are roaming through the vastness of Africa, which once their ancestors illuminated and civilized by their scholarship….a deep, much too deep darkness reigns now on the Arabian peninsula.” According to that, when the Muslims, especially those in the West, change their attitude toward their own tradition of thinking and believing, they will also change their present situation, as well as their relationship with their neighbors.
Oslobođenje: You are from Srebrenica. How do you comment the events commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide: From the coming of Tadić [President of Serbia] and Erdogan [PM of Turkey] to the new Dodik’s provocations, and the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is probably the only country in Europe whose state parliament did not take a stand regarding the issue of the Srebrenica genocide?
Hafizović: I participated at the latest jenaza in Potočari. My sister, after burying her only son, buried her husband on that day. That was the real reason for my being there. Otherwise, lately, I avoid going to Potočari on that particular day, because every year one can hear there too many phony speeches from [our] politicians and foreign diplomats, as well as sanctimonious haughtiness from our religious leadership. All of them, on that day, pour crocodile tears, deliver self-promoting speeches, and then leave and don’t remember Potočari and Srebrenica anymore.
As far as Tadić and Erdogan are concerned, they were the brightest figures there yet. If not from human, then at least from well-thought diplomatic and state reasons, Tadić found courage and came to Potočari. To the Western public, he presented himself as a humanist and democrat, and to his country, he opened the door toward Brussels a little more. At this moment, nothing more can be expected from him neither here nor in Belgrade.
Erdogan is, no doubt, our friend, a big diplomat, a statesman and cordial lobbyist for Bosnia. By one move, he does more for his, as well as for our homeland than an entire gang of our politicians during their four-year-long mandate. However, unfortunately, neither Erdogan, nor Tadic it seems, have a worthy interlocutor among the Bosniak political and religious leadership.
The fact that our state parliament is the only such institution that did not take a clear stand regarding the definition of genocide in Srebrenica, as opposed to most of the democratic world, clearly tells that Bosniak politicians on the state level are neither capable nor responsible, and that even there Dodik’s politics dominate absolutely. And all of that, is only a tribute we are paying because of the spite-politics of some Bosniak politicians, and, as God is my witness, because of our religious leadership too, which, as our readers will remember, was blowing strongly into Dodik’s sails during the last elections, so that the largest Bosniak political party lost the elections in the larger BiH entity, and its leader lost his seat for the Presidency of BiH. All of this is only an indicator of how unworthy are the hands into which the political and religious scepters in this land have fallen. Now we have got what we have got.
Oslobođenje: Turkey has been more and more intensively coming back onto the world scene as an influential factor. Do you think that her growing interest for this area can help consolidate the situation in the region?
Hafizović: Despite the suspicion that comes from Belgrade’s Orientalist circles and the appraisal of how a new Ottomanization is taking place in the Balkans, a return of Turkey to these areas would bring betterment to all. Turkey is a true regional power that has a good reputation in the Muslim world as well as in the West. She is an important member of the NATO and a strong ally of America. She has a clear-cut Muslim majority, but also clearly recognizable secular values. It has evolved to such an extent that it has become a strong factor of stability and is, perhaps, more indispensable to Europe, than Europe to her. Today, Turkey has the best and most capable first political and state echelon, which has proven that it can gather together within twenty-four hours and in one place, yesterday’s enemies or adversaries and sign with them a declaration which includes an important and beneficial strategy for all sides. Today, the Turkish voice is being heard far away and it is seriously listened to. That is why neither we nor anyone in the Balkan region should be deaf to that voice.
Oslobođenje: It seems that BiH foreign policy, especially, if I may say, the part shaped by the Bosniak leadership, is not capable of defining itself toward the countries of the Islamic world in a way that would enable Bosnia and Herzegovina to remain between the East and the West: Is this actually possible?
Hafizović: Bosniak foreign policy is so bad that I ask myself if it exists at all. In that segment, practically we don’t have a serious human figure, no one with a recognizable and influential diplomatic handwriting and footprint. That’s why it is difficult even to expect some perceptible foreign policy, especially one that would establish an equilibrium of Bosnian relationship toward the East and the West, as is the case with Turkey. Otherwise, I think that it is possible to institute such relations. Moreover, with all the objections that we could utter regarding our foreign policy during the Presidency of the late Alija Izetbegović, it should be said that such type of relationships, although not precisely perfect, nevertheless existed at the time. It can be done again, but we need politicians totally differently designed in their mental framework, in their education, and general culture.
Oslobođenje: New elections will take place in two months, do you think that after the third of October we will have more reasons for optimism than today?
Hafizović: If we will have to choose new officials from the actual political scene, well-known to us for the last fifteen years, I think there is not room for optimism. The new names on the present election lists, who are promising us a better future, are, in my opinion, even worse because with them the old Nicean marriage bond between politics and religion, as a dark reflection of Emperor Constantine and Egyptian bishop Athanasius is coming back on the local scene. That cannot be good in any way. We would return into the deep darkness of the past centuries, and precisely in that darkness from said bond, comes out a witchy egg from which there is no healthy offspring, only much blood and dying.
All Bosnians and Herzegovinians who have respect for themselves, will vote for people who will not suck their blood and that of their children through a straw, but those people who will take them into the twenty-first century and into the safe haven of the best achievements of modern civilization. Every sober Bosnian and Herzegovinian must know that during the next elections he does not only vote in his name, but in the name of every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild, for the future of this land, which should be the only ground under our feet. Having that in mind, let everyone listen to his consciousness, and in the depth of his heart cries out to God – which is so human to do – to enlighten his mind on that day and help him make the best decision.
Oslobođenje: To conclude, could you tell our readers what are you presently working on?
Hafizović: Many things are in the process of becoming a reality. Momentarily, I’m finishing a manuscript on Islam in European cultural identity. I’m also trying to finish the fourth, and last, volume of a big Arabian manuscript that was written in the seventeenth century by one of the best known Bosniak intellectuals, Abdullah-efendy Bosniak, as the most beautiful “Commentary on Gems of Prophetic Wisdom” ever written in the time period of eight centuries. The Commentary itself refers to the fundamental work of sufi literature ‘Fusus al-Hikam’, which was written by a truly European Muslim, the famous Andalusian mystical philosopher Muhjuddin Ibn ‘Arabi in the twelfth century. The entire translation of the manuscript into Bosnian, out of which three volumes have already been published, will be of about 2,000 pages long. This is what I’m finishing at the moment and it should be the first of my present projects to see the light of day.