Amila Buturović

Between Religion and Politics:
The Challenge of Being a Muslim
in Yugoslavia

 

 

 

 

Case study 1

 

The end of Empire signaled a new, transformative chapter in the history of Balkan Muslim communities at the turn of the 20th century. The Muslims who became part of the new political frameworks of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia formed a significant population across the region but presented an enduring challenge as regards their modern identity formation. In the aftermath of several centuries of the Ottoman rule that witnessed the spread of Islam, and a significantly shorter but deeply consequential Austro-Hungarian colonization, the process of modern identity formation took on an uneven and overall bumpy route, which left Islamic communities vulnerable to the rising national mythologies with their expansive outlooks. Nation-building, as Anderson points out, necessitates the removal of a people from their historical context of 'objective modernity' towards the creation of a myth about their 'subjective antiquity' (Anderson 1983). The two most relevant forms of it, Serbian and Croatian nationalisms, arising from their respective historical and political climates, exhibit well this transformative process as it affects the position and collective identity of Yugoslav Muslims.

Central to the national myths of emerging Balkan nations is the trope of "Turkish yoke" that posits the Ottomans as menacing intruders whose worldview, including religion, is essentially incompatible with the cultural sensibilities of the Balkan peoples. As Maria Todorova puts it, "it is the belief that the Ottoman Empire is a religiously, socially, and institutionally alien imposition on the autochthonous Christian medieval societies," (Todorova 1997:162) that one can see as central to the national mythologies of the region. In such a climate of assertive alienation from the Ottoman past, local converts to Islam became perceived at best as renegades with questionable loyalties to their ancestral homelands and at worst as traitors who deserved to be decisively eliminated in order to move forward with modernity and progress. The polarization and seeming irreconcilability of Islamic and Christian worldviews prevailed in most Balkan states, with the notable exception of Albania in which religious plurality was reconciled under the ethnonational umbrella of being Albanian. In Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and to an extent in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the status of Muslims became particularly volatile at the turn of the 20th century after the implosion of the Ottoman Empire. As Justin McCarthy’s research provocatively documents, between 1821 and 1922 over a million Muslims were driven out from the Balkans, including the territories to be included within the Kingdom's borders (McCarthy 1995). Many perished in wars, others died as refugees of starvation and disease, while the exiled survivors mainly settled in Anatolia and Levant. The impact of these forced upheavals resonated deeply and it affected the way the Muslims' engagements in the precarious yet transformative politics of survival and continuity in the Balkans in general and Yugoslavia in particular, especially as regards the sense of group belonging.

Demography and Political Definitions

Under these precarious circumstances in which nation-building was equated with European models of secularization and modernization, and resulted in unfavorable consideration of Islamic alternatives and their traditional sentiments of belonging, the Muslims of the newly formed Yugoslav state faced a question of self-definition in relation to the state on the one hand and other religious and national groups on the other. The 1921 census listed 1,345,271 Muslims residing in Yugoslavia (Vujević 1930). This category encompassed first and foremost Slavic Muslims and, to a lesser degree, Gorani and Pomak minorities, as well as Turkish Muslims in Serbia/Macedonia. Being Muslim was therefore only one of several possible categories of self-definition and it was far from exhaustive in the political nomenclatures of Yugoslavia. Diversity under the Islamic umbrella was drawn along ethnic, linguistic, denominational and devotional lines. Each posed its own challenges of definition and administration, and it complicated the reductive religio-political category of being Muslim that was recognized by the regime. In addition, while some Muslims maintained exercising a degree of legal freedom within the Kingdom as stipulated by the Austro-Hungarian administration after the retreat of the Ottomans (Schlesinger 1988), maintaining a traditional lifestyle and social and economic paradigms established by the Ottoman state was no longer feasible. Discontinuities in the religious praxis and institutional framework thus required a self-redefinition at all levels of public life.

Hand in hand with the challenges facing the Muslims internally was one of reconciling all the constituent people that at once held the state together through the idea of common Yugoslav identity but it also pulled it apart through competing nationalist ideologies. What it meant to be a Yugoslav was as problematic as the meaning of being a Serb, Croat or Slovene. There was no full overlap or cohesion in any of these groupings; on the contrary, they were defined in a number of ways and the rivalries of definition plagued Yugoslavia well into its dissolution in the early 1990s. Two major rivals, Serbs and Croats, envisioned their sense of self under different terms. In each case, the Muslim 'question' was rampant. Within the Muslim political activism, however, the opinions varied: for example, even before the end of the Habsburg rule, Dr. Safvet Basagić, who presided over the Bosnian council therein, hoped for the autonomy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, or alternatively, their integration into Croatian lands, a position that was vehemently opposed by other members of Muslim intelligentsia (Purivatra 1977; Friedman 1996).

Between religious and political identity

The push and pull of dominant nationalist narratives had already engulfed the Muslim population prior to the formation of Yugoslavia. A substantial demography in the region, they had not only engaged with those, but also articulated other models in which religion was to remain the marker of confessional difference and connection to the global Muslim umma. This process, as per Anderson's suggestion above, prioritized a particular subjective antiquity - identifying only certain moments in history as the focus of national memory, and one aspect of cultural heritage and political experience over others.

The most relevant of these narratives for the situation of the Muslims of Yugoslavia were the ones associated with the ethno-genesis of Serbs and Croats. Partly because the different historical experiences of living under different imperial umbrellas that had administrated its subject populations in different ways, the national awakening among Croats and Serbs had assumed quite different visions, analytically often associated with French and German models: to simplify, one was manifested as a synthetic vision of South Slavic affinity and as such was territorially inclusive and integrative (jus soli); the other, more concerned with folk sensibilities, operated in ethnocentrically (jus sanguinis) exclusive terms as it circumvented a community of common descent (theory) and language (practice) before being productive of a state (Brubaker 1996). Indeed, this is a point that has been addressed by most scholars of Balkan nationalism (e.g., Banac 1988; B&C Jelavich 1977) with the conclusion, as Jelavich submits, that "the new doctrines were to strengthen the national convictions of the Balkans leaders and give them a predominantly secular outlook." (C&B Jelavich 1977:8).

Serbian national awakening articulated much of its self-vision through the Kosovo cycle of folk poetry. Gathered and canonized by Vuk Karadžić in mid-19th century in his philological efforts to authenticate Serbian nationhood, the sense of linguistic essentialism defined Serbian self-definition. Says Karadžić, "Those of the Catholic faith still have a hard time calling themselves Serbs, but they will adjust to this in their own time, because if they do not want to be Serbs, then they have no national name at all." (Karadžić 1836). Crucial to the national imagining was Karadžić's validation of folk epic as the purest repository of Serbian ethos. Though remarkably influential, Karadzic failed to politicize his ideas of linguistic hegemony. The cartography of his contemporary, Ilija Grašanin, filled in the gap: wherever Serbian is spoken, demanded Grašanin, there is Orthodox Serbia, ruled by the Serbian monarch.

The themes of martyrdom and survival emerged as the catalysts for the nascent national imagination. Central to the epic narration was the myth of national sacrifice: on the eve of the Kosovo battle in 1389, the Serbian king Lazar is visited by Prophet Elijah disguised as gray falcon. Elijah asks Lazar to choose between the kingdom in heaven and that on earth. Lazar opts for the former, sacrificing the material condition of his people for a timeless spiritual glory. In the Serbian iconography, Lazar is further depicted at the last supper, surrounded by 12 knights, one of whom was to betray him to the Ottomans. The killing of prince Lazar, just like the killing of Christ, is accepted as divine choreography for the purpose of national redemption (Sells 1996). The negative historical experience of the subjugation by the Ottomans is transformed into a transcendental messianic affirmation of spiritual continuity and the ultimate restoration of the Serbian Kingdom on earth. Teleological in its political articulation, and thus predestined to realize itself in full, this narrative exploited religious and secular tropes in all its aspects. The categories of "us" and "them" become clearly demarcated as the integral tension of the narrative. Once the Turks were gone, the Slavic Muslim converts, as living vestiges of the Ottoman times, amplified and perpetuated the sense of historical and metaphysical loss and became the ideological stumbling block to the national self-realization.

This moral indictment of local Muslims was best thematized in Petar Petrović Njegoš's epic play The Mountain Wreath published in 1846 that is, to date, considered as the greatest literary articulation of Serbian nationhood. The play encapsulates the basic moral principles of the Kosovo cycle which became the standard for the Romantic movement in 19th century arts and letters. In it, the massacre of local Muslim converts is a required revenge because, by virtue of conversion to the religion of the Turks, these 'turncoats' betrayed the Slavic Orthodox race and contaminated the sacred national genealogy. If and when the Great Serbia is re-established, the stabilization of national consciousness will depend on the elimination of the impurity from within. The play explicitly advocates 'religious cleansing': "Is today not a festive occasion/on which we have gathered to cleanse our land of loathsome infidels." The secular version of this act of 'religious cleansing' became 'ethnic cleansing,' the visionary force behind the expulsions of Bosnian Muslims in the wars following the dissolution of SFR Yugoslavia.

In contrast to the Serbian quest for pure and sacred blood of the nation, early Croat nationalists, emerging out of Catholic Habsburg framework, initially defined nationhood not through the prism of ethnic exclusivity but in terms of a territorial inclusion of all Illyrian, that is, indigenous Balkan stock. The Illyrian movement recognized the religious diversity of Slavic identity but strove for regional syncretism: "Croat national thought,” writes Ivo Banac, "always aimed at making an integral whole of separate South Slavic nationalities," whereby Croat lands were not to be defined ethnically but by "historical appropriation." (Banac 1988: 73-74) To be sure, in the nascent Croatian nationalism language played a central role, as it did in Serbian case, but the ethnocentric and religious essentialism was absent. The feeling that the Croat identity was not politically or religiously but culturally threatened enhanced the need to establish a sense of linguistic differentiation within the Habsburg monarchy. Ljudevit Gaj, the proponent of the Illyrian idea, feared that "unless Croatian language were sufficiently developed as a modern language after Latin is discarded, it would be replaced by Magyar." (Despalatović 1975). The anxiety around assimilation by Hungarian cultural nationalism was the main impetus for the preservation of cultural identity as defined by the Croat intelligentsia who made little reference to a revolutionary awakening. Instead, the a passive one. Gaj exclaimed: "May God preserve the Hungarian Constitution, the Croatian Kingdom, and the Illyrian nationality." (Despalatović 1975:141).

But for all its intent to bridge the gap between Serbs, Croats, and other South Slavs, Illyrianism was too vague and inclusive to take roots. The subsequent nationalist articulations in Croatia were much more exclusivist, weaving into the nationalist rhetoric the role of the Catholic ethos in demarcating 'real' Croatness. Crucial to this process was to lure the sentiments of the Catholics of BiH, especially as its Orthodox population had already been included in the Serbian national cartography. It is over the destiny of Bosnia and Herzegovina which lay between Serbia and Croatia that national ideals were most forcefully asserted and consolidated. Josef Stadler, who was appointed the archbishop in Bosnia in 1900, insisted on the conversion of the Muslim population to Catholicism so as to render them 'true Croats'. The effect was twofold: one, it ensured a safe transition for Bosnian Catholics into the Croatian national space, and two, it posited religion as the main marker of national belonging.

Muslims in Yugoslavia: issues and solutions

Within such a historical and ideological backdrop, the challenge to balance out territorial and political claims of the Muslim population in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was not an easy task. The regime required establishing a sufficient control over the religious affairs of Muslims, first and foremost through the workings of the representative Islamic Community, an institution inherited from the Austro-Hungarian administration. In an attempt to centralize but also protect Islamic religious life, the Habsburg government, in a quintessential colonial gesture, formed an administrative organization to be called the Islamic Religious Community (Islamska Vjerska Zajednica – IVZ). They designated a chief cleric (Reis-ul-ulema) as the head of the institution, along with a four-membered council to preside over Islamic religious affairs. Unique both in terms of its formation and mandate, the IVZ (later only IZ), was to remain the centralizing force of both religious and national interests of Muslims. It was charged with the task of managing, administering and intervening in all aspects of religious life, in private and public matters, and overseeing Sufi activities by appointing spiritual leaders of all Sufi branches. It also assumed a continuity, but with considerable reduction in the scope of influence, of traditional Islamic legal and educational institutions. This framework as set up by the Habsburgs was transferred into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but not without modifications propelled by its own political concerns regarding the status of Muslims. Although the newly formed Yugoslavia accepted this internal structure, it did not leave it intact. Several factors proved to be detrimental for the new government: first, confirmed by the 1921 Yugoslav constitution, the Sharia system needed to be reconciled with the state law and its scope of influence under the dominant state institutions required had to be closely supervised, politically and regionally; and second, defined as a minority under the guidelines of the Paris Peace Conference, the Muslims required to conceptualize their existence as a community apart from the majority Serb and Croat population which enhanced internal disagreements about self-definition, boundaries of identity, as well as internal political and religious differences. The intertwining of religious needs and political aspirations was thus completed on paper yet never fully cemented in practice.

In the period between two world wars, the Muslims of Yugoslavia in general and the IZ as their representative institution in particular faced many challenges. The proceedings of the Peace Conference required the government to guarantee the Muslims three main provisions: to continue living their life in personal and family law according to the Islamic principles; to protect the existing Muslim objects, places and institutions - such as mosques, graveyards, religious endowments and related places of worship and community life - and enable the erection of new ones; to secure the appointment of the Reis as a leader of all Yugoslav Muslims (Nakičević 1996). However, these provisions were hardly met: as many analysts observe, the government of Yugoslavia was not only hesitant to invest political and economic resources to enable the community to thrive, but was increasingly reluctant to let go of control over its public life and institutions.

Mustafa Imamović identifies three key phases in the administrative life of the IVZ between 1918 and 1941: the first covers the period between 1918-1929; the second between 1929-1936; and the third between 1936-1941 (Imamović n.d.).

Although the first phase saw the administrative position of IVZ practically unchanged from its initial formation under the Habsburgs, other issues gradually began to emerge, affecting its scope of influence over the Muslims of Yugoslavia. Of main relevance is that fact that, according to the 1919 Treaty of San-Germain, Slavic Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sandžak were granted minority rights, rather than full rights as their fellow Serbs, Slovenes and Croats. This in many ways changed the status of Muslims of BiH from the one laid out by the Habsburg’s 1905 declaration, in which they not only had preserved religious sovereignty but had been assigned key demographic participation in the Habsburg vision of Bosnian national culture. In turn, the Muslims elsewhere, and of other ethnic backgrounds, such as Albanian and Turkish, did not possess such historical cohesion, which resulted in their invisibility and a frequent oppressive treatment.

The transition of power from the Habsburg government to the Kingdom included, on paper, regulating the religious affairs in the same manner: appointing the chief cleric, protecting the mosques and other property established through religious endowments, and allowing family affairs, marriage, inheritance and other private matters to be handled through the Islamic Sharia courts without outside interference. However, while the Muslims of BiH, and partly of Montenegro, had recourse to such courts because of their protected status in the previous regime, the Muslims elsewhere lacked such venues, and the government was not particularly keen on correcting the situation. In 1922, the mufti of Belgrade, appointed to the government’s office of religious affairs, was put in charge of all legal matters of the Muslims outside of BiH, namely in South Serbia (Macedonia, Kosovo) and in 1923 in Montenegro, making it difficult for the Muslims in remote regions to run their life according to Islamic principles that were supposedly secured by the state. In addition, tensions arose between Belgrade’s mufti and the IVZ in BiH on the grounds of legitimacy and authority, especially as regards the IVZ’s interest in taking note of all aspects of religious life, including the handling of religious endowments, which were suffering damage and expropriation beyond the borders of BiH. While the IVZ recorded repeated instances of property violation across Yugoslavia where the Muslims lived, including the demolition of mosques, expropriation of religious building for other purposes, and vandalism and destruction of Muslim cemeteries, they had no jurisdiction to pursue justice to that effect or advocate on the victims’ behalf (Ibid.)

In political terms, however, the Muslims were blatantly under-represented in governmental institutions. In the People’s Council of the newly formed government, for example, the initial idea of giving Muslims 6 seats was reduced to only 2. (Purivatra 1977). Despite repeated attempts by Muslim activists and intelligentsia to rectify the situation by calling for a more balanced public representation, the presence of Muslims at every level of administration remained sorely inadequate. A report from August 1919, for example, which lists all members holding public office, from administrative ones to education and various sectors of public service, shows only 17 out of 273 as held by Muslims, and that mainly in lower paying jobs. Muslims intelligentsia organized around Yugoslav Muslim Organization (JMO) rallied to rectify the situation, but internal discord, especially with another Muslim political movement, JNMO, that had pro-Serbian leanings, and the external challenges of the systematic exclusion of Muslim political elite from influential administrative positions left the intelligentsia rather ineffectual (Imamović n.d.; Purivatra 1977).

The second phase relates to the status and function of IVZ after 1929, when the Belgrade regime ended its autonomy in an attempt to put all Muslims affairs across the country under a more centralized governance. The new regulation, implemented in the early 1930 by the Ministry of Justice, allowed the government to move the headquarters of the IVZ to Belgrade, appoint a new chief cleric Reis-ul-ulema, and form a clerical board (ulema-medžlis) consisting of high ranking religious scholars in Sarajevo and Skopje, as well as 9 muftis across the country (Imamović n.d.). The Reis in Sarajevo of the time, Džemaludin Čaušević, reacted strongly against this shift of power, and repeatedly expressed strong objections the regime for attempting to control and secularize the Muslims in a way that interfered with their religious freedoms and practices. His complaints, which fell on deaf ears, resulted in his refusal to accept the position of the Reis of the new IVZ, his forced retirement, and the appointment to the office of a more regime-sympathetic cleric, Ibrahim Maglajlic. The nine appointed muftis - for Banja Luka, Tuzla, Sarajevo, Mostar, Pljevlje, Novi Pazar, Prizren, Bitolja and Skoplje - were to act as proxy authorities, beyond what their traditional title assumes as legal experts (mufti), and more in line with church-based hierarchy of clerical power (Imamović n.d.). This of course further deepened the tensions within the Islamic leadership across the country, as it changed the traditional roles of authority without properly addressing the missing links in the administration of Sharia based lifestyle across the country.

The third period begins with a regulatory change in 1936 which resulted in returning the seat of religious affairs to Sarajevo. Because, historically speaking, religious centers of authority gravitated towards the clerics in Sarajevo and Skopje, the politically motivated move to Belgrade did not receive much support among the Muslims of Yugoslavia. The intent to bring them in line with the political regime backfired and it became clear that, in order to gain a broader support, the regime required cooperating with the JMO rather than with the pro-Serbian Muslim intelligentsia exemplified by Maglajlić. The Headquarter of the IVZ was returned to Sarajevo under the new Ries, Fehim Spaho, with the mandate to once again supervise all religious matter and education of Muslims across Yugoslavia, manage the religious endowments, and oversee the working of the religious courts. The governing body had its proxy office in Skopje, which mirrored the tripartite mandate of the Sarajevo Headquarter, but was formally in charge by the Sarajevan clerical leadership.

In terms of Muslim religious education of this period, the situation was noticeably uneven, with BiH having most opportunities because of the educational institutions secured and inherited from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian periods. Of special importance was the question of training the personnel required to carry out relevant legal matters in accordance with the Islamic Hanafi principles. The 1930 Constitution confirmed the continued working of the Islamic Sharia court, with the stipulation that any demographic zone which included 5000 or more Muslims required a Sharia office within the regional civil court. According to this stipulation, only Muslims could hold a judicial position in the Islamic court, the job requirement for which was a Law degree with the specialization in Islamic Law, or a degree from the vocational Sharia high school. Opportunities to receive such education were available mainly in BiH where, in addition to the Gazi Husrev Bey’s medresa which was the main venue for the training of religious scholars, one could enroll in vocational Sharia high schools (šerijatske škole), and in the Sharia judicial college established by the Austro-Hungarian government so as to train high ranking Islamic judges. This college was officially recognized in 1936 as having the status of public university. In other parts the country, religious education rested on family efforts and mektebs, elementary schools where the basics of religion were taught across the country. Both the quality of religious education and participation in most of these schools were of poor quality. The only other notable center of Islamic education was founded by King Aleksandar in Skopje in 1924 with the status of medresa, changed to the status of Sharia high school in 1936.

It is important to note that the state law which required all children to attend elementary schools had a positive effect on the literacy of Muslim children across Yugoslavia, especially among girls, who had historically been deprived of formal education. In line with this new law, the IZ took it upon itself to correct the literacy quota in religious schools as well, including the literacy of girls, in addition to improving and modernizing the curriculum. To that effect the IZ introduced the bills in 1930 and 1936 that ensured its involvement in spreading the awareness about early education across the Muslim communities and setting up funds and scholarships for students to continue with their studies beyond the elementary school. Such funds created a framework for a more consistent and open participation in education of Muslim families who until then had no access to higher schools.

One of the most noteworthy developments in this sector was the founding of a girls' medresa in Sarajevo in 1933, the first of its kind, and a co-ed medresa in Zenica in 1934. The Sarajevo medresa in turn took an active role in combating illiteracy by publishing Alphabet books to target not only young readers but to provide basic literacy skills for adults as well. (Kujraković 2009)

Sufi activities

The role and function of the IZ to maintain and nurture a sense of religious belonging and address confessional concerns was inevitably linked to the politics of identity. But the IZ, despite its centrality and scope in public affairs, did not have absolute monopoly over religious life. In addition to the aforementioned complex social and political issues associated with its mandate, the success of its outreach was partly affected by the presence of Sufi orders whose spiritual leaders constituted alternative authorities and source of religious knowledge and practice. The influence of Sufi orders, however, was unstable throughout the 20th century because of the unfavourable conditions under which they operated: seen as a threat by the government because of their seemingly clandestine ritual activities, and as a decentralizing parallel reality by the dominant IZ, the Sufi orders were both actively and passively suppressed after the end of the Ottoman rule in the region.

Historically diverse, Sufi orders, each of which nurtured distinctive yet interconnected forms of spiritual practice and fulfillment, had operated in the region for centuries. Their success was visible in both rural and urban life, and their activities reached everyday life of the Muslims in the region even if they were not formally associated with Sufi organizations. Sufi influence also crossed gender lines by providing a less male-centered understanding of religious knowledge and praxis. The success of Sufi orders in the Ottoman times further rested on their ability to incorporate local spiritual sensibilities, making them effectively intertwined with everyday culture. The mainstream Islamic establishment tolerated them, at times encouraged them, but their enduring presence in the 20th century testified that the Muslim religious life had no single definition or a single center of leadership.

Throughout the Balkan regions Sufis disseminated their spiritual teachings in informal gatherings, learning circles, home workshops, lodges (tekije) and other private and public venues. Their work, like the Sufi work elsewhere, was saturated with themes of sacred love, allegories of life and death, ethical issues, rich metaphors expression our relationship with the world and God, and many other subjects that were held close to the heart of ordinary people. Although the Austro-Hungarian administration did not openly discourage Sufi activities, the preference was to put them under supervision by the mainstream religious clerics, which resulted in a decline of their activities, which was further affected by demographic shifts after the Muslim expulsions and migrations in the wake of national upheavals. The modern period and institutionalization of Muslim life in a way that broke away from the Ottoman tradition created another kind of intra-religious tension whereby the Sufi orders were placed under the scrutiny of non-Sufi Muslim clerics. It is thus understandable why there was a rapid decline of many long-standing orders, although, remarkably, the same period saw the strengthening of some new branches, such as the Khalidi branch of the Naqshbandi order in BiH and the Qadiri order throughout the region.

Yugoslav Kingdom followed the previously established policies towards Sufi orders, namely monitoring them initially through the Sarajevo Headquarter of the IVZ, but after 1930, with the unification of IVZ across Yugoslavia, this supervision became more authoritative as the IVZ increased its pressure on Sufi life. Although initially there was no effort to uproot their work, Sufi orders were brought under more scrutiny. The objection against their teaching and work was articulated as a need to follow more closely mainstream Sunni Islam as delineated by the IVZ. In other words, a multiplicity of spiritual ways and authorities was not encouraged; rather, the religious practice was associated with the main five pillars (shahada, almsgiving, fast, hajj, and ritual prayer) and the Sharia law rather than a Sufi sheikh determined the boundaries of faith. The IVZ constitution of 1936, after a series of deliberations and interventions, set the regulations regarding the position and the functioning of Sufi orders: “The lodges (tekije) and their possessions are the property of religious endowments, which means they fall within the jurisdiction of religious authority. The rituals (zikr) and teachings of individual orders which are found by the Reisu-ul-ulama and his Council to stand in opposition to the principles of Islam will be curtailed and banned.” (Novaković 2002)

Although it was severely affected by this level of distrust, the work of the orders did not stop. Later on, after the establishment of Tito’s Yugoslavia, the orders saw more control over their work across BiH, Kosovo and Macedonia. The intolerance towards their presence culminated in 1952 when the IZ banned the work of all Sufi orders in BiH and closed their lodges, converting many into regular prayer halls and confiscating the religious endowments that regulated them. The religious officials of the Islamic Community, indirectly acting on behalf of the Yugoslav state, thus tried to put an end to any religious practices beyond its sphere of influence. Dismantling the lodges assumed the end of the 'unofficial' modes of worship and congregation, but some orders quietly moved outside the lodge setting into private homes so as to operate outside the purview of religious clerics. In Serbia (Kosovo region) and Macedonia their activities continued, despite the IVZ Headquarter’s strong urging to have them closed too on the grounds that the Sufi way of life prioritized norms and practices that clashed with both mainstream Islam and those of a modern society. Between Serbia and Macedonia, a number of Sufi orders went on practicing their rituals (Qadiri, Naqshbandi, Shahzeli, Bektashi, Khalwati, Malami, Rufa'i, Sa'adi), but the pressure from the IVZ continued, resulting in the decline in the number of lodges and practicing members (Popović 1994).

However, in the early 1970s, the Sufis of Yugoslavia turned a page by forming an association of all orders of Yugoslavia. Unusual and unique in many ways, the Association, initially known as SIDRA (Savez islamskih derviških redova Alije) and later changed to ZIDRA (Zajednica islamskih derviških redova Alije), united Sufi orders behind the same reason of self-affirmation and a hope for the recognition of their teachings and social role. The statement issued in 1974 at the founding congress clearly asserts the need for independence from the IVZ in all matters – administrative, religious and ritual – with an explicit request and declaration that it coexists on an equal footing with the IVZ . The initial membership included the following orders and their smaller branches: Kadiri, Ruf’ai, Nakshbendi, Mevlevi, Halveti, Shazili, Bedevi, Desuki, Sinani, Bayrami and Bektashi. (ZIDRA Constitution, 1974). Between 1978 and 1989, ZIDRA published a bilingual bulletin, Hu, in Serbo-Croatian and Albanian, advancing its cause and teachings, which first and foremost involved the mandate of spreading a sense of unity and mutual respect among all Muslims, religious tolerance and spiritual advancement, in accordance with the rules of both the Shari’a and the Sufi way. The bulletin also laid out in more detail the internal structures of Sufi orders, their role and function, their mutual respect, ritual reasons for following an order and a particular sheikh towards spiritual fulfilment, and their work outside the premises of an order (Popovic 1994; Ćehajić 1978 ).

The move to organize did not receive a favourable reception. The IZ staunchly opposed to both ZIDRA's formation and saw its publication as a threat to the sense of unity of Yugoslav Muslims. In time, however, this reaction was toned down, although the tension never fully disappeared, making it hard for the Sufi orders to maintain strength and solidarity in a consistent way. A more successful reception occurred internationally, as ties with many well-established orders across the Islamic world were strengthened, as well as diaspora communities in the west, especially in the USA (Popovic 1994). Until 1990, when the IZ reversed the 1952 decision to exclude the Sufi orders by folding them again under its auspices, the Sufi orders experienced a period of renewed significance in the religious life of Yugoslav Muslims. Moreover, they fortified a sense of cohesion despite internal differences based on order-specific rituals, teaching and lineage. This internal diversity, however, ran against the IZ's sense of responsibility to keep Islam in the country uniformly and evenly taught and practiced, so much so that the 1990 decision to bring the Sufis back into its fold was motivated, as far as the Sufis were concerned, by a sense of intolerance and rejection rather than affirmation and recognition. The tension persisted until the breakup of Yugoslavia and has since been further complicated by the political and religious fragmentation and violence that engulfed the region.

Islamic Community in Tito's Yugoslavia

The years preceding and during WWII saw some challenges in the workings of the Islamic Community. As BiH was incorporated into NDH, a Nazi satellite state that saw Croatian nation consisting of two religions, Catholicism and Islam, Sarajevo became the religious and political center of NDH Muslims. The ties with Muslims elsewhere were temporarily destabilized and disrupted - along regional, ideological and political lines - as Muslims, like all other communities, were caught up in push and pull of nationalist, fascist and communist aspirations. The war inevitably resulted in severe disruptions of the social and spiritual cohesion of the community, in addition to great losses endured by ethnic/religious based violence across the country.

With the establishment of Tito's Yugoslavia, the workings of the IZ was resumed as the same view of the Muslims' distinct religious identity was maintained, regardless of their ethnic declaration. As the early years of the new state saw a comprehensive effort to create and nurture a secular, supra-national identity of Yugoslavness, the attitude towards Muslims became more stringent.

On the one hand, as part of its inclusive platform, the state celebrated its religious diversity as an asset while on the other it curbed the influence of religious institutions as they were seen as serving nationalist platforms more than spiritual needs (Flere1991). The freedom of religion was thus unequivocally subordinated to the prerogatives of the state. From 1945 to the early-1950s, anti-clerical discourse and policies resulted in the arrest and removal of many influential clergymen across the religious spectrum. Religious schools and other religious institutions were closed down, including the Muslim community center "Preporod" in 1949, to be revived as both a community center a major publication of the IVZ as of 1970. The Islamic Sharia courts were dismissed as early as 1946, with all unresolved cases promptly transferred to regional civil courts. Furthermore, at the 1947 Sarajevo meeting of Antifascist Women's Front (AFŽ), a motion was passed to ban the face veil (zar i feredža), which was then endorsed by the head of the IZ, Reis Ibrahim Fejić, and adopted in the 1950 BiH constitution.

With the aim of curbing the power of religious institutions, especially when they aligned themselves with nationalist ideas, the Yugoslav state superimposed its own sacred time and sacred space over the more exclusive national calendars and genealogies. The nomenclature of cultural and religious identities created a discord in the process of self-identification, as the term "people" rather than "nation" was adopted to designate ethnic differences. The term "nation" (nacija) was reduced to religious connotation (much like the pre-modern term "millet" in the Ottoman times) and was thus dislodged from the political discourse on group identity, especially in the federal context where the category of "people" (narod) corresponded to one matrix federal/national republic. However, as BiH was excluded from this model, namely, without Bosnianness as an ethnonationl category, Bosnia-Herzegovina became a home to all, but a land belonging to none of its peoples. Most disconcertedly, this policy orphaned the Muslim population by severing their political link with the land. As a consequence, Bosnia-Herzegovina succumbed to the process of "internal nationalization" along ethnoreligious lines, which made it anomalous to the one republic-one nation paradigm (Buturović 2006).

Because this situation enhanced rather than diminished the grievances of Bosnian Muslims not to be treated as Serb or Croat "nationals" for the obvious anxiety of assimilation and the memories of several attempts at eradication, under the pressure of Bosnian Muslim intelligentsia the Yugoslav government revisited the 'Muslim question' in the 1960s and consider their ethnonational distinctiveness. With escalating tensions between Serbs and Croats over federal rights, the Yugoslav government went ahead with accepting Muslims as a distinct ethnicity, granting it in the 1961 census the status of a separate ethnic group. In 1968, somewhat unmindful of the paradox it was about to create, the government moved to bring a constitutional recognition of Bosnian Muslims as a national group (Muslimanski narod). In the aftermath of the constitutional change, the census of 1971 showed a sharp increase in the number of Muslims in BiH: from 842,000 in 1961, the number jumped to 1,482,000, that is, 40% of the overall population of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Buturovic 2006).

This new "Muslim people" primarily referred to Slavic Muslims, specifically to the Slavic Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sandžak region, and to a less clear sense to Muslims of other ethnicities, such as Gorani or Torbaši. In that sense, Muslimness was a localized ethnic identity carefully designed to both yield to the purist narratives of Serbs and Croats that Bosnia cannot be treated as a national homeland, but also to prevent them from making claims over Bosnian Muslims. And, because this was a non-territorial nationhood, Bosnian Muslims could make no claim on the land and as such were in no position to compete with the national integrity of Serbia and Croatia. In many respects, then, the recognition of the ethnonational unity of Bosnian Muslims strengthened the sense of cohesiveness but also a sense of isolation and difference from Muslims elsewhere. According to many observers, by not giving BiH the status of a matrix national unit, Tito enhanced its vulnerability, especially its Muslim population. In fact, Adrian Hastings argues that, "the denial of Bosnia-Herzegovina is the denial of the Yugoslav nation." (Hastings 1996)

Moreover, this identity was framed as secular identity so that the term "Muslim nation" would pose no challenge to the secular socialist-communist principles of Yugoslavia. In order to preempt a religious backlash, Muslims were further differentiated according to their secular and religious sensibilities. In the popular language, this differentiation became known as muslims/Muslims of capital and small 'm's. Sabrina Ramet, who characterizes the situation of Bosnian Muslims as being inflicted with chronic identity confusion, remarks this national predicament as follows:

Today in Bosnia-Herzegovina [the 1980s], there are Muslims who consider themselves primarily ‘Muslim Croats’ [in the national sense], those who consider themselves ‘Bosnian Muslims’ (i.e. in the ethnic sense), and those who, in the spirit of the [Izetbegovic's] ‘Islamic Declaration’, see themselves simply as ‘muslims’ [religiously Muslim]. In addition, there are those Muslims who declare themselves ‘Yugoslavs’. This already complex picture is made more so by the presence of those persons who describe themselves as ‘atheist Muslims’, and who therefore completely divorce religion from nationality (Ramet 1985:187).

Because of such problematic and unstable relationship between religious and ethnonational identity or, in other words, between confessional and political modes of self-identification, the IZ in Titoist Yugoslavia continued to be closely monitored yet was also encouraged to take action in the educational and social matters of Yugoslav Muslims. With the abolishment of the Sharia courts, the ethical and legal principles associated with the Islamic way of life were no longer relevant for the public sphere; rather, it was contained to the private and spiritual moral norms, taught at the level of individual responsibility to live up to the Islamic principles while fully participating in public life as dictated by the secular state. The challenge then was found in differentiating different strands of Sharia that could be adopted to the new situation and emphasizing the higher message and teachings of the Sharia rather than its specific rulings, as exemplified in the deliberations and legal opinions (fetva) of the legal scholar Husein Djozo (Karčić 1997).

Furthermore, the IZ set into motion the improvement of Muslim women's rights, addressing the gaps in their social and economic status. Reis Fejić called upon all community mosques and councils to urgently address the status of women, focusing especially on the dress code (the removal of the veil) and also on their education and literacy. While the Islamic community became internally split between the advocates of tradition and modernization, the state itself did not leave much space for the tradition to thrive or assert itself beyond the confines of one's home. The public face of religious tradition could be mainly observed in the attendance of Friday prayers at major urban and community mosques, funerary rituals and weddings, although Islamic matrimonial ceremonies were first and foremost symbolic acts with no official status because all marriages had to be processed through civil courts.

Still, throughout the Titoist Yugoslavia, the IVZ performed its roles without major obstructions. To the contrary, its sphere of influence grew over social, cultural, educational and spiritual life of Muslims across Yugoslavia, as evident from the changes in its 1947 constitutions in the decades to come, up until its major amendments and revisions instituted in the 1990 constitution. According to its administrative clauses, five main councils were established as the IZ's representatives: Sarajevo for BiH, Pristina for Serbia, Skoplje for Macedonia, Titograd for Montenegro, Zagreb for Croatia and Slovenia. The IZ's Head Council, comprised of 46 members, whereby Sarajevo appointed thirteen members, Pristina twelve, Skoplje nine, and Titograd and Zagreb six members each. In terms of its educational and informative outreach, the IVZ's bimonthly bulletin, "Glasnik," was distributed through community channels across Yugoslavia, as did, after 1970, the journal "Preporod," that had a strong cultural and educational orientation. In 1977 the Reis Hadžiabdić praised the condition of clerical employment and social and health benefits secured by the state, as well as some 500 new mosques (although the official number of new religious buildings built in the post-war period, specifically mosques and schools, exceeded a thousand) (Friedman 1996).

The self-awareness of Muslims as a distinct religious and cultural group beyond the parameters determined by the immediate historical and political context began to infiltrate Muslim intelligentsia already with Tito's alliances with many third world countries with significant Muslim population, and it increased in the 1970s. The publication of Alija Izetbegović's Islamic Declaration in 1970 that outlined an Islamic order where all Muslims' primary affiliation is to Islam and secondarily to the worldly institutions and authorities. Shortly thereafter, the developments in Iran with its Islamic revolutionary spirit found supporters in Yugoslavia. Perceived as security threat to the regime and its principles, thirteen Muslim 'activists', including Alija Izetbegović, were arrested, tried and sentenced to jail for 'counter-revolutionary activities.' An increased crackdown and control of Muslim activities, especially in BiH, increased in the 1980s in the aftermath of the trial, but also in the aftermath of Tito's death when the policies and discourse of national differentiation began spreading across the country.

Epilogue: The Collapse of Yugoslavia, the Wars,
and the Rise of new states

It would be an understatement to claim that the series of wars that engulfed the region following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 brought a disruption to the life of Yugoslav Muslims. The cataclysmic events, from ethnic cleansing, genocide, forced displacements, rape, and discrimination to the systematic destruction of religious and cultural heritage, brought the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Muslims of Kosovo to the brink of obliteration. Despite the violence, the communities managed to survive, albeit crippled and devastated, both at home and as diaspora scattered in different corners of the world.

The challenge of continuity and growth - physical, psychological and spiritual - has been caught up in a broader process of post-war nation building, democratization, reconciliation and reconstruction. Across the region, religious institutions and values have gained considerable influence in public life in contrast to the Yugoslav regime's policies of delegating those to private matters. This has been one of the most prominent changes in the shaping of the new states: religion is present in all walks of private and public life, including politics, legal matters, social institutions, and education. Such rise in public religiosity points to the power assigned to religious institutions and leaders, especially as religion continues to feature directly in the politics of self-determination and self-differentiation among all national groups.

The IZ has continued its work as defined by its historical roots, but it has also gained a more central role in the political and social life of the Bosniaks in BiH and Muslims elsewhere who recognize its authority. Beyond the ritual and spiritual needs, the IZ is deeply involved in the politics of commemoration of the war, the organization of public life and sacred calendar, and the strengthening of the ties with the global Muslim community, the umma. In contrast with the previous periods, there also seems to be a more open relationship with the Sufi orders who too have experienced a renewed prominence and activity. Sufi orders have reopened their lodges and activities throughout the region and have gained many young followers. The revival of Sufi life has gone hand in hand with the revival of shared rituals and teachings, which are now readily disseminated, in standard hard copies and online publications, across the region.

However, of particular challenge in this inter-connective and quite assertive forms of public religiosity is the infiltration of more conservative and radical teachings of Islam. Associated historically with the arrival of foreign fighters who settled after the war in the region, these new teachings and practices, grounded first and foremost in the Saudi-style Hanbali Islam that tries to engulf not only the Balkans but many other transitional contexts, have gained local support and created an ever growing rift with local Islamic sensibilities, based in the Ottoman Hanafi values. The tension between the two continues to rise, further complicating the questions of identity, both internally and in relation to non-Muslim neighbours. In that sense, how much local Islamic values can be preserved in the face of these homogenizing teachings is no longer a regional issue but one that flies in the face of global responses to religious radicalization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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l a t e s t   . . .

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With the assistance of the Federal Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of the FR of Germany

 

 

 

 

 

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