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Bosnian Religious Leaders Fill Political Void

7:32 AM, Jan 18, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Among Bosnian Muslims, post-1995 intellectual passivity, and the influence of Saudi-financed Wahhabism and other radical doctrines, may give way to a restoration of a vigorous, traditional Bosnian Muslim moderation. Their ambitious former chief cleric, Mustafa Ceric, wedded the Bosnian Islamic community to the Egyptian-born and Qatar-based hate preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, through a so-called “European Council for Fatwas and Research” (ECFR) affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Ceric consummated this intrigue in 1997, without publicizing it to the Bosnian Muslims, who would have been shocked at an alliance with Al-Qaradawi, while the Serbs would have celebrated it as proof that the Bosnian Muslims were, as the Serbs claimed falsely, jihadists.

But Bosnia’s Muslim leadership is elected, and term-limited. In September 2012, Ceric, after two seven-year periods as chief Islamic cleric, beginning in 1998 and preceded by five years as wartime head of the Sarajevo Islamic apparatus—totaling 19 years in charge—was replaced by Husejin Kavazovic, a cleric from the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla.

Known for preserving an atmosphere of ethnic harmony through the Bosnian war, Tuzla has given Kavazovic a reputation for good relations with the other faiths. He is recalled for having appealed to Bosnian Muslims not to retaliate against Serbs after the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were deliberately murdered.

So far, Kavazovic has said and done nothing that would indicate whether he will follow Ceric in aligning Bosnian Muslims with Al-Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood, or will allow such associations to lapse. Some Bosnian Muslims, nevertheless, claim Kavazovic is a mere puppet of Ceric, and will maintain the latter’s postures.

In the meantime, Ceric has other projects with which to occupy himself. He has joined Muamer Zukorlic, head of a pro-Bosnian faction among the 240,000 Muslims in Serbia, to form a World Bosniak [i.e. Bosnian Muslim] Congress, which is modeled, ostensibly, on the World Jewish Congress, and seeks an NGO seat at the United Nations. Ceric has used Zukorlic in a gambit to unite Bosnian and Serbian Muslims, but with little success.

Muhamed Jusufspahic, the officially-recognized head of Serbia’s Muslims and competitor to Zukorlic, rejected the World Bosniak Congress proposal as an attempt to transform Bosnian Muslims from a religious denomination into a single, cross-border ethnic community. As a side effect of this controversy, Senad Agic, the long-serving and faultlessly-moderate head of Bosnian Muslims in America, residing in Chicago, opposed the Ceric-Zukorlic scheme, and was replaced by a Ceric loyalist, Ekrem Mujezinovic.

Differences between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia in Islamic affairs are significant. Unlike Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia includes at least 70,000 ethnic Albanians (still in Serbia and not within the borders of independent Kosovo), most of whom are Muslims, and who resent any domination by Slavs, including Muslim Slavs.

In addition, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia diverged on the recent U.N. vote for a Palestinian observer seat. Serbia was the sole Yugoslav successor state to vote for the Palestinians, while Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Macedonia, abstained. This led to fascinating polemics in the local Muslim media. The Bosnian clerics acceded to their government’s posture, but published a blustering interview in their newspaper, Preporod (Rebirth), in which Khaled Allatrash, the Palestinian ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, declared that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Hamas would soon unite, and denounced the alleged “Judaization” of Jerusalem. (Bosnia-Herzegovina also has diplomatic relations with Israel.)

Meanwhile, in Serbia, the pro-Zukorlic organ Glas Islama (Voice of Islam) congratulated the Belgrade regime for supporting the Palestinians and criticized the government of Montenegro for cultivating relations with Israel and international Jewish bodies. The torch of radicalism seems to have been deliberately taken up by Zukorlic’s Serbian Muslim splinter group. Glas Islama publishes the fanatical rhetoric of Zakir Naik, an Indian physician and Muslim television evangelist.

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