The “virus” of Saudi-financed Wahhabi radicalism has “destroyed every chance” for the development of European Islam, according to a leading Muslim theologian from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Professor Resid Hafizovic of the Sarajevo Faculty of Islamic Studies, in an interview with the Bosnian secularist daily Oslobodjenje (Liberation), condemns Wahhabism as “a new plague,” promoted by “Muslim puritans and perpetual world fixers.” He chastises the radicals as “unschooled, uneducated, confused people, who forbid their own children, for example, to study biology in school.” He describes the followers of the Saudi state sect as “a movement unsatisfied with and intolerant of everything which does not fit its ideological views, and which therefore is often predisposed to the methods of murderous ideologies that use any means to achieve their goals.”
In a broad critical assessment of European Islam, Hafizovic, an expert in traditional Islamic texts, assails the adoption by Muslim women of the burqa and face veil (niqab) as a recent affectation in which “faith and religious belief” are the least element. “Some Muslims," he says, "are unable to comprehend that a billion more important issues than this exist.” He describes the world’s Muslims as capable only of presenting themselves as a large part of the world's population, but lacking “vital influence in the global market of ideas and related achievements.” He continues, “I would be happier to see in tomorrow’s Bosnia as many of the best trained Muslim women university professors as possible, with a strong consciousness of their own religious identity and values, whether they wear a headscarf or not, than to see a crowd of women trapped in the burqa and face veil, cut off from the world and life.”
Regarding the 2009 Swiss vote to ban minarets from mosques, Hafizovic says, “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 unable to establish communication even between Muslims, and even less communication with their environment.”
Ranging yet more widely, the Bosnian professor cites an obscure American Jewish writer, Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, author of an 1887 volume published in Kansas City, Jews and Moors in Spain, in describing the state of Arab Islam after the Muslims lost their connection with Western Europe: “a deep, much too deep darkness reigns now on the Arabian peninsula.” Hafizovic summarizes: “In line with 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.”
On his home territory, Hafizovic denounces the quest for influence over Bosnian society by Islamist radicals and their “mentors from the Arabian peninsula,” who aligned with local Muslim politicians seeking votes in the latest Bosnian elections, held on October 3. Bosnian Muslim clerics and representatives in government flattered the Wahhabi agitators as legitimate defenders of Bosnian Islam while commercial delegations from the Gulf region descended upon Sarajevo to convince the populace that something productive and creative was soon to come.
But no positive developments are immediately apparent for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnian Muslim and Croat voters are joined in a “Federation of Bosnia” separated, but not divorced, from the “Republic of Serbs (Srpska).” For that, thank the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war but perpetuated the country’s division. In the recent polling, Serbs voted for nationalist candidates demanding permanent division of the country, while Bosnian Muslims and Croats mainly cast ballots for the ex-Communist Social Democratic Party (SDP). As a secular and multiethnic party, the SDP favors a single, united Bosnia. On a separate electoral tier, the “Muslim identity” Party of Democratic Action (SDA) handed the Bosnian Muslim “national” seat in the unwieldy, three-person presidency to Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the Bosnian Muslim wartime leader, Alija Izetbegovic. Bakir Izetbegovic is considered a moderate who seeks openings to the Serbs, perhaps as the only way Bosnia can survive and elite figures like him may enrich themselves. The Serbs reelected Nebojsa Radmanovic, a supporter of Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik, as their president. The Social Democrats retained the Croat presidential seat.
Bosnian Muslims voted for secular, modern, European policies rather than heeding the Wahhabi call. A line of confrontation between radical infiltrators and local Muslims protective of their traditions extends from Bosnia-Herzegovina south through southern Serbia and Montenegro, which have substantial Muslim minorities, to Kosovo and Albania, which are majority Muslim.
On Friday, October 8, Kosovo Muslim women were called to demonstrate in the capital, Pristina, for the right to wear the headscarf in public schools, which the Kosovo government has banned. The chief local Muslim cleric, Naim Ternava, previously soft on the Wahhabi problem, warned against participation or involvement with the demonstration or the foreign Islamist charities supporting it, which he said had usurped a role in Kosovo they did not deserve. A few hundred people participated in the event. And in neighboring Albania, an attempt to remove the moderate chief cleric, Selim Muca, from his post, failed in September. Muca described the challenge to Balkan Muslims in the same terms employed by Hafizovic in Sarajevo: “Mostly, these are Muslims educated in Saudi Arabia.”
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.