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Islam: Bosnian Cleric Sees Unique Role For Europe's Muslims


Reisu-UI-ulema Mustafa Ceric (file photo) (AFP) On March 14, RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service correspondent Dzenana Halimovic interviewed moderate Bosnian Muslim leader Reisu-UI-ulema Mustafa Ceric. On February 24, Ceric's organization issued a Declaration of European Muslims --> http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/03/5c31a59e-79e6-435b-b3ab-b0daf924782f.html that called for increased tolerance for Muslims in Europe while also pledging Muslim devotion to such principles as tolerance, the rule of law, and human rights. In the interview, Ceric calls on European governments to take issues relating to Muslim relations seriously as a matter of urgent concern.



RFE/RL: You created a declaration of European Muslims. What did you want to achieve with this and how well has it been accepted in the European Muslim community?


Reis-Ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric: The idea of the declaration of European Muslims is a personal act of sending a message to the Western audience that we, Bosnian Muslims, did not agree with the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, on March 11, 2004 in Madrid, on July 7, 2005, in London. This declaration has been written through many conferences that I have attended since September 11 [2001].


It is a personal -- it is probably too much to say "confession" -- but a personal appeal to the European audience not to make a mistake in generalizing all Muslims and not to spread Islamophobia, that was, I think, going on in Europe and in the West generally, especially after September 11. And the second message was to the Muslims who live in Europe to take seriously these three events that may have great consequences for their stay in Europe and their status in Europe. And the third message is to the Muslim world at large to ask them to help us in the West, and especially in Europe, to develop a kind of dialogue that is acceptable to us as Muslims, as well as to our European neighbors.

We are all losers if we don't understand that we live in an interdependent world, that the East cannot live without the West and the West cannot live without the East. And if we understand that, it will be easier for us to develop tolerance, which will be a sign of our strength. Because intolerance is a sign of our weakness.

RFE/RL: Some media have labeled your journeys and the promotion of the declaration as a mission on behalf of European governments in which you are supposed to create a European Islam. Is there a political influence on you of that kind?


Ceric: I am challenging the European governments to take into serious consideration the Islamization or the institutionalization of Islam in Europe for two reasons. One, that Europe should know the real face of the representation of Islam in Europe and that Muslims stop playing the tribal-mentality role in European society, presenting Islam as a tribal culture, a tribal or national agenda of any sort rather than introducing Islam as a universal faith -- as it is -- together with Judaism and Christianity.


RFE/RL: What is the point of campaigning for the assimilation of Muslims in Europe?


Ceric: We have four groups of Muslims in Europe. There are Muslims who are Bosnians, Albanians, Turks, and others, who are born or created by the clay of the European land. Then we have the Muslims who migrated to Europe from the Middle East, who are the Arabs and Turks and Pakistanis, Indians, and others. Then we have the third generation of these immigrants who are born here, educated here, and they are Europeans by their mindset, with an Islamic identity. And we have the fourth group, who are the convert to Islam who are Europeans. As you know, in Germany you have a very big number of those who converted to Islam and they are Germans, by all means. Also, in Britain and France and other European countries.


These groups have different European experiences and so their expectations from Islam and their input into the Islamic culture is different. But they are somehow bound by one idea, which is the idea of Islam. I believe that there is no European Islam. There is no Indonesian Islam or Arab Islam. There is something that we can call "the European experience of Islam" or the European experience of the interpretation of certain aspects of Islam that are different from the interpretations of other parts of the world -- which is not strange to Islam.


Islam is very much, within itself, diverse. It is not a monolithic bloc like many people think -- that Muslims are a very monolithic bloc that is very closed, not open. That they don't accept influences from others, do not influence others. On the contrary, I think, we as European Muslims are very much influenced by European culture, by the way of European life.


And therefore we have the right, as Muslims, to interpret Islam within the context of our experience and our expectations both from Islam as an idea that gives us the purpose of life, gives us the purpose of who we are and what is going to happen after our worldly life. And also we have the right to interpret Islam based on our expectations in the European life, the European experience, the European cultural mindset. That gives us, probably, some room, more than other Muslims in the world, that we see things differently, and with this experience that we have we can be helpful to other Muslims in the world because there are advantages that we live in Europe. Because Europe is the land of human rights and democracy.

Instead of focusing on Islamophobia, which will be there anyway whether we do something or not, I think we should concentrate more on Islamophiles, who are exist in Europe and in the West, and help them to be stronger in their Islamophilic approach to the Muslim world.

To reach this point that Europe has reached -- from slavery to freedom, from might to right, from mythology to science -- Europe paid a big price, a great price, for that. So Europeans are very sensitive when someone touches these values of human rights and democracy. We Muslims, I think, European Muslims, have the advantage of this achievement of European society, of the level of human rights and democracy. There are some advantages, of course, because we live in Europe as Muslims.


RFE/RL: So we can talk about fabricated fear?


Ceric: There are always going to people who are xenophobic -- not necessarily of Islam, but of anything that is strange, different. But I think that there are also Islamophiles in Europe -- people who are not afraid, who believe that Islam is an open religion that has a warmth in itself and has compassion in its teachings and so on. So, instead of focusing on Islamophobia, which will be there anyway whether we do something or not, I think we should concentrate more on Islamophiles, who are exist in Europe and in the West, and help them to be stronger in their Islamophilic approach to the Muslim world.


RFE/RL: What is the major issue for European Muslims today that needs to be resolved soon, in particular for Bosnian Muslims?


Ceric: I think that trust between the East and the West, and especially between the Muslim world and the West is now at the lowest point in recent history. The one who has the formula for regaining trust between the East and the West -- and don't forget that the major resources of energy that the world needs in the future in terms of oil is in the hands of the Muslims, meaning in the Middle East.... So I think it is in the interests of the West not to endanger this part of the world, including Mesopotamia and the Middle East, where the energy for our life -- in Europe -- lies. And don't forget that the sun is rising from the east, whether we like it or not in the West.


So I think there cannot be peace in the West if we don't have peace in the East. And don't forget that never in history has the West ruled the East. There were so many attempts from the West to capture the mystic of the East, but they have never succeeded. You should remember the Crusade campaigns. You should remember Napoleon, who captured Egypt but could not stay. And you should remember France, which tried to control Algeria and did not succeed. And you should remember even farther in the deeper past that Alexander the Great could not control the East when he came to Athens and when he lost his patience in untying the Gordian knot.


So, what we are saying here is there are no winners in the East or the West. We are all losers if we don't understand that we live in an interdependent world, that the East cannot live without the West and the West cannot live without the East. And if we understand that, it will be easier for us to develop tolerance, which will be a sign of our strength. Because intolerance is a sign of our weakness.


So, I predict that the next few decades are going to be the question of the relationship between the Muslim world and the West, particularly in Europe. Don't forget that Europe was always the scene of universal changes. Europe is the land of universal evils and universal goods. World War I started here. Remember that Sarajevo was the place where the last century started. And Sarajevo was the place where the next century started by the genocide on Bosnia and the aggression on Sarajevo. And the burning of the National Library in Sarajevo.


Bosnian Muslims praying in the town of Vrbanja (epa file photo)

The question of the future world will be decided in Europe on the Muslim question. As much as Europe will show a willingness and capability to solve the Muslim question in Europe, I think the whole world will see either an acceptable peace or unacceptable war. Our declaration is a kind of reminder, before the events, that European governments must take Muslim issues in Europe seriously and now... immediately, without waiting to see what will happen. Because things are now different from what they used to be in terms of whose continent Europe is.


Europe does not belong to any particular culture, to any religion, to any nationality. It belongs to all of us. Don't forget that the Muslims and Jews have contributed to European development [as much] as Christians did. Europe has never been a Christian continent, a Muslim continent, a Jewish continent. It is a continent of all of these three main Abrahamic religions that came from the East. We are equal here in Europe, we have to have an equal share, and we have to have equal responsibility for our future. I, from my experience in Sarajevo, have the right to shape a new face of Europe. And we have the obligation here in Sarajevo to help European Muslims to find their place in Europe, the right place in Europe, and not to make mistakes. And we must tell them that they cannot take their freedom for granted. They have to earn their freedom and the earning of their freedom means taking responsibility as well.

Islam In A Pluralistic World

A Muslim woman (left) watches a Christian procession in Madrid in March (AFP)

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CONFERENCE ON ISLAM: A major international conference on Islam concluded in Vienna in November 2005 with strong appeals from prominent Muslim leaders to recognize international terrorism as simply "terrorism." Political figures from Islamic countries, including the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan, argued that it should never be labeled "Islamic" or "Muslim" terrorism because Islam is based on peace, dialogue, and tolerance. "Salaam" -- meaning "peace" -- was the key word of the three-day conference, titled "ISLAM IN A PLURALISTIC WORLD."
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the word in their remarks to emphasize the peaceful nature of Islam. Other speakers quoted passages from the Koran to the effect that all men and women, regardless of faith, are creatures of God and should live in peace with each other without discrimination...(more)



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Listen to Afghan President HAMID KARZAI's complete address to the Vienna conference (in English):
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Listen to UN special envoy LAKHDAR BRAHIMI's complete address to the Vienna conference (in English):
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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view a thematic webpage devoted to issues of religious tolerance in RFE/RL's broadcast region and around the globe.

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