journeys at home and abroad
Places in madrassas here in Bosnia are highly sought after. A third of the curriculum is religion-based and there are options to learn Latin, Persian or Turkish. The madrassa we visited today was built about 12 years ago and designed by an award winning architect. There are about 480 boarding students, young men and women 14-18 years of age. Many of the students will progress to leadership roles within Islam, so in some ways it is like a theological college.
The place was unbelievably clean and tidy for a college full of teenagers! The most beautiful part was the mosque, which is open to everyone for prayer. It has white walls and a creamy carpet (not green) with a symbolic design on it representing water, warmth, the sun and life – instead of lines or prayer-mat shapes to guide worshippers. The mosque is light-filled and designed to appeal to young people.
The discussion with the Director and his staff team ranged from the challenge of educating and looking after young people at the height of their energies and while their personality was being formed to the differences between madrassas in Britain and Bosnia. Bosnian Muslims are part of the indigenous population and have been worshipping for hundreds of years, continuing even when the Austro-Hungarians assumed power. They have a great ease and confidence in their tradition. The Imams wear suits, ties and tidy haircuts like other men here – I haven’t seen any with long beards or wearing particular clothes for prayer. The Mufti this evening wore a black robe and cylindrical white hat to show his position, but the regular Imams are indistinguishable by dress from other Bosnian men. Women pray in the mosque with men, not behind screens, but they are not obliged to attend Friday prayers.
The staff at the madrassa were interested in British madrassas and one of our party said that they were very mixed – some were excellent, others mixed Koranic teaching with dubious politics. Our Bosnian friends pointed out that the search for identity of first, second and third generation migrants inevitably got mixed up with the expression of religious tradition. Bosnia itself may be unstable politically, but Bosnian Muslim tradition is secure and confident.
Given the painful recent history for each of the three communities here (Muslim Bosniac, RC Croat and Serbian Orthodox), it was good to have the local Serbian Orthodox priest with us all day today as we visited Muslim projects and mosques. The Roman Catholic member of the Bosnian team was not able to join us – a special festival relating to St Francis takes place today and tomorrow. Tuzla has had an imams and priests (RC and Orthodox) football match! This is obviously becoming a global phenomenon – Clapham & Stockwell Faith Forum, Balham & Tooting Community Association and Tuzla!