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!
Hello Amila! It’s so good to hear from you. You will see yourself on a few photos here, I think – I like the one at Niko’s lunch where everyone is laughing. We had such a wonderful time and you were so patient with all our questions. Yes, let’s meet up if you are visiting the UK. I hope the school chronicle goes well. I hope we’ll keep in touch on multi-faith and peace-building in our two countries. Please send best wishes to Amina as well. All the best – Catriona
Remember me? :-) You must still remember you interpreter.
It’s really nice to read all these beautiful impressions that you’ve made while visiting our lovely country and the city of Tuzla. We are translating them for our school chronicle. I am glad you had a great time with us. Hope you’ll come again. Maybe I’ll go to the UK (Blackburn)in february. But, if I do, we have to meet up there if you are able to.
Dear Catriona, I have loved reading your posts and seeing the pictures (the captions work really well) and learned a lot, eg I didn’t know that women studied in madrassas too. It is so good to get this new, extra, window on the world and somehow it means more, coming from someone you know. Thank you! Keep it up! Love, Catherine
Hello Catherine – thank you so much for keeping me company. I did find out a bit more about the veal-dairy connection. Yes, there is a fair bit of cheese (some special, some cultured cream for goulash-type dishes, some mild white cheese for breakfast) in Bosnia and it seems that the cows that people keep, along with the chickens, goats, and a maybe bit of maize or hay, do have calves – sometimes they sell them young, either for meat or to other families who then rear them to adulthood, sometimes they keep them. There’s a whole smallholding, or miniholding, way of life which ticks over even if the adults also have money-earning jobs as well.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t update each day – there was so much going on and we started at breakfast and kept going until after our dinner together (with guests) every night! If the hotels had had connections, I would have been OK. I should have taken a USB modem.
Hope to see you before long – we were given lots of picture books which I can show you. All the best – Catriona
PS Was shown the way to the halva shop on our last day – what wonderful halva!