5 Days in Bosnia – in the Company of Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah)

5 Days in Bosnia – in the Company of Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah)

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. All praise is for Allah, Lord of the worlds; and peace and blessings be on our master Muhammad, his family and Companions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country I had wanted to visit for a long time; well since the Bosnian war and the subsequent genocide and ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims during the mid-90s. I remember at the time that Muslims the world over were praying for their Bosnian brethren, and many offered financial and other humanitarian support. I was in my teens and still remember the ‘supplication of affliction’ (qunat al-nazila) being recited in Mosques throughout the UK, and also the first influx of Bosnian refugees arriving in the UK.

As such, when I discovered that a trip had been arranged for my dear teacher and mentor Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) and some other scholars to visit Bosnia, I was eager to join them. The attraction was twofold: Vising a country with so much history, and secondly spending time in the company of Shaykh Taqi (hafizahullah).

Brief History of Bosnia

Bosnia is a country in South-eastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and its largest city. It is bordered by Croatia to the north and west; Serbia to the east; Montenegro to the southeast; and the Adriatic Sea to the south, with a coastline about 20 kilometres (12 miles) long surrounding the town of Neum. In the central and eastern interior of the country the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and the northeast is predominantly flatland.

The country had remained under the Roman Empire, after which it came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. The Ottomans brought Islam to this land, and a native Slavic-speaking Muslim community emerged and eventually became the largest of the ethno-religious groups. Under the Ottomans, Bosnia experienced a period of general welfare and a number of cities – such as Sarajevo and Mostar – were established and grew into regional centres of trade. Various Ottoman Sultans financed the construction of many works of Bosnian architecture such as the country’s first library in Sarajevo, bridges such as the Stari Most in Mostar, Madrasas, and Mosques such as the Ghazi Husrev-beg Mosque.

Later, Bosnia came under Austro-Hungarian rule, and then part of the socialist and communist ‘Republic of Yugoslavia’ when practising Islam in Bosnia and the surrounding countries was banned and a criminal offense. Muslims were punished for simple acts of worship such as praying and fasting. Those were bleak times for Muslims in the Balkans, but many of them still struggled and managed to somehow preserve their faith.

With the collapse of communism and the break-up of Yugoslavia during the early nineties, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence around 1992. Many Serbs living in Bosnia opposed this and proclaimed their own ‘Republika Srpska’ on the territories they controlled. They formed their own army and with support from the Serbian government and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), they managed to place much of the country under its control. The Bosnian Serb advance was accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) from the areas they controlled. This was accompanied by the establishment of concentration camps, in which inmates were subjected to violence and abuse, including rape.The ethnic cleansing culminated in the Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys in July 1995, which was ruled to have been a genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY).The conflict ended around 1995 in which many Bosnian Muslims were martyred due to bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape – mainly perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs. Events such as the ‘Siege of Sarajevo’ and the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ later became iconic events of the conflict. An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the war, about two-thirds of whom were Bosnian Muslims, and an additional 2.2 million citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina of all ethnicities were displaced. Now after more than twenty years since the conflict, the country is still being rebuilt and trying to return back to its former self.

The Trip

The trip to visit Bosnia – as well as some other Balkan countries – was arranged by a charity based in Blackburn (Northern UK) called Muslim Welfare Institute (MWI) running under the leadership of Shaykh Hanif Dudhwala. The charity was formed many years ago and have actively been working in Albania, providing financial and other support to its residents. It had previously taken Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) to Albania in 2006.

This time around, the charity arranged a trip to not only take Mufti Taqi Usmani but also Shaykh Mufti Ahmad Khanpuri (a senior scholar, Mufti and teacher at the renowned Islamic Seminary in Dhabhel, India). They were then joined by members of the Charity and a host of scholars and guests from the UK such as Shaykh Mufti Shabbir Ahmad, Mufti Ibrahim Raja and Dr. Mahmood Chandia. In total, approximately 30-35 people joined the convoy; some for the whole duration of the trip, and others for part of it. The trip included touring four Balkan States: Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia. I only joined the group in the final part of the tour in Bosnia.

Monday 25th June, 2018

I boarded a flight at 1am UK time from London Stansted Airport to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport. After a stopover of approximately two and a half hours, our plane took off for the Bosnian Capital Sarajevo. (Incidentally, as far as I am aware, there are no direct flights from the UK to Bosnia). On the plane at Stansted, I met a brother named Zahir Patel from Blackburn UK, who was also joining the group. It was nice to have unexpected and pleasant company for the remainder of the journey. Whilst waiting at the gate to board the flight in Istanbul, we met some Kuwaiti brothers traveling to Bosnia for vacation. I also saw others from the Gulf countries on our flight. Later it came to my knowledge that Bosnia is fast becoming a popular tourist attraction, especially for those in the Gulf. It is good to see Muslims visiting this country more frequently now and thus helping build its economy.

We landed in Sarajevo around 10am local time. Two brothers, who were helping the MWI with the trip, received us at the airport and took us straight to the hotel – a nice, clean, five star hotel near the airport called Hillside hotel. The group had arrived here the night before by road from Albania, excluding Mufti Taqi Usmani and a small group with him; they spent the night in Montenegro and were scheduled to arrive in Bosnia today.

At lunch, I met Shaykh Mufti Ahmad Khanpuri (hafizahullah) and all the others in the group. Many of them were from the North of UK and had graduated from the renowned Darul Uloom seminary in Bury (UK) many years ago. Some faces I was seeing after about fifteen years and some even more. It was so pleasing to be able to meet after so many years Al-Hamdulillah.

After lunch, along with the group, I left our hotel in Sarajevo for the city of Mostar. Mufti Taqi Usmani and the small group with him were on their way from Montenegro to Sarajevo, and they decided to stop over in Mostar for lunch and rest. As such, we all decided to meet up in Mostar. The two/three hour drive from Sarajevo to Mostar was incredibly scenic – full of greenery, beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes. Bosnia, Ma Sha Allah, is full of natural beauty, and thus I would definitely recommend visiting it for vacation with the family. I heard Mufti Taqi Usmani a few times during our trip describing it as “the Paradise of earth”, and he said this after visiting some seventy countries!

Despite the beautiful scenery on route to Mostar, my heart was yearning to see Mufti Taqi Usmani, and as such the most beautiful sight of this trip was yet to be witnessed by my eyes. At last, the wait was over, as my eyes fell on the face of our beloved Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) when we reached Mostar. It was an absolute delight and joy to greet and embrace him.

The City of Mostar

Mostar is an old but beautiful city in southern Bosnia. Straddling the Neretva River, it is known for the iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge) – a reconstructed arched bridge built originally by the Ottomans. The alleys near the bridge are full of shops and market stalls, and the Old Bridge Museum explores the bridge’s long history. A narrow staircase leads up to the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque’s minaret. 50% of the town is Muslim and 50% Serb, with Mosque minarets and the Christian cross visible across the city. On approaching Mostar, I could not help but notice a large white cross on top of a mountain. Many Muslims were killed and imprisoned in this city too during the war in the 90s.

As mentioned, Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani had arrived here in Mostar by road from Montenegro. He was briefly being hosted by a brother called Shaykh Jawwad. Upon arriving at his house, my dear friend Mawlana Yusuf ibn Shabbir of Blackburn, UK (who had arrived here earlier from Montenegro with Mufti Taqi Usmani) informed me that Shaykh Jawwad had asked about me, and he informed him that I was on my way. It turned out that we had studied together in Damascus in 2001, and were meeting after some 17 years unexpectedly. It was indeed another highlight for me in visiting Mostar. Shaykh Jawwad, Ma Sha Allah, is a young and very able scholar, with an incredible library of books and manuscripts at his house. Despite studying for many years, and being in his late thirties and married with children, he continues to take lessons from Shuyukh in different parts of the world. This was the way of our predecessors (salaf); they did not stop studying after formal graduation from a six 6 year Alimiyya crash course!

The Dervish Monastery & River Buna

After performing Asr prayers and having tea at Shaykh Jawwad’s house, our group – in the company of Mufti Taqi Usmani and guided by Shaykh Jawwad – first visited the famous tourist attraction ‘the Dervish monastery’ (also known as Tekija or Khanqah) in the Blagaj village just outside Mostar. The Dervish house is nearly 600 years old, and situated under a cliff near the Buna River. The spring of Buna is one of the strongest in Europe, and certainly one of the most beautiful. The water that springs there is icy and pure, so it is not surprising that in 1520, the newly arrived Ottomans built this dervish house or Khanqah there – a beautiful location for a building where people gather to worship Allah and remember Him.

The landscape of the cliff, waterfall, river and buildings with ottoman architecture is a sight to behold and without doubt looks better in person than in pictures. I noticed that the pathway leading to the Dervish house had a series of boards on which    هو(He, i.e. Allah) was written in Arabic – referring to the dhikr of Allah by just chanting ‘Hu’. I jokingly asked Shaykh Taqi in Arabic,   ما حكم هو(ma hukmu hu) meaning what is the ruling of making dhikr by just chanting ‘hu’, to which he just smiled.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) & Pasha Mosque

We then visited the iconic medieval arched bridge (already referred to above) called the Stari Most (which literally means the old bridge). It is a ‘rebuilt’ 16th-century Ottoman bridge in the city of Mostar that crosses the river Neretva and connects the two parts of the city. It stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian war. Subsequently, a project was set in motion to reconstruct it; the rebuilt bridge opened on 23rd July 2004. One of the country’s most recognizable landmarks, the bridge is considered an exemplary piece of Balkan Islamic architecture.

Next to the bridge is the Koskin-Mehmed Pasha Mosque built by the Ottomans. The local brothers mentioned that the Mosque was blown up by two Serbs during the war, and subsequently rebuilt. Many tourists were present here, and the area was filled with shops, market stalls and narrow alleys – similar to old eastern cities. As we walked towards our car from the bridge, some people were staring at our group, upon which Shaykh Taqi remarked, “We have become strangers in our own lands!”

After performing Maghrib at another nearby Mosque, apparently built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman, we headed back; and after approximately a two and half hour journey, we were back at our hotel in Sarajevo.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge)

Tuesday26th June, 2018

Sarajevo City

Tuesday was spent in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. Sarajevo is a Slavicized word based on saray, the Turkish word for palace. The official name during the 400-year Ottoman rule was Saray-bosna (Palace of Bosnia), and it is still known by that name in modern Turkish. Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city was founded by the Ottomans in 15th century AD, and it arose as an Ottoman stronghold upon its conquest of the region. The first Ottoman governor of Bosnia Isa-Beg Ishaković transformed the cluster of villages into a city and state capital by building a number of key structures; such as a mosque, a closed marketplace, a public bath, a hostel, and of course the governor’s castle (saray) which gave the city its present name. Under the second Ottoman governor Ghazi Husrev-beg (also pronounced as Ghazi Khusro Bek‎), Sarajevo grew at a rapid rate. Husrev-beg greatly shaped the physical city; most of what is now the ‘old town’ was built during his reign. He also made the centre of the old city as waqf (perpetual endowment) for Islamic causes. The rental income from the shopping centres was used for Islamic causes over the centuries.

Sarajevo became known for its large marketplace and numerous mosques, which by the middle of the 16th century numbered more than 100. At the peak of the empire, Sarajevo was the biggest and most important Ottoman city in the Balkans after Istanbul. Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo was called the “Jerusalem of Europe”.

After World War 1, the city experienced a period of stagnation as part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the socialist rule. During the Bosnian war, the city suffered the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Sarajevo has been undergoing post-war reconstruction, and is the fastest growing city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The travel guide series, Lonely Planet, has named Sarajevo as the 43rd best city in the world,and in December 2009 listed Sarajevo as one of the top ten cities to visit in 2010.In 2011, Sarajevo was nominated to be the European Capital of Culture in 2014.

Sarajevo Cemetery

Tuesday started off with our main group (excluding Mufti Taqi Usmani) visiting a high point on a mountaintop from where we had a birds-eye view of Sarajevo. The city is surrounded by beautiful green mountains, and the view of the city from here was a sight to behold. We could also see the Muslim cemetery not too far away, and that is what we visited next.

We walked down the hill to the entrance of the cemetery and war memorial. It is the main resting place for those who were martyred – especially soldiers from the Bosnian Army – during the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The majority of the people buried here were killed during the siege of Sarajevo. The dates of demise inscribed on the grave stones were all around 1992 to 1994; they also had the translation in Bosnian of the Qur’anic verse “And do not say that those killed in the path of Allah are dead. Rather, they are alive but you do not know” (2:154). The cemetery today is a war memorial, and houses a small war museum right next to it. We gave our salam and recited fatiha at the cemetery and then returned to our hotel.

Old Town Sarajevo and Sultan Fatih Mosque

After lunch and a bit of rest, our whole group including Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) went for a tour of the old part of Sarajevo. This part has a very eastern feel to it – similar to the old part of cities like Marrakesh, Cairo and Damascus. There are examples of unique Bosnian architecture as well as Ottoman influenced designs.

We first visited what was described as the oldest Mosque in Sarajevo: the Sultan Muhammad Fatih Mosque. It was built soon after Sarajevo was established (around 1460) with funds provided by the city’s founder and the first Ottoman governor Isa Bey Ishaković (already mentioned above). When Sultan Muhammad Fatih – the conqueror of Constantinople – visited Sarajevo, Isa Bey presented the Mosque/Masjid to him as a gift and since then it has been known as the Sultan Muhammad Fatih Mosque or the Emperors Mosque.

We entered the Mosque, offered Asr prayers, and then met the Imam Ustadh Sadr al-Din who was waiting for us and welcomed us. Ustadh Sadr al-Din is well versed in Arabic, English, and also Urdu – having studied at the Islamic University in Islamabad. He was extremely joyous meeting Mufti Taqi Usmani and showed immense amount of respect and love towards him. We chatted to him and then in his company walked for around 10/15 minutes through the heart of the old city to make our way to the Faculty of Islamic Studies campus. The walk in the company of Mufti Taqi Usmani and the rest of the group was very enjoyable. On the way, Ustadh Sadr al-Din described to us how the Serbian forces during the war surrounded Sarajevo from the mountaintops and dropped bombs on the Muslims residing below in the old city.

Faculty of Islamic Studies

We walked until we reached the Faculty of Islamic Sciences where we were welcomed by its Director Dr. Ahmad Alibashich. He was extremely happy to meet Mufti Taqi Usmani and the rest of our group. During the half-hour sitting with him, he explained the history of Islamic education in Bosnia amongst other things. He mentioned that his Faculty (kulliyyat dirasat uloom Islamiyya) was reopened in 1977. He stated that they have Imam training, as well as BA and Masters Program. They teach in the Bosnian language, but they are hoping to start a Masters program in English. The study contents of the various programs is selected by the university, but the rights of students and other administrative things are under government law. He also gave details of the Mosques and Imams in Bosnia, and how they operate under an umbrella organization called the mashyakha. He informed us that he had translated Mufti Taqi Usmani’s book ‘An Introduction to Islamic Finance’ into Bosnian and gifted some copies to Mufti Taqi, saying he found the book to be straightforward and honest regarding Islamic banking. He also requested Mufti Taqi Usmani to sign one copy for him.

One of my Bosnian friends, whom I have known from when he was living in the UK, Imam Sejad, also came here to meet us; I had messaged him earlier that we were in Bosnia. He is, Ma Sha Allah, well learned and lived in the UK for many years. He was an Imam in Cambridge and also lectured at the Cambridge Muslim College. I introduced him to Shaykh Taqi and from hereon he stayed with our group.

Ghazi Husrev-beg Mosque

From the Faculty of Islamic Studies, we made our way to the famous Ghazi Husrev-beg Mosque, named after the second Ottoman governor (cited above) known for his major contribution to the improvement of the structural development of Sarajevo. The Masjid/Mosque was built in the 16th century, and is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. It has a traditional wudu fountain in the centre of the courtyard and ottoman style dome and minaret. During the Bosnian war, many bombs fell on this Mosque too after which it underwent renovation. We performed Maghrib prayers after which the Imam met Shaykh Taqi Usmani and our group. After Maghrib, we briefly paused at the grave of Ghazi – who is buried next to the Mosque – and offered our salam and recited fatiha. May Allah have mercy on his soul, Ameen.

Thereafter, we all returned in a mini bus to the hotel. I was honoured to sit next to Mufti Taqi Usmani and thus managed to ask a few questions and benefit from him Al-hamdulillah. Amongst the things I managed to ask him was that it is said we should not despise the non-believer (kafir) and sinner (fasiq), but rather the disbelief and sin; so how do we understand the hadith in which Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, hates for the sake of Allah, gives for the sake of Allah, and withholds for the sake of Allah has perfected faith” (Abu Dawud)? He replied that the ‘hate’ mentioned in the hadith is not directed at the ‘essence’ (dhat) of the unbeliever and sinner, rather it is for his unbelief and disobedience. In other words, it is due to a temporary external reason, and thus we want the person to repent and become beloved to Allah, and Allah knows best.

Wednesday 27th June, 2018

On Wednesday morning after breakfast, a few of us, in the company of Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah), continued with our touring of Sarajevo city. Our smaller group included other UK based scholars such as Dr. Mahmood Chandia, Shaykh Rafiq Sufi and Shaykh Yusuf ibn Shabbir. The other larger group headed to Srebrenica, the place where the genocide took place of thousands of Muslims during the Bosnian war.

Tunnel of Hope

Our first port of call was what is locally described as the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ (also known as the Tunnel of Rescue or Tunnel of Life). This was a secret underground tunnel constructed by the Bosnian army during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It linked the city of Sarajevo – which was entirely cut off by opposition Serbian forces – with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of Sarajevo Airport. Astonishingly, it was dug in only four months, and allowed for the supply of food, weapons and other humanitarian aid to the city. It became a symbol of the city’s struggle, and was also used to enter and exit the city. Transit each way, both into the city and out of the city, was constant. On average, it took two hours for groups of people to travel through the tunnel, and throughout the war, between two million and three million trips of Bosnians were made through the tunnel, and a number of Bosnian civilians used the tunnel to flee Sarajevo. Those who travelled through the tunnel included soldiers, civilians, politicians, and generals. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović is the most notable individual who used the tunnel. He was carried through the tunnel on a chair called the “President’s Chair” and thus never actually laid foot in the tunnel.

After the war, the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum was built onto the historic private house whose cellar served as the entrance to the Sarajevo Tunnel, and hence it is possible for visitors to experience a small part of the tunnel and physically walk in it. We entered the museum and were first shown an educational documentary about the details of the tunnel and its role during the Bosnian war. A detailed map on the wall showed the exact location of the tunnel and other details. We then had the opportunity to walk a few metres in the tunnel. It is so low that you have to duck your head throughout, and so narrow that you have to walk behind each other. I was just behind Mufti Taqi Usmani, and kept reminding him to ensure not to bump is head onto the roof.

Mufti Taqi Usmani was extremely impressed and intrigued to the point that I was intrigued with his astonishment! He mentioned that such a tunnel, built in such a short time, is unprecedented. The way it was constructed cannot be fully appreciated except by witnessing it in person. Many guided tours in Sarajevo include the Tunnel Museum, and it is definitely worth visiting.

Spring of River Bosna

After visiting the tunnel, despite light rain, we went for a stroll at the ‘Spring of River Bosna’ – a public park on the outskirts of Sarajevo featuring lovely clear air, greenery, waterfalls and water streams so clean that the green plants at the bottom are clearly visible. The park is one of the country’s top natural landmarks and most famous scenes of natural beauty in the region.

We parked our cars and then walked for over an hour in the park in the company of Shaykhuna Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah). He was extremely relaxed, and we all engaged in light-hearted conversations. At one point, we stopped to drink the sweet cold water from one of the streams using our hands to grasp the water. I requested Mufti Taqi Usmani if I could drink from his hand, and he allowed me to do so Al-hamdulillah. May Allah allow us to drink from the Al-Kawthar pool in the hereafter, Ameen.

Ghazi Husrev-Beg Library

Our next destination was the Ghazi Husrev-Beg library in the centre of Sarajevo. We were welcomed by the head librarian, who gave us details of the library, a brief tour and also a CD which lists all the manuscripts held at the library. He explained that it is the oldest library in Bosnia, but the current building is a new location constructed five years ago by the financing of the Amir of Qatar. The library holds thousands of rare manuscripts especially of Bosnian authors – in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Bosnian languages. He mentioned that the oldest manuscript held by the library is of Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din which was written during his lifetime.

Mufti Taqi Usmani asked him how the books and manuscripts were preserved during the days of the Bosnian war. He stated that during the war millions of books and manuscripts were burnt at the other libraries in Bosnia, but they manged to preserve the manuscripts at this library by transferring them from location to location eight times. There is also a BBC documentary on how the books were preserved during the war titled ‘The Love of Books’. He also mentioned that the manuscripts have all been scanned and catalogued and thus can be requested via email.

Maghrib Prayers and Informal Gathering

We returned to our hotel from the library for a late lunch, then rest and Asr. For Maghrib Salat, we went to the relatively new Saudi-funded ‘King Fahad Mosque’ – one of the largest in the Balkans. Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) was engaged in the recitation of the Qur’an in the car on our way to the Masjid/Mosque, which he continued whilst walking from the car to the Masjid and then he sat in one corner of the Masjid reciting until Maghrib Adhan. After Salat, the Imam of the Mosque briefly met Shaykh Taqi and our small group.

After returning to the hotel from the Masjid, one of the highlights of the trip – at least, for me – transpired. Two Bosnian scholars, Dr. Safwat (a graduate of al-Azhar who has authored many books) and the younger brother Shaykh Jawwad (of Mostar whom I have already mentioned) had arranged to come and visit Mufti Taqi Usmani. We sat in the hotel lobby; Shaykh Taqi was in a very relaxed mood Ma Sha Allah, and discussions in Arabic continued on a range of topics till about 11pm!

Dr. Safwat described the state of Islam and Muslims in Bosnia, asserting that the Bosnian war was a war of existence since the ploy of the enemies was to wipe out Islam altogether from the region! He also mentioned how the Qadiyani/Ahmadiyya movement were preaching in Bosnia. He then described how some brothers affiliated to the Salafiyya group are very harsh in their da’wa.

Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) passionately stressed the importance of unity between the various Muslim groups, especially in the Balkans. He said that we indeed have differences but we also have many things in common. When the youth see different groups arguing and see that this group is Salafi, this is Ash’ari, these are Hanafis, etc., they become confused and think let’s just carry on with what we are doing (i.e. not practicing). As such, he said, we need to concentrate on the basics of religion such as salat, not issues such as ‘Allah’s istiwa on the throne’. The youth are far away from the deen, hence we need to bring them back, regardless of whether they raise their hands in prayer or not. We need to agree to disagree. He mentioned that he delivered the same message in a Salafi Mosque in Albania.

He also mentioned other things such as the positive effect of Jama’ah Tabligh, especially in the Balkans – even though sometimes some of them become extreme in their approach. However, he said, in general their work is great and should be supported in these lands. He also gave a mention to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, saying that it is as though we are part of one family; he loves me and I love him, I respect him, he is like a teacher to me. He also explained what authentic Tasawwuf is, and mentioned the works of Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi in this regard such as Masail al-Suluk min Kalam Malik al-Muluk and Al-Tasharruf bi Marifat Ahadith al-Tasawwuf. He also mentioned his own work ‘Easy Good Deeds’.

Mufti Taqi Usmani also granted my friend brother Shaykh Jawwad permission in Hadith Musalsal bi ‘l-awwaliyya in the hotel lobby, and the gathering ended around 11pm. We then offered Eisha in the prayer room at the hotel, had a light dinner and resorted to our rooms for much needed sleep.

Thursday 28th June, 2018

It was our final day here in Bosnia, and a few more tasks remained before we departed this beautiful country.

The National Museum

After breakfast, our small group in the company of Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) first visited the National Museum of Bosnia located in central Sarajevo. The museum was established in 1888, and in 1913 the museum building was expanded. It is a cultural and scientific institution and contains various departments such as archaeology, history, ethnology and geography. The War in 1992–95 not only ended the prolific activity of the National Museum, but it directly caused structural damage to the building. During this time, artillery shells crashed through the roof; 300 windows were broken, and many of its gallery walls torn down. Sections of the Museum’s artefacts and archives that could not be hidden were exposed to the elements of artillery. Nevertheless, the museum never closed completely.

We were given a tour of the museum, especially the departments of history and archaeology – which includes sections for prehistory, ancient history, mediaeval history, documentation and a conservation laboratory. The archaeological collections document all aspects of human life in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Old Stone Age to the late middle Ages, to the Ottoman era. We witnessed many aspects of ancient history, roman artefacts, Ottoman influence and much more. The Museum also holds a 600-year-old Jewish manuscript, housed in a high-security glass case, which contains drawings based on the Old Testament. The manuscript, handwritten on bleached calfskin, dates to the once-thriving Jewish community in Spain and describes events ranging from the Creation to the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt to the death of Moses.

The museum tour guide also showed us how life was in Bosnia under the Ottomans; such as women wearing the hijab and niqab – which was the standard practice until the Second World War. Also, how families lived at home, how marriages took place, how disputes were solved in the court of theQadi under Shari’a law and much more.

I asked Mufti Taqi Usmani about the Ottoman influence in Europe and how far they had advanced. He mentioned that they reached Vienne (Austria) and that he has visited the exact location where they had reached in their conquest. He explained that during the ‘Battle or Siege of Vienna’ in 1683, the Ottoman army laid siege outside the city and were digging a tunnel in the middle of the night. However, the bakers – who normally woke up early to prepare bread for the people – realized what was happening and thus notified the Christian authorities. This led to the defeat of the Ottomans. In order to celebrate their defeat, the croissant pastry was created, as a reference to the Ottoman flags which had the crescent sign. This was in honour of the bakers, denoting that the Muslims had been defeated and their crescent sign is to be dipped in tea, just as they had been downed. There are also some other theories regarding the origin of the croissant, wallahu a’lam.

Meeting with the Former Grand Mufti

After visiting the national museum, a meeting with the former Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Dr. Mustafa Ceric had been arranged. However, prior to that, a small matter of having a ride on a Cable Car was planned. Almost all of our group had a ride on the cars, including Mufti Taqi Usmani. However, I and my friend Mawlana Yusuf ibn Shabbir missed out due to us having to accompany Mufti Taqi for the meeting with the Grand Mufti. The Cable Cars provide a good panoramic view of the city, and is worth a visit.

As planned, we accompanied Mufti Taqi Usmani to the house of Dr. Mustafa Ceric, who had invited us for tea. Dr. Mustafa served as the role of ‘Grand Mufti’ of Bosnia from 1993 to 2012, and has previous acquaintance with Mufti Taqi Usmani. He welcomed us into his house, and then discussions took place on many different topics such as the history of the Indian Subcontinent. Dr. Mustafa mentioned how he benefitted from Dr. Fazl al-Rahman Malik (a modernist Pakistani philosopher, known for his liberal and reformist views on Islam, who passed away in 1998). Mufti Taqi Usmani mentioned that he personally had many discussions with Dr. Fazl al-Rahman and tried explaining to him the traditional teachings of Islam. Dr. Mustafa suggested that Dr. Fazl al-Rahman had retracted from many of his views before he passed away, upon which Mufti Taqi expressed happiness. A brief mention of the late Mawlana Mawdudi was also made.

Mufti Taqi Usmani stressed the need to arrange regular lessons (durus) by Ulama in the various Masajid of Bosnia. The meeting ended with Dr. Mustafa gifting Mufti Taqi Usmani a copy of his book ‘Risala’, and we then returned to our hotel.

Evening Conference

In the evening, a conference was organized – by the Muslim Welfare Institute – at our hotel. Attendees were mainly scholars (ulama) and students of knowledge from Bosnia, as well as neighbouring countries like Serbia and Croatia. First, the head of MWI Shaykh Hanif Dudhwala spoke in English (which was translated into Bosnian). He mentioned the purpose of the trip and the work of the charity in Albania and in the future in Bosnia. He mentioned that his visit to Srebrenica was one of the saddest days of his life.

Thereafter, Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani delivered a heartfelt talk in Arabic (again, with simultaneous translation into Bosnian). He mentioned that he had heard of the ‘Balkans’ when he was a child and has always had love for these lands, and that the Bosnian war brought the country more into the limelight. He said, we are not in a position to give you advice; you should be teaching us how to remain steadfast in the face of adversity and war! He congratulated the attendees for preserving their faith in such testing times.

He concluded his message by advising three things: First, there should be regular lessons in the various Masajid of Bosnia. Secondly, families should sit together in their homes and have regular collective reading (ta’lim) of Islamic literature such as the Sirah, stories of the Companions, etc.; and this should be followed by du’a. Thirdly, he emphasised the need to remain united and avoid divisions based on jurisprudential matters. A Q and A followed, in which questions relating to Islamic finance/banking and other matters were raised by the attendees.

After the conference, we performed Eisha salat, and then all the guests had dinner at the hotel; and with this our trip had come to an end. I greeted Mufti Taqi Usmani in his hotel room and manged to spend last few minutes with him, as both he and I were scheduled to depart early morning. After Fajr Salat and breakfast the next day, I departed Bosnia for Istanbul – where I spent the day – and then returned back to the UK safely Al-Hamdulillah.

Final Remarks

Bosnia is a country that definitely is worth a visit – for many reasons. Firstly, it is a good way of supporting the country’s economy and thereby helping our fellow brothers and sisters. Secondly, the country is full of natural beauty; consisting of beautiful mountains, greenery lakes and much more. As such, it is a perfect place to visit with the family and enjoy the beautiful creation of Allah. Thirdly, one is able to learn much about the country’s history – both ottoman history as well as the recent Bosnian war.

It is easy to start judging Bosnian Muslims when touring the country. However, it is important to keep in mind what they have been through. The communist regime that ruled here for many decades banned the practice of Islam, and thereafter the Bosnian war was no less than a great trial for those residing here. In such circumstances, it is a blessing that they even identify themselves as Muslims and have Muslim names. Indeed, more needs to be done in terms of da’wa and bringing them closer to the deen. As Mufti Taqi Usmani suggested on many occasions, the people of knowledge (ilm) need to arrange Islamic lessons (durus) in the Masajid of Bosnia. The Jama’a Tabligh can also play a big role in Bosnia to awaken the people and make them realize who they are and what their deen requires from them. May Allah grant us all tawfiq and the goodness of this life and the next, Ameen.

Allah alone gives success.
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari