A K Newell, writes from Bosnia-Herzegovina
After touching down in Sarajevo and a brief stop at passport control we made our way outside the airport to catch a taxi. Up until this point, the flight, the airport, the baggage collection, everything was perfectly normal as you’d expect from any European capital. We flagged down a taxi, managing to haggle a fairly reasonable price despite the soaring petrol prices, and proceeded to our destination. The taxi ride from the airport is where you begin to notice that this is no ordinary European city. The NATO army truck driving past and rows of derelict houses punctured by machine gun holes give indications that this now calm city was once the scene of a terrible war. Our taxi driver speaks of war criminals, The Hague and his time fighting with the army, but this is not the Second World War. This is a war that ended just thirteen years ago in the heart of Europe.
Islam entered Bosnia nearly 600 years ago through the Ottoman conquests in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The famous Sultan, Muhammad al-Fatih who opened Constantinople and fulfilled the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ prophecy that one day the Muslims would conquer the city, also opened up much of Bosnia to Islam. Dotted around Sarajevo and the towns and villages across Bosnia are hundreds of mosques, many that can date their origins back to this time. With the azan echoing across the towns and villages five times a day, Bosnia takes its place as an integral part of the Muslim world, and its people part of the wider Muslim Ummah who love Islam. Despite suffering some of the worst atrocities imaginable at the hands of the Christian Serbs and Croats, they never gave up their religion and remained steadfast in the fold of Islam.
Bosnia, like all Muslim countries today is a playground for the competing interests of the international powers. The major players in the Balkans – the US, Russia and Western Europe all vie for influence through the UN, EU and NATO in addition to their historical links with the governments of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. America claims it intervened in Bosnia and later Kosovo for defending Muslims, whereas in actual fact it followed the long established principle ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ America’s enemy’s enemy in this case was Russia and its subordinate Serbia.
Like all Muslim countries today, whilst the ordinary people struggle to survive, the governments and foreign powers get richer. Very little of the foreign investment makes it way to the ordinary man on the street. They see bright, new shopping malls being built but rarely could they afford to shop there. A similar situation exists in many Gulf countries hidden away among the seven star hotels, artificial islands and indoor ski slopes.
The Bosnian economy is extremely weak with over 50% unemployment. Many families survive on the handouts of family members now living abroad in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK. Because of this, the EU, the real power in Bosnia, is supporting efforts to develop Bosnia’s tourist industry. Croatia is already a popular tourist destination, and there are hopes Bosnia can follow suit. Major reconstruction work is taking place to build new motorways linking the north and south of the country and luxury hotels are springing up in some of the major cities. Following in the footsteps of other Muslim countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt, tourism is one industry the west is very happy for the Muslim world to adopt. Tourism ensures the economy remains un-industrialised and poses no threat to the western industries. It also provides a means for western culture to permeate the country with alcohol, casinos and scantily clad women becoming the norm. Any Islamisation of the country is fought against severely by the governments in the name of protecting the tourist industry and hence the economy. Egypt is a prime example of this. It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations but is also one of the world’s most repressive regimes where torture and imprisonment without trial is routine.
The Bosnian government showed its true colours recently when it began efforts to deport all the mujahideen who travelled across the Muslim world in the early nineties to protect Bosnia during the war. These mujahideen were given Bosnian citizenship, many married Bosnian women and started families. Now they face the prospect of losing everything and being deported back to the most oppressive Muslim countries like Algeria, Syria and Egypt to face almost certain torture and imprisonment.
Bosnia, as with many Muslim countries suffers from underlying ethnic tensions. Deeply rooted nationalism among Serbs and Croats is what led to the outbreak of war in the first place in 1992. The wounds from the war have still not healed despite a relative calm on the surface. Flashpoints exist in some areas notably between Muslims and Serbs in Srebrenica and Muslims and Croats in Mostar. The rape camps, massacres, torture and genocide Muslims suffered are not easily forgotten. These atrocities, many committed under the watchful eyes of the UN, showed Bosnian Muslims that there is no one to protect them. I remember during the war speaking with one Bosnian soldier who simply said, ‘the Serbs have Serbia, Croats have Croatia, who do the Muslims have?’
Despite strong nationalistic tendencies, for the ordinary people whether Muslim, Croat or Serb they all suffer from the same basic day to day problems of rising food and petrol prices, unemployment, crime and government corruption. Separating on the basis of ethnic or nationalistic identity does not resolve these basic issues for the common man.
In contrast the Islamic Khilafah is not a nationalistic state or a state just for Muslims. Citizenship in Islam is based on someone permanently living within the territories of the Islamic State regardless of their ethnicity. Catholics (Croats) and Orthodox Christians (Serbs) can easily live as a religious minority in the Khilafah without compromising their religion, as long as the deeply rooted nationalistic ideas are removed. All citizens have access to justice, security and the economic benefits of a stable Islamic economy. This may seem like a dream to some, but Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peacefully together under the Ottoman Khilafah in the Balkans for many years until the period of decline.
Interestingly, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are all seeking EU membership. They are willing to unite together for the economic benefits this will bring to their nations, even though they must sacrifice some of their national sovereignty. The recent arrest of Radovan Karadzic and his extradition to The Hague is a stark example of this. Karadzic is a national hero in Serbia and there is widespread opposition to his arrest. There have even been death threats made against the government which are being taken seriously after the assassination of a former Serb Prime Minister just a few years back. Despite all this Serbia is willingly to sacrifice a national hero to pursue EU membership talks.
Similarly, a future Khilafah that manages to project its Islamic values internationally showing the strength of the Islamic aqeeda and its systems, will see many countries willingly annexing their lands to the Khilafah even though they must give up their national sovereignty in the process.