Interview With Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Dr. Mustafa Ceric

‘Muslims Should Use the Force of Argument’

JEDDAH, June 20, 2006 — Perhaps Bosnia is the most frightening manifestation of Europe’s Islamophobia in recent times. The wars between the portions of the former Yugoslavia raged in the 1990s and, at one point, Muslims became the target of ethnic cleansing. It would be easy to imagine radicalized Muslim leaders emerging from that era but Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Dr. Mustafa Ceric is the exact opposite.

Instead of calls for revenge, he calls for dialogue. Instead of sanction for acts of terror, he calls for the most severe condemnation of them. In short, Dr. Ceric is a leader committed to restoring respect for Islam through mutual tolerance and understanding.

When interviewed by Siraj Wahab at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East in Sharm El-Sheikh (May 2006), Dr. Ceric wore a Western suit and bore a striking resemblance to the American author, Ernest Hemingway. He feels that compromise with the West and the complete abandonment of violence perpetrated in the name of God is the only way for Islam to move forward if it is to survive in the age of globalization.

“European Muslims must take the issue of violence in the name of Islam very seriously, not because some people hate Islam and Muslims, but because the act of violence, the act of terror, the act of hatred in the name of Islam is wrong,” Dr. Ceric said. “It is against Muslim beliefs, and it is against Muslim interests in the world, especially in Europe.”

He said it was time for Muslims to remember the meaning of the word Islam. “They must fully and unequivocally proclaim to the whole world the nonviolent nature of their faith and teach their children that the right way to success in this world and to salvation in the Hereafter is not through argument by force, but through the force of peaceful argument.”

The Bosnian grand mufti also noted that Europe’s Muslims are among the most enlightened in the world. “Europe is a good place for Muslims themselves to discover the power and beauty of the universality of Islam,” Dr. Ceric said. “Muslims should be honest and confess that it is in Europe that many of them have discovered Islam in a totally different way from what they knew in their homelands. This is because in Europe when they meet their fellow Muslims from other parts of the Muslim world, they thus begin to appreciate the diversity of the Islamic experience and culture.”

Dr. Ceric is disappointed by the lack of reality in the approaches of many Muslim nations to a new era of globalization. “They are in general unable to live in a global world. Muslims have no global strategy; they have no global mind or mentality,” Dr. Ceric said. “They don’t even have a global calendar to save them from an embarrassing confusion about the dates of Eid Al-Adha. Above all, and most unfortunately, they have the image of threatening the freedom and security of the world; they bear the stigma of global terrorists.”

According to him, the idea of global awareness should not be strange to Muslims. “In essence, Islam is a universal faith and a global phenomenon. It would have been fully appropriate if Muslims had come with an agenda of globalization in terms of global freedom and security because Muslims are scattered almost everywhere on the globe, so their freedom and security are of global importance,” Dr. Ceric said.

Last year, the Bosnian grand mufti presented a widely discussed Declaration of European Muslims to the European Union stating that people of different religions could live side by side in harmony. “The declaration contains a clear message that European Muslims are fully and unequivocally committed to the rule of law, to the principles of tolerance, to the values of democracy and human rights, and to the belief that each and every human being has the right to five essential values: the value of life, the value of faith, the value of freedom, the value of property and the value of dignity.”

The Bosnian grand mufti said that many of the problems Muslims have in Europe are the result of a fundamental lack of understanding about Europe and the concepts of tolerance and coexistence with people of many faiths.

“Europe is neither ‘Darul Islam’ (a house of peace) nor ‘Darul Harb’ (a house of war). Europe is ‘Darul Sulh’ (the house of social contract). Europe is not ‘Darul Islam’ because Muslims do not constitute the majority and thus Muslim law cannot be fully implemented. Europe is not ‘Darul Harb’ either because some aspects of Muslim law can be implemented. The land of Europe is ‘Darul Sulh’ because it is possible to live in accordance with Islam in the context of the social contract.”

The most distressing point, however, is that a minority of intolerant Europeans, who want to restrict the rights of Muslims, is given fuel by a minority of Muslim extremists. The result is the destruction of the middle ground and the rights of both peoples to live in peace with one another.

“Some people in the West believe that the dialogue between Islam and the West is a waste of time; therefore, the only way for the West to deal with Islam and Muslims is the argument of force, not the force of argument,” Dr. Ceric said. “On the other hand, there are people in the East who believe that the West is an old enemy of Islam and so the Muslims should fight the West. They believe that there cannot be any dialogue between Islam and the West. According to their logic, there can be only dialectical opposition between the two.”

The grand mufti, well-versed in both Occidental and Oriental perspectives and who also knows of the horrible consequences for humanity when man tries to resolve differences with rifles rather than reason, stands for what people of all faiths and all nations need to ponder if they genuinely seek a future of peaceful coexistence.

“For a long time now, Islam has been in focus, both in the East and in the West. In the East, Islam is a center of attraction and in the West, it is a center of attention,” Dr. Ceric said. “The East believes that Islam is the solution whereas the West thinks that Islam is the problem. In the East, people claim to defend Islam against its enemies, whereas in the West, people believe that Islam is threatening their way of life. Hence, Islam has become a magic word for the East in the face of the West; and it has become a big puzzle for the West in the face of the East. It is one of the biggest challenges of our times to comprehend the magic word from the East and to appreciate the puzzle faced by the West.”

7 comments:

Suleyman Barboud, Belgium said...

I am not convinced by Dr. Ceric's argument. Definitely not. He is a pacifist.

Anonymous said...

The war in Balkan and Bosnia had nothing really to do with Islamophobia.
It was more of an ethnic conflict and a bit about dictatorship vs freedom. My family was of Croatian origin, and we had to leave Bosnia as well. Also would i like to remind you about that around 78% of the people in western Europa sympathized with the Bosnia Muslims and Kosovo Albanians. And that NATO finally stopped the on slaughter of the Kosovo Albanians(Muslims).

Siraj Wahab said...

Interesting explanation. Nicely explained. Yes, yes, NATO did finally stop the slaughter of Muslims. No two opinions about that. Thank you for your comments. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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Anonymous said...

As a Bosnian and an American, I am proud to call Dr. Ceric a representative of a part of my identity and European Islam. He is the embodiment of tolerance, progressiveness, and enlightenment that so many Muslims, particularly those in Saudi Arabia, still have no conception about.

Native European and Europeanized Islam remains the counterbalance to the egregious backwardness that we still witness throughout the world, against women, against homosexuals, and against Democracy and human rights. Dr. Ceric is projecting an image of Islam that is worthy of respect and praise.