Professor Cemaleddin Latic who teaches Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) at Sarajevo Islamic Institute is a close friend of former Bosnian President Aliya Izetbegovic, who stood by the President's side throughout the national struggle of Bosnia. Also famous as a poet, he penned the Bosnian national anthem.
Does the Ottoman tradition still survive in Bosnia today?
The Islamic tradition in Bosnia is, in fact, the Ottoman tradition. Our Bosnian Islam is principally a dervish (Sufi) Islam, which was brought by the Ottoman Turks and has survived for centuries. If you take a look at our cemeteries, you'll see that they are full of shaykhs, murshids (Sufi teachers), Mevlevis, Nakshibendi's, murids (Sufi followers), mesnevihans, and you can identify them through the turbans over their gravestones. Even though every Bosnian Muslim isn't-and doesn't have to be- a dervish, he's still practicing what I call here the "dervish Islam"; in their prayers (duas), in special (mubarak) days or nights, while mentioning God (zikrullah), and finally in their attitude towards life, the world, God and the human beings...
How do you assess the recent status of Islam in Bosnian society? What are the surviving elements practiced by the community?
In Bosnia, Islam is a religion equal with Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism. Officially we are free to follow and exhibit Islam, although the authority -despite all election results, resides in most cases in the hands of atheists, agnostics, secularists and masons. It means that non-Muslims have the last word in our universities, media, banks, and especially in our cultural and artistic lives. Our Ottoman tradition is, thank God, preserved, but a big part of it is also truncated, forgotten, and violently "excluded from public use" with the terror of the ex-state regime. Yet traditions such as Mawlids (celebrations of the birthday of the Prophet), ceremonies on the Day of Ashurah, Ramadan, Eids (Bayram), reciting Surah Yasin and similar others on Friday nights have been kept alive as well as the Ottoman salawats and makams for adhan, etc.
How about Islamic associations in Bosnia? Are activities such as conferences and seminars on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) frequently organized?
Yes, there are many Islamic associations in Bosnia; I don't even know all of them. They are mostly doing educational and humanitarian work. They especially appeal to those Bosnian Muslims, who are not satisfied with the official Islamic community. These people turn to these organizations to educate their children, or themselves by learning to read the Quran and pray. Some of these associations organize conferences or similar activities. Recently, one organization called "Svitanje" organized a meeting on the sixty years of the murder of Hasan al-Banna. The women's organization "Nahla" organized a meeting about Islamophobia in Europe and Bosnia.
How is Islam and Islamic tradition transmitted from generation to generation in Bosnian society?
The Islamic tradition is, of course, mostly transmitted through the family in the parents' house, but I think that because the global process, which is destroying the family, is also surrounding Bosnia, this function will soon be taken over by the tekkes. Our sheikhs have a good sense of Islamic tradition. In the tekkes, you can see many Muslim young people who come from the street without any knowledge of Islam.
Can you tell us about the Islamic symbols in Bosnia?
If I understand correctly, older Muslims in Bosnia wear special hats, namely "French hats", and also some wear the hats from Hajj, like the recognition of Muslims, and many women wear the hijab, of course. Unfortunately, how our women dress is not in the traditional way; although it's Islamic, it's not traditional. Our traditional costume is full of bright colors, like the dressing of Turkish women. Our women don't like to wear colorful Turkish hijabs. I'm not happy about it, but what can you do about it? Also, the girls and boys are putting on the crescent and star like jewelry; men put on silver ones and women gold ones, etc.
How is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) perceived in Bosnia?
Traditionally, the image of the Prophet (pbuh) was created by our Mawlid lyrics. He is beloved, righteous, and brave, always in tawakkul state with the wonders which have been following him from his birth till the Mi'raj. Also our scholars and hadith scholars have created a vision of Rasulullah by translating all the parts of El-Kutubu's-sitte. For example, there are two books recently published by Fethullah Gulen: The Endless Light and The Prophet's Sunnah have both been translated to Bosnian. The book by Karen Armstrong entitled Muhammad- the Prophet for Our Time is a bestseller in Bosnia at the moment. The film Under Muhammad's flag also contributed very strongly to his image in this country.
What does Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) remind you of?
I would like to use Said Nursi's words; Rasulullah (pbuh) is "the other Quran" for me. He is an example of an ideal Muslim. I admire his patience, the sense of trust he revoked in his companions, his suffering after which he stayed morally clean, the whole concept of love he demonstrated... and of course the results he achieved. Only someone, who deserves so much love and attention from God to help him in everything, could have made it. May Allah's blessing and peace be upon him for a thousand times!
Who is Cemaleddin Latic?
Dr. Cemaleddin Latic was born in 1957 in Pridvorci near Gornji Vakuf. He graduated from Gazi Husrev Bey's madrasa in Sarajevo, and attended the Faculty of Islamic Sciences and the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo.
He received his masters degree from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University in Zagreb ( World Literature department). He had his PhD at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in 1999 on "The style of Qur'anic expression".
He currently works as a tafsir (Quranic exegesis) professor at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences.
Among his books written in Bosnian are Stil kur'anskoga izraza and Islam i svjetske religije, I i II.
He is also the winner of many literary prizes and is famous for his volumes of poetry.