How is Islam experienced in Bosnia as a way of living, and how is the perception of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) among the Bosnian people?
Mustafa Cerić: Bismilahirahmanirahim… There are several levels of the experience of Islam in general, not only in Bosnia… You have a personal experience or personal conviction which is hidden in your soul, in your intimate feeling about yourself. You know the famous Sufi statement “men Arefe Nefsehu Fekad Arefe Rabbehu” (the one who knows himself knows God): this is on the level of confession, of Shahadah, so when we say “I witness”, we say that in a personal way “I witness that there is no God but Allah, and I witness that the Prophet is God’s messenger”. This personal level is different from person to person according to Hidayah min Allah because in the final analysis, Hidayah or faith is a gift of God which means that some people are more smart to discover this gift in its fullness, and some discover it less than it is offered. Now from this personal level in which I think all people have common ground as the principle of faith, the second level of the experience of Islam in general, is the level of intellectual, or academic, or rational, or mind shaping by studying and deepening knowledge and turning it into interpretation and so on. Now this level, you know that there is an ayah in the Qur’an “innama yakhsha Allaha min Aibadihi alAulama” (The knowledgeable people are more conscious of God than those who are not). But the intellectual level of the experience of Islam depends on one’s education through elementary school, high school and so on. The third level is the communal level or collective level, or the level of belonging to the jamaah, so sometimes you are not capable of articulating your personal understanding of religion, but you feel that you belong to the group, you belong to your community: you are mechanically, technically belonging without even having a deep understanding either on the personal level, or the intellectual level. And the fourth level of the experience of Islam, is political. The political level of understanding is your ability to communicate with people of different religions, of different faiths, of different backgrounds, so in that communication, you must have the political opinion, you must have your political view on certain things, whether religion should be in public space, whether religious education should be in the schools, these are political issues. Then your political view depends on your personal level, on your intellectual level, and also on your collective responsibility, or belonging to that. The fifth level, which is very important, is the moral level of understanding, of morality. There are people, for example in Bosnia since we lived in a Communist time, who believe that it is possible to have morality without religion, but unfortunately now you have people who believe that it is possible to have religion, or to be religious without morality; they break moral rules even though they come to the mosque and they pray, and they say that they are Muslims, but they perform immoral acts sometimes. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, you have the sixth level of the understanding of Islam, which is the level unique to the Bosnaks, and that is the experience of genocide. So now we have a phenomenon of a post-genocidal understanding of yourself, of your community, of your religion, of your morality and so on, but generally speaking I think, not only for Muslims but in general, we have to make the difference between faith, religion and morality.
There is an increase of religious awareness, and the youth is more religiously oriented now than it used to be, and in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina because of the genocide
Faith is the gift of God, and no one knows how much faith a person has. When God summoned all the progeny of Adam, and asked them “AAala anfusihim alastu birabbikum” (Am I not your Sustainer?), they said “qalu bala” (Yes You are). From that time in memorial, we are all born with this seat of faith. A religion is the organized theology, learned theology, where we learn about many aspects of theological understanding, the relationship between reason and tradition, naql and aql and so on, and morality is something that assumes faith and religion: you may be religious, but not morally perfect, but you may be a moral person without religious education based on your primordial faith.
When we speak about faith and religion about the experience of Islam in Bosnia, you have so many aspects of that. There is an increase of religious awareness, and the youth is more religiously oriented now than it used to be, and in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina because of the genocide, because of the experience that we had here. I think people are relying more now on supernatural help than on human help, because human help in Bosnia failed. When you see that people do not help you, then you seek something beyond human help, or beyond human understanding which is of course God, the supernatural and so on.
Compared to other Muslim societies, what kind of role would the Bosnian society have?
I think the Bosnian and the Turkish experience of Islam in the last century may be very much comparable, and I think we should do research to see how the Muslims in the Balkans suffered, and what is the Ottoman legacy, and how much of this legacy is durable, is continuous, and what of the Ottoman legacy we should keep. But the Muslim history may be divided into four circles. The first circle is the creators in history, or the history makers. Prophet Muhammad and the first Muslims made history, they changed the society, they changed the cord of behavior, they created a new reality in the history, with the Wahy, with the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad as a Bedouin was able to inherit two great civilizations of the time, the Persians and Byzantines, so this is a miracle in itself. The second circle, I would say, is the circle of leadership, when the Muslims were leaders of the history, so they are history leaders. Muslims led history in science, in technology, in art and even in clothes. We are now waiting what will happen in Paris for the new mode in clothes, but in the time of Islamic civilization, people will be awaiting what Istanbul is going to offer for a new season, and they will admire what Istanbul is eating and so on. The third circle is the history of followers where Muslims started following the history of others they lost the role of history makers, they lost the role of history leaders, and they became history followers. And now we are in the forth circle, which I call the history of discoverers. We are now discovering history, you and me, and the Turkish people, and the Bosnians, we are discovering Islam now; you are discovering Prophet Muhammad, you have the Lastprophet.info. For example, you are impressed by calligraphy, because we have forgotten all this. Why? Because we lived the stage of following what is in the West. The taste in art, the music, the food, the clothes, everything what was coming from the West was accepted without questioning. We are now moving from the circle of the followers, and coming into the circle of the discoverers, so Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bosnians are now in this stage. We are discovering ourselves, sometimes we are shocked to learn about ourselves, we are very ignorant about our history, about our cultural values, and especially because we belong to the so-called Ottoman cultural zone, we are very much ignorant of the glory of the Ottoman civilization. We are together in the boat of discovery; I hope that from this circle, we will come back again to the history makers, and the history leaders.
Facing the increasing fear of Islam in the West, and especially in Europe, can Bosnians change the image of Muslims both as a European and a Muslim society?
Well, this is a good question, but I don’t know, I don’t think that I can give a satisfactory answer because this is a very challenging question. But one thing that I can tell you is that we are indigenous Muslims in Europe, we are not immigrants, we are not newcomers here, so we are the only Muslims in Europe that has the legitimacy to represent Islam in its full presence in Europe. Bosnaks and Albanians are two main indigenous Muslims in the Balkans, which is in Europe - of course including Turks who are Europeans by geography and also by recent transformation- but the Albanians and Bosnaks make up approximately 20 million people in the Balkans. The difference between the Albanians and Bosnaks in the Balkans, is that the Albanians have two and a half states basically, but the Bosnaks do not have a national state, they are scattered as small groups in many states in the Balkans. So in that respect, the Bosnaks are not very monolith, or let’s say a concentrated group in one place, but they are very strong individuals, and as individuals they are very adaptable to the European civilization, and they will play a big, a very important role in the meeting of the European mind, or the Western mind with the Eastern spirit. We bear the spirit of the East and the mind of the West, so I hope that the meeting of these two will bring something very valuable for the world.
What about the perception of the Europeans about the Bosnians… Do they have similar prejudices that they have towards other Muslims?
First of all we have to determine who are Europeans, it is very difficult, there are the French, German, British, the Scandinavians and so on. They are not all the same, but you may say that when it comes to Muslims and Islam, they are all united about it; with all their differences, they are looking at the Muslims as united, and Europe has the problem now how to comprehend and how to accept Islam and Muslims. But don’t panic about it, Europe had a problem accepting Ibni Rushd and they were resisted for a long time. So in the same way they resisted Ibni Rushd and Averroism, or rationalism in the past, they are now resisting Islamic spirituality in Europe but in the end they will accept it, because Europe and the West in general has no choice but to live a spiritual revolution. Europe had two main revolutions, the bourgeois revolution or the French revolution, and the industrial revolution of British origin. These two revolutions made a difference, and of course the background of these two revolutions was the cultural renaissance, and humanism which was influenced by Islam. Now I think we are entering a new stage in history in the 21st century, and the 21st century will be the century of the spiritual revolution. And revolution comes when people realize that they have to change, and that there is an alternative to their way of life, and now I believe that humanity and mankind are seeking an alternative to their current way of life. The way of life we live today as human beings, are in danger of self destruction of the nuclear power, the lifestyle that we are now professing. We are in danger of a natural catastrophe because of global warming, and it is due to our mistakes, not nature. And the third thing is that with all the resources we have and the production of food, we have the waste of food; we have people who are dying due to overeating, and on the other hand we have people dying because they have no food to eat. Then we are in danger of having a shortage of water and food in the future, of the pollution of the oceans because of the oil. So as you see, with all these things, the way of life we live today is dangerous for us, and so there must be an alternative to that, and when people learn that there is an alternative to their way of life, then there must be a revolution. This revolution is not going to be a French revolution, it is not going to be industrial revolution, it must be a spiritual revolution, so all of you at Lastprophet.info; please prepare yourselves for the time of the spiritual revolution that will occur in the world, and especially in the West, and especially in Europe.
If we assume that the Westerners and the Europeans accept Islam and that the way that they accept Islam passes through accepting Prophet Muhammad first, how can we present Prophet Muhammad to the westerners and Europeans?
I don’t think that Europe and the West will accept Islam and Prophet Muhammad the way we want to present him. I think the West and Europe will accept the Qur’an and the Prophet in their own way. The way we are now representing Islam is not authentic.
And what is their way?
I don’t know, they will tell us about their way because Islam is an open book, Islam is not the possession of any nationality, of any country. Unfortunately some people hijacked Islam for their national purposes, some people tried to nationalize Islam, and let’s say Arabized. But this serves only for their nationality, Islam is not the possession of any particular person, Islam is a gift to humanity, it is the Rahmatu’l Aalamin, the mercy to mankind, and this means that all nations, including Europe, the West and so on, they are going to read the Qur’an in their way and they are going to understand. If you read Karen Armstrong, for example, why she became spiritual, it is because of Prophet Muhammad, because she read the life of Prophet Muhammad. I ask you, how many Muslims really know about the life of Prophet Muhammad? We know emotionally about the Mawlid, we know about history but only about the birth of the Prophet, the Hijrah, and the coming back of Prophet Muhammad to Mecca and this is the end of history. Ask Muslims about history, what happened after that, Muslims are not very aware of that. Because this is the holy history, it is repeated all the time, and it is only for a kind of spiritual entertainment, it is not for an intellectual enrichment about the history. Therefore us, Muslims, who are traditionally born Muslims, I think we are lucky because we are aware of that traditionally. But I believe that the way we present Islam today to the world, is not the authentic representation of Islam. God said in the Qur’an that if you do not fulfill what is in the Qur’an, God will change you with the other people who will do that. So it is not a guarantee for you because you are a Turk, or me as a Bosnian, or for somebody who is Arab that he will carry Islam to the fulfillment, we do not know. I believe that the 21st century is going to be the century of Islam, is going to be the century of a spiritual revolution, and it is going to be a similar dynamic interaction between what we call the East and the West in which Islam is going to be the avant-garde of this spiritual revolution in the West as it was in the past for the rational revolution, or for the revolution of rationalism that was saved, and brought through Spain to Europe.
But doesn’t this lead us to the idea that Muslims shouldn’t or can’t contribute to promoting Prophet Muhammad among non-Muslims?
Prophet Muhammad is not propaganda material, it’s not to be propagated like for an election. Why don’t we have a picture of Prophet Muhammad? Because we do not need a picture, because we have Prophet Muhammad in our hearts. So I am not very much impressed by many groups that believe that if they just explain to people what Islam is, then these people will accept everything. The best way to present Islam is not what we say, it is what we do. So we have to change this mentality; we have to understand that people in the West or Europe don’t take us seriously in what we say, they look at what we do, what is the strength of motivation for Muslims to do things in the name of Islam in organizing societies, in bringing social justice, in bringing prosperity, in being a model for peace, security, tranquility, courteousness and so on. In that respect, we are not going to spread Islam by mere propaganda, by merely writing books. Why is Turkey now at the point of tension, because Turkey is not propagating Islam, but is practicing democracy, pluralism, the economic prosperity, openness for education… Now both Muslims, and people in the West say, ‘What is in Turkey is very interesting.’
For this respect, I wish that Turkey, and because I am speaking to you, for your website the Lastprophet.info, I want to kindly suggest to you that you should not go back, but you should go forward, you must be proud of your originality, of the living of Islam with all this plurality that you have in Turkey. I am a little concerned because our religion is great, and religion may be a force for progress, but religion may also be a force for backwardness. The way we should go forward and present Islam or understand Islam is to associate it with the knowledge, with research, with discovering new facts about life, here and in the nation. So no, I don’t think that the call for religion without a reason is a good call for religion because Islam is not mythology, Islam is very rational, very pro-world oriented. We don’t have monasteries where people live in celibacy, denounce the world. No, we live just a normal life so whether you are a clergy, an imam or mufti, you are not supposed to live in a forest or to isolate yourself. Of course, we have some Sufis, we have some individuals who want additional spirituality. Yes, this is good, but this is not the rule; this is not a demand of Islam but it is your personal choice; it is a personal choice if you spend your life like Al-Ghazali for four years not having any contact with anybody else. And we should always keep in mind that it is more important what we do, than what we say.
Islam is so great that it doesn’t need defending. What Islam needs is our understanding, we need to understand Islam, not defend Islam. By understanding Islam, we defend Islam
So representing is more important than presenting?
Yes, representing is more important than presenting. There is also the idea of defense: we defend Islam, but Islam doesn’t need defense. Islam is so great that it doesn’t need defending. What Islam needs is our understanding, we need to understand Islam, not defend Islam. By understanding Islam, we defend Islam; but there is one fact that both those who attack Islam and those who defend Islam live on Islam; those who attack Islam are paid to do so. There are so many institutions and individuals and they live on Islam, so Islam is a blessing to them, without Islam they would probably not have a livelihood, what would they do? As you see, Islam is like the sun, even those who are blind don’t see the light of the sun, but they cannot deny the existence of the sun. It’s the same thing, those who are blind, although they do not see Islam, they cannot deny that they live from the benefits of Islam because they are paid to attack Islam.
Thank you very much…
Thank you very much for coming, and for this very nice Bosnian-Turkish festival of spirituality. And don’t forget, register this very well: we said on the 28th of Ramadan 1431, on the 6th of September 2010, that the 21st century will witness a spiritual revolution in the world, and Islam is going to be the avant-garde for this spiritual revolution. I hope that you record this so that when I am not here, you can claim that we said this in Sarajevo, a prediction that must occur otherwise humanity has no perspective for the future. We have a film of 2012, of the Last Day, of the collapse or the end of the world like the Maya civilization predicted but we are not predicting the end of the world, we are predicting the continuity of the world with a real spiritual revolution based on Islam. Islam will bring about a spiritual revolution in the world.