Religious co-operation increases tolerance in BiH

13/01/2014

Citizens in one BiH village say Muslims and Serbs working together is a normal way of life for them.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/01/14

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Bosniak Djulbo Kadic (left) and Serb Radojko Vilaret are working on the reconstruction. [Facebook.com/USTIBAR]

Bosniak Djulbo Kadic, 73, and Serb Radojko Vilaret, 55, who lived in neighbouring villages prior to the 1990 conflicts in the region, worked together for 15 years at a construction company in Priboj. The company was closed in 1991 when Yugoslavia split.

More than 20 years later, Kadic and Vilaret are again working together. The two are part of the group that is renovating the masjid in Ustibar.

A masjid is a Muslim place of worship where religious services, rituals and gatherings take place. It is smaller than mosque and doesn't have minarets. Masjids are often built in smaller villages and towns and can be used by the community.

Ustibar is a village in the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) municipality of Rudo in Republika Srpska, just a few kilometers from Serbia. The village has a population of about 300, of which 10 percent are Muslim.

The masjid, which was built 85 years ago, remained standing through World War II and the regional conflicts in the 1990s. Although it was not destroyed, the building was mainly abandoned until some of the Bosniak families that fled the village during the 1990s conflict returned.

"Ustibar is good example for the whole region where the population is mixed. It shows how the majority demonstrates respect for minorities," Mustafa Basic, president of the Islamic Community branch in Rudo, told SETimes.

He said the survival of the masjid is due to the same factor that sparked the renovation today.

"The masjid in Ustibar reached this age thanks to the skill and art of joint life," he said.

Because of the age and condition of the masjid, Ustibar residents, both Orthodox Serbs and Muslims, together with Islamic community officials, decided to launch the reconstruction.

Kadic, a Ustibar resident, realised that Vilaret's knowledge could be useful in the reconstruction and called him to take part.

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The group that is reconstructing the masjid is both Muslim and Orthodox. [Facebook.com/USTIBAR]

Vilaret, who lives in Sjeverin, 2 kilometres from Ustibar on the Serbian side, accepted the invitation.

"We were not alone in this job. All of the neighbours, Serbs and Bosniaks, were helping us work and bringing us food, coffees, juices," Kadic told SETimes.

He said that the masjid had to be renovated as symbol of co-existence for future generations.

"It is important to renovate the masjid together, since we do not know if the reconstruction of some church will be needed in the future. It is our task to show to our successors that we can do everything together. Differences are not lines that can separate us," Kadic said.

Vilaret agreed. The masjid represents "a message that we live together. Despite politics, people will remain together and united. For me, it is the same to work on an Islamic or Orthodox object reconstruction," Vilaret told SETimes.

Basic said that the reconstruction of the masjid is not a unique example of co-existence in BiH. Serbs have also been assisting in the reconstruction of the Kara-Mustafa Mosque in Rudo.

"For us in Bosnia, this is so normal. We live together, indeed," Basic said.

Novica Cebic, a Serbian Orthodox priest from Gorazde in the in Federation of BIH, said the situation in Ustibar is a good example of inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-operation.

"It is tolerance and respect on the ground. Places of worship should be built through common efforts of different entities. It is good sign for God and all people," Cebic told SETimes.

Cebic and Dzenan Imamovic, a Muslim Imam in Gorazde, are working together to spread the message of tolerance and understanding through the Committee for Inter-religious Co-operation.

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The masjid, which was built 85 years ago, remained standing through World War II and the regional conflicts in the 1990s. [Facebook.com/USTIBAR]

"One of main problems in BIH is the ignorance of others. It could be overcome through the introduction of different religions and their traditions," Imamovic told SETimes. "The older generation in BIH has lived together and know something about each other, but those born after [the 1990s conflicts] don't know each other. Where there is ignorance, there is fear."

The committee has organised visits by Muslim women and students to Orthodox churches, as well as visits to Islamic religious places by Orthodox church members.

"The results are obvious. Some Orthodox followers see me on the street and pass from the other side to say 'Hi' to me," Imamovic said.

Mirko Djordjevic, a professor specialising in the sociology of religion, told SETimes that the joint efforts in Ustibar may be small, but they have great importance.

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"This kind of tradition exists in BIH and should be noticed. The spirit of tolerance is alive thanks to acts like this one in Ustibar. It is important because it shows that religious affiliation is not a border," Djordjevic said.

Enver Djuliman, the head of the education department at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Oslo, agreed.

"Researching the evil that happened during the war and after is not the only important thing. Showing the good that is happening among people is also important. This helps build new trust between people, which is a kind of social capital that BIH really needs," Djuliman told SETimes.

What sort of inter-religions co-operation would you like to see in your country? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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