Symbol of Muslim return to Banja Luka being rebuilt


Rebuilding the Banja Luka mosque signals renewed religious tolerance and co-existence in the community.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 20/11/12


The construction on Banja Luka's Ferhadija mosque should be complete in early 2013. [Mladen Dragojlovic/SETimes]

The restoration of religious objects from the ravages of the 1990s armed conflict in the Balkans indicates the return of refugees and the revival of religious and ethnic communities to areas they lived in before the conflict.

The rebuilding of Banja Luka's famous Ferhadija Mosque, which was destroyed in 1993, bespeaks the growing Muslim population in the area.

Muhamed Salkic, general secretary of the BiH Islamic Community, said the final works on Ferhadija should be done by early next year, with the mosque restored to its authentic look.

"The construction was hard and difficult. But, this mosque now means a lot for the refugees who returned to the area. Before the conflict, Banja Luka had a high degree of religious tolerance and coexistence which disappeared and was destroyed along with Ferhadija … This tolerance is now slowly returning and we hope that such an uncivilised act will never happen again," Salkic told SETimes.

The alem, the mosque's ornament on the top of its main dome, was put in place recently. Kemal Gunic, president of the association for the refugee return of Banja Luka, said he was overjoyed when he saw the Ferhadija's alem rise again.

"People who escaped from Banja Luka during the armed conflict took a stone from the destroyed mosque with them, a gesture that says just how much that mosque meant to them. Today, this mosque represents the Muslims' return to Banja Luka. There are still many problems that returnees face, mostly unemployment, but Ferhadija should be a symbol of a new beginning for all people in Banja Luka, and BiH," Gunic told SETimes.

Religious buildings and symbols of faith in the 1990s armed conflict came under fire as much as people and governments did.

"Religion is viewed as a signature of a specific ethnic group. That is why religious objects were targeted. We must not forget that beside politicians and military, religious leaders also contributed to creating a destructive atmosphere. Restoration of Ferhadija and other religious buildings represents a victory of common sense," Mirko Djordjevic, Belgrade University sociology of religion professor, told SETimes.

According to BiH Islamic officials, Ferhadija is one of the 614 mosques destroyed in BiH armed conflict in the 1990s. Most mosques have been renovated, but nearly 100 still need rebuilding.

Not only mosques were destroyed in the armed conflict. More than 125 Orthodox churches were destroyed, and 269 religious objects of the BiH Catholic church were also destroyed from 1991 to 1995.

Father Danilo Pavlovic, an abbot of the Zitomislic Monastery in Mostar, said that the monastery was rebuilt in 2006.

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"The monastery was completely destroyed with dynamite in 1992. In Herzegovina's Orthodox eparchy about 30 monasteries and churches were destroyed during the war. With the demolition of monasteries, there was an attempt to destroy every trace of any Orthodoxy in the area. But, with the restoration of the monastery began the reconstruction of destroyed houses, and refugees are slowly returning to this area. Life is coming back to Mostar," Danilo told SETimes.

In Croatia, 50 Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed during the 1990's armed conflict, while 22 Catholic churches were destroyed just in the Zagreb area.

During the 2004 March riots in Kosovo, about 35 Serbian monasteries and churches were destroyed. At the same time, Belgrade's Bajrakli Mosque and the Hadrovic Mosque in Nis were burned to the ground.

Rebuilding and restoration efforts for the religious buildings are under way.

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