The historic Banja Luka mosque, which has been under reconstruction since 2001, is due to be completed by the end of the year.
By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 17/04/14
With help from the Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency, the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka is scheduled to reopen later this year. [Mladen Dragojlovic/SETimes]
Uncertainty about the rebuilding of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka has ended, as the Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency (TIKA) donated the money needed to complete the years-long project.
TIKA will finance all necessary reconstruction in order to restore the mosque, which was erased from the city landscape in May 1993. Ferhadija, which had stood since 1579, was one of 16 mosques in Banja Luka that were destroyed during the 1992-1995 conflict.
Efforts to rebuild Ferhadija have been under way since 2001. Citizens and religious officials say recent progress on the project is an indication that relations are being smoothed between Serbs and Bosniak Muslims in the city.
TIKA hopes to have the prayer space finished by October and to have the entire reconstruction finished by the end of the year.
Ferhadija has cultural and historic value and is a monument of importance in the joint history of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Turkey, said Zulkuf Oruc, TIKA's co-ordinator for BiH.
During a recent visit to Ferhadija, Oruc said the mosque belongs to every Banja Luka citizen and that they must be proud to have such a valuable building in their city. Oruc declined to say how much TIKA is donating to complete the project because the funding is a gift.
More important for Banja Luka citizens is the fact that reconstruction of Ferhadija has helped to improve relations between Serbs and Bosniaks in the city. The Serb-Bosniak relationship in Banja Luka had previously been strained for years. During an anti-Bosniak demonstration in May 2001, the year reconstruction of the mosque began, several buses were set on fire and two Bosniaks were stoned to death.
Ferhadija imam Vahdet Alemic told SETimes that the mosque had significant architectural and historical value, not just for Bosniaks in Banja Luka but for all citizens.
"In the past you would hear the sentence, 'I'll see you in front of Ferhadija,' as place for meeting of people," Alemic said. "Ferhadija remembers good and bad times in history but it must be stressed that different ethnic groups are involved in reconstruction. Some of them are Orthodox, some are Catholics or Muslims but they worked together on every detail of reconstruction."
He added that more and more people are glad to hear the call for prayer in Banja Luka, which 10 years ago was impossible. Alemic said he feels citizens will be happy when Ferhadija reopens its doors.
Olivera Isovic, a second-hand shop owner from Banja Luka, said one building cannot ease a relationship between nations, but as a symbol and institution, Ferhadija is important for citizens and their relations.
"I think that Ferhadija was not supposed to be devastated at all. It was a dark time and some people in their heads were convinced that explosions and devastation of mosques in Banja Luka can erase the presence of Bosniaks," Isovic told SETimes. "Ferhadija, as an institution, can make this easier because people see it every day and now most citizens look at it with understanding as a religious object, but not as a danger for their Serb identity."
She added that relations between Serbs and Bosniaks in the city were better two or three years ago before politicians began a campaign for Republika Srpska independence.
Aida M., 24, left Banja Luka with her family during the war when she was 3 and returned a few years ago. She covers her head with a religious headscarf, and said that when she first came back to the city, her headscarf drew attention.
"Now is a different situation, but some pedestrians look confused when they see me," she said. "The first time I was walking through Banja Luka, I could feel the views on my back, but now it became normal. In a few years, I hope young people will forget these differences and we will respect each other."
She added that the rebuilding of Ferhadija is symbolically significant because it confirms the historical existence of Bosniaks and creates a positive atmosphere in city.
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