Only with Tawfeeq from Allah, I was blessed to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovinarecently. I was fortunate to travel with Dr Abdul Bari whom has a wealth of experience and insights, and Rofikul Islam whom was on his 5th trip to Bosnia masha Allah, I benefitted immensely from their company.
My trip had many aims, some of these are as follows and I will write about these separately:
-To learn about its history, heritage
-To meet amazing people
– To travel around and explore the amazing beauty of Allah’s creation
-To do some humanitarian relief work
Amongst other things
History And Heritage
“A nation that does not know its history, mortgages its future”
Bosnia is situated in the Balkans in Southern Europe. It has a population of over 4 million people. Islam reached there in 1463 by the Ottoman Empire. A lot of its culture and architecture has Turkish resemblances. Bosnian Muslims have gone through a lot of struggles with communism (anti religion) and devastating wars in order to win their rights, the most recent one ended on this date of publishing this post, 14th December 1995. In many places, we found gravestones scattered across reminding us of the shuhadah. Also, many buildings are still scattered with gunshot marks.
Out of the many places we visited, I wanted to highlight two, The National Library and Srebrenica.
We visited the site of the National Library in Sarajevo and were given a tour. In 1992, the Serbs mercilessly bombed the library which contained over 2 million books etc. which were all destroyed. This was a great loss to their heritage. The building has recently been restored but is being used as a town hall at the moment.
We visited the town Srebrenica This was an extremely emotional trip. This is the place where over 8,000 Muslims were mercilessly massacred in 7 days in July 1995. They were butchered just for being Muslim…
Even now, they are still finding new bodies from the massacre. Reading the ‘Srebrenica Prayer’ (pictured) gave me goose bumps. I was contemplating, this happened in my lifetime and is so close to home. No one should be able to get away with such atrocities. Insha Allah, they will be counted amongst the shuhadah, what will be our end. We must raise awareness and not let these incidents go in vain.
The enmity between the Serbs and Bosnians is still alive, as we walked outside the graveyard, 5 cars of Serbs saw us and deliberately put the music up and started beeping in ‘celebration’, such hard hearts they have…
We then visited the site of the massacre which has now been tuned into a museum which further shows us what unfolded in this incident.
Bosnia is now recovering and many places are very well developed. The people are very resilient masha Allah.
Amazing People We Met
True beauty of any country comes from its people. We met many amazing people while we were there. To mention just a few,
Imam Kenan – He is a very knowledgeable scholar who studied in Syria as well as Egypt. He is very active in many fields in Bosnia and is much loved by its people. He gave us a lot of time e.g. he translated for us when we went to the Muftis office, made meeting arrangements for us etc.
Imam Abdul Aziz – Many will know him as a taraweeh Imam at East London Masjid for 2014 (http://youtu.be/SFF3yR-4-NY ). He is a student of Imam Kenan. We were fortunate to have him with us for most of our time in Bosnia, he showed us around a lot. Masha Allah, he has deep love for Qur’an and ilm. A story of his childhood inspired us, I will narrate this on the humanitarian relief section.
Sister Khadija –She is the president of the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, whom fight for justice and offer support to the victims. She lost all her main relatives in the massacre and is an avid activist to gain justice etc. We had a private meeting with her. She requested that the atrocities are not forgotten and that we don’t allow a repeat of the suffering anywhere else.
We met many other amazing people who were scholars, leaders, reporters, charity beneficiaries etc. too.
Bosnia is known as the ‘Princess of the Islamic World’ due its amazing natural beauty. Imam Abdul Aziz took us to Mostar, the route was spectacular with beautiful lakes, mountains, greenery etc. (There is a train journey from Sarajevo to Mostar which is ranked within the top 10 most beautiful train journeys in the world). They have a very strong heritage, masajid were in loads of places Alhamdulillah. Also, their lifestyle was very healthy, they had loads of vegetation where they can just pick loads of different fruits directly from the trees. On top of that, they are rich with bee hives which produce delicious honey.
When we reached the Mostar Bridge (pictured) which is an amazing Ottoman structure and has amazing masajid next to it, it was full of Western tourists with their cultures embedded there. Muslims should try visiting these places and help boost the Muslim economy in these places and preserve our heritage insha Allah.
Humanitarian Relief Efforts
One of the main reasons for our trip was to do some charity work.
I want to start by narrating Imam Abdul Aziz’s inspirational story. His father was an imam but due to the war, he was made a Shaheed. His mother was pregnant at the time and he was only 7 years old with 2 other siblings. Now how will they fend for themselves without a breadwinner…From Allah’s mercy someone donated a mirch cow to them, this was their lifeline. It allowed them to get some income and get by. This eventually led to his mother being able to send Imam Abdul Aziz to study deen and he memorised the full Qur’an and he has studied many Islamic sciences which has led him to lead at East London Masjid amongst other many achievements masha Allah. We should never under estimate the power of charity.
Rofikul raised about £6,000 for about 5 or so mirch cows to be distributed to the very poor in villages so that they can earn a living. We were taken to the depth of the villages to see how they lived and were able to pass on the cows. It was a very purifying experience Alhamdulillah. These people lived very simple lives, were illiterate. When the cows were handed over, the recipients were emotional and appreciative e.g. Madiha said “You have given back my life”. Rofikul reminded them that “we are helping them due to our Islamic beliefs, which encourages to aid the needy.”
We were also blessed to do some relief work for Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT). Bosnia went through devastating floods with 3 months’ worth of rain in 3 days. Something that touched us, we met people who were previously well off and were giving zakat but now due to all their wealth being destroyed, they were in need of zakat. This just shows that Allah can take away wealth at any time. With the help of all donors / supporters, we were able to distribute much needed household items to help relieve their suffering. UWT spent about 100k in Bosnia. The recipients were very dignified and appreciative of the aid. Many smiles were brought Alhamdulillah. They made many duas for all those that helped them Alhamdulillah.
This is a result of all those that have assisted UWT. We should never undermine the rewards of raising awareness or striving to aid our Ummah in any way. The rewards are immense. Also, the reality is, by helping the needy, we are helping ourselves.
Our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) said
“Allah will be in the assistance of His servant so long as the servant assists his brother”(Muslim)
There is so much more that can be said about this beautiful nation. We must all take lessons from history and not fall into the same traps. Bosnian Muslims lived as neighbours with the Serbs and integrated so much that their deen was being watered down. The Muslims became very weak. They were eventually only attacked due to being Muslims, even though not fully encompassing. Honour comes from none other than Islam so we must follow our deen fully and ultimately Allah will give us victory insha Allah. We should visit these places and give them moral and economical support insha Allah. We must keep our Ummah in our duas. On a final note, some volunteers are aiming to do a charity challenge around May 2015 so that more can visit and aid our Ummah insha Allah.
May Allah bless and reward all those involved with this visit, accept all efforts and allow us to be a means of bringing izzah to our Ummah.
14th December 2014
*Some sources and further reading
-A short history of Bosnia And Herzegovina by Noel Malcolm
-Inescapable Questions, Autobiography of Alija Izetbegovic (former president of Bosnia)