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Published on SETimes (

Decision to build more mosques in Sarajevo sparks new debate


A recent push by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Islamic community to build more mosques in the capital sparked a debate over multi-ethnicity, religious tolerance and alleged pro-Islamic sympathies of the nation's authorities.

By Azra Martin for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 14/05/08

Bosnian Muslim men pray in a Sarajevo mosque. [Getty Images]

Since the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) announced plans to build several more mosques in Sarajevo, a vigorous debate on the issue has resurfaced. Many question whether such plans will threaten the country's multi-ethnic character, especially since foreign donors helped finance the construction of a number of mosques in an effort to undo the destruction of several religious buildings after the 1990s conflict.

The new construction effort met little enthusiasm, since critics sense that the new mosques' advocates intend to spread Islam in a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious country. This diverse character is particularly pronounced in Sarajevo, where residents are proud of their religious tolerance and Euro-Muslim tradition.

After the 1990s conflict, ten to 15 new mosques rose in the capital alone -- one of them, the largest, bears the name of Saudi King Fahd. Today, there are about 85 mosques in central Sarajevo that stand as architectural as well as historical monuments.

The Islamic community received municipal approval to build mosques in Sarajevo's Ciglane quarter and near the National Theatre.

In Ciglane, the mosque is to be built on a playground, which sparked criticism. Municipal representatives defend their decision by saying that planners envisioned a Ciglane mosque since 1994 as a reminder of religious renaissance and as a promotion of ethno-national values.

The mosque near the National Theatre, if built, would stand on a park site developed four years ago. While working on the future park, crews unearthed the old Kalin Hadži Alija mosque, after which the Islamic community demanded an immediate halt to park development.

Radical Muslim groups held noon prayers protesting any further construction. The municipality eventually agreed to turn the site into an archaeological park. A few weeks ago, the Islamic community sought and received permission to build a mosque on the site.

Challenged on whether Sarajevo needs so many mosques when many Bosnian Muslims are not religious, representatives of the Islamic community point to history.

"In the last 100 years, there were no new mosques built, but 27 were destroyed due to anti religious propaganda," since Yugoslavia's founding after World War I, said the community's representatives.

For now, the debate over building new mosques in BiH raises questions of religious tolerance and perceived closeness between the Islamic community and authorities in BiH, whom some accuse of ignoring opposition to mosque construction.  

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