Bosnia, Serbia Pledge to Mend Ties, Lure Investors

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Maja Zuvela

2010-04-24T172727Z_1899635507_GM1E64P023V01_RTRMADP_3_BOSNIA

A Bosnian Muslim woman stands next to graves during a funeral in Vlasenica, in the Serb part of Bosnia, April 24, 2010. The remains of 34 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-95 war, were exhumed from the Ogradice i Pelemis mass graves near Vlasenica and buried.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said on Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and other similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

While the three foreign ministers have met several times over the past six months, the Istanbul summit brought together their presidents for the first time.

“We have had different opinions about some issues but the meeting with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic was constructive… I believe it will yield good results,” said Silajdzic.

“Badly needed investments will come only if there is security and stability.”

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

Until now, Silajdzic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite rotating presidency, has ignored invitations to visit Belgrade.

He said the Serbian parliament’s March resolution, apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, has paved the way for such a visit.

“I am ready to go there now,” Silajdzic said, adding that the Serbian pro-Western president has also promised to attend the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tadic had said pre-occupation with war topics was counter-productive for the two countries which both aspired to join the European Union.

Bosnia’s presidency Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic reacted angrily to Silajdzic’s meeting with Tadic, saying he did not have the consent of the other two presidency members to sign the Istanbul declaration and that he may dispute it.

“That is not in line with the constitution,” Radmanovic told reporters in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic which, with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia. Silajdzic said he had informed the presidency about his plans.

Endless ethnic and political quarrels in the past three years have led Bosnia to a state of permanent political crisis, stalling any hope of joining the EU and NATO.

(Additional reporting by Olja Stanic in Banja Luka; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Louise Ireland)

12-18

Joe Sacco’s New Book

January 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Graphic novel on IDF ‘massacres’ in Gaza set to hit bookstores

By The Associated Press

selfportrait_sacco Fans say graphic novelist Joe Sacco has set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium. Detractors say his portrayals of the Palestinian conflict are filled with distortion, bias and hyperbole.

One thing is certain – the award-winning author of “Palestine” leaves few readers indifferent.

Sacco’s work has more in common with gonzo journalism than your Sunday comic strip: He travels to the world’s hot spots from Iraq to Gaza to Sarajevo, immerses himself in the lives of ordinary people, and sets out to depict their harsh realities – in unflinching ink and paper.

One of his biggest supporters is award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who directed the 2008 Golden Globe winning cartoon ocumentary “Waltz for Bashir.”

“Whenever I’m asked about animation that influences me, I would say it’s more graphic novels. A tremendous influence on me has been Sacco’s ‘Palestine,’ his work on Bosnia and then Art peigelman’s ‘Maus,’” he said in a telephone interview.

“His work quite simply reflects reality.”

The American-Maltese artist’s latest book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been “virtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.”

Israeli historians dispute these figures.

“It’s a big exaggeration,” said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. “There was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don’t know of any massacre.”

Sacco’s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.

Jose Alaniz, from the University of Washington’s Department of Comparative Literature, said Sacco uses “all sorts of subtle ways” to manipulate the reader.

“Very often he will pick angles in his art work that favor the perspective of the victim: He’ll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering.”

Alaniz also said Sacco draws children “in such a way to make them seem more victimized.”

Sacco himself admits he takes sides.

“I don’t believe in objectivity as it’s practiced in American journalism. I’m not anti-Israeli … It’s just I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view,” he said.

In “Palestine,” which won the 1996 National Book Award, Sacco reported on the lives of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants in the early 1990s. “Safe Area Gorazde,” which won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, describes his experiences in Bosnia in 1995-96.

Sacco has been lauded by Edward Said, the renowned literary scholar and Palestinian rights spokesman, who said in his foreword to “Palestine”: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

“Footnotes” – to be released in the United States on Tuesday – sees Sacco’s cartoon self, with the now trademark nondescript owlishly bespectacled eyes, plunge into the squalid trash-strewn, raw concrete alleys of Rafah, and its neighboring town of Khan Younis.

Sacco draws crowded narrow streets, full of prying schoolchildren and unemployed men. His desperate characters – fugitives, widows and sheiks – mix long past fact with fiction.

“What I show in the book is that this massacre is just one element of Palestinian history … and that people are confused about which event, what year they are talking about,” he said.

“Palestinians never seem to have had the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next is upon them.”

Sacco said in doing so he is trying to create a balance to what he calls the United States’ pro-Israeli bias.

A scene in “Palestine” shows an Israeli woman asking: “Shouldn’t you be seeing our side of the story?” Sacco’s cartoon self replies: “I’ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most of my life.”

Sacco says he puts himself into his comics because he wants his readers to see and feel what he does.

“I’m not pretending to be the all powerful, all knowing journalist god … I’m an individual who reacts to people who are sometimes afraid … On a human level, of course that colors the stories I’m telling.”

Folman, who both wrote and directed the 2008 animated documentary film about a 19-year-old Israeli soldier still troubled by nightmares about the Lebanon War, says Sacco has brought something rare to the cartoon genre.

“The way he illustrates says everything about the writing – it’s so unique, there is nothing quite like him,” he explained.

“I really admire the guy … And I feel from his work that we share exactly the same opinions about what’s happening in the Middle East … The day will come when I will meet him and hopefully work with him.”

12-1

Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Schachtman, Wired Magazine

Even worse…

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military depends on an array of drones to snoop on and stalk insurgents. Now it looks as if insurgents are tapping into those same drones’ broadcasts, to see what the flying robot spies see. If true — and widespread — it’s potentially one of the most serious military security breaches in years.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet. Turns out, the program lets you nab Predator drone feeds just as easily as pirated copies of The Hangover.

And here’s the real scandal: Military officials have known about this potential vulnerability since the Bosnia campaign. That was over 10 years ago. And, as Declan McCullagh observes, there have been a series of government reports warning of the problem since then. But the Pentagon assumed that their adversaries in the Middle East and Central Asia wouldn’t have the smarts to tap into the communications link. That’s despite presentations like this 1996 doozy from Air Combat Command, which noted that that “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening — or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times — and shape your actions,” one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.

Despite this rather massive vulnerability, drone operations show no signs of letting up. According to the Associated Press, “two suspected U.S. missile strikes, one using multiple drones, killed 17 people in a Pakistani tribal region.”

Meanwhile, military officials assure are scrambling to plug the hole. “The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones,”  the Journal notes. “Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.”

So it may be quite some time before this enormous security breach is filled.

– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman

France Welcomes Second Former Guantanamo Inmate

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Paris – A 39-year-old Algerian who was imprisoned for seven years in the US detention centre at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism arrived Tuesday in France, the French foreign ministry said.

`In deciding to accept a second ex-inmate on our soil, France is contributing … to implement the decision by US President (Barack) Obama to shut the Guantanamo detention centre,’ the ministry said in a statement.

Saber Lahmar was cleared by courts in several countries, including the United States, of all charges regarding his alleged participation in acts of terrorism.

In the autumn of 2001, Lahmar was arrested in Bosnia with five other Algerians on suspicion of planning an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. He was among the first terror suspects to be incarcerated in the controversial prison in Cuba.

Four of the other suspects in the case were released earlier this year. One of them was also sent to France.

11-51

Post-’Eid Gathering Fills Rock Financial Showplace

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Novi–November 29–Much better than last year.  That was the consensus after this year’s mass ‘Eid celebration at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi.

“It was packed all day,” said one vendor at the US Census booth, describing the events at the Rock Financial Showplace.  “People asked lots of intelligent questions,” she said, including many people who had worked for the 2000 census and wanted to do it again in 2010.

There were approximately ten different rides inside the Showplace, many bounce house style rides including slides, bounce houses, and even an imitation rock climbing wall over which children climbed to go down a slide on the other side.

There were many carnival rides, including go-carts and many different kinds of merry-go-rounds.

Mr. Muhammad Mohiuddin of CIOM explained that there were three main issues that the carnival planners emphasized after their first experience the previous year; first, they improved the layout of the ‘Eid celebration by pushing more vendors to the front entrance and eating area, so that crowds had to filter through the vendors on their way to the rides.  Second, there were more things for adults to do.  Third, last year there had not been enough publicity so this year the event planners made a bigger effort to reach out to everyone in Southeast Michigan.

The music from last year, he explained, had not worked very well, in part because the sound of it was so overwhelming in a closed space, and so this year there were no bands and in fact this change also improved the layout of the Rock Showplace.

Vendors almost universally said that this year’s ‘Eid carnival was much better than the previous year.  I talked to five vendors and while they did not all disclose how much money they had made they all seemed as though they had at least broken even on the day’s events.  Renting a booth at this year’s ‘Eid carnival cost about $150, which is in fact a reasonable price.

Many of the vendors had been at the previous year’s carnival as well, and most agreed that this year had been better.

Dr. Alam S. Syed sold sunnah health products including honey and black seed, and looked satisfied with they day’s receipts although he said “they should reduce the price” for vendors.

Mr. Brandon Metzger of Toner Solutions sold sunnah bathroom products and had sold about 20 units through the day, each for $50.  These units are portable plastic bidets with sprayers that extend when water is coming out–they can be attached to any toilet in just a few minutes.

Muhamed Halilovic, an artist from the Canton community, sold very reasonably priced calligraphy and paintings of mosques in his native Bosnia.  He was somewhat disappointed in his business for the day but perhaps next year will be better than this year.

An estimated 6,000 people attended this year’s ‘Eid carnival at the Rock Financial Showplace.

11-50

Southeast Michigan (V11-I36)

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare

Farmington–August 25–Ms. Ayesha Ali, co-principal of the Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare took some time to talk with TMO about her school this week.
This Montessori school is in fact not a direct competitor with most of the other Islamic day schools that TMO has interviewed in the past years, as it is a preschool–in fact it is a feeder for the other Islamic schools, like Huda and others.

The Bloomfield Montessori school has about 30 students, and is based inside the BMUC mosque.  The Montessori program focuses on children up to six years old, and has accepted children as young as 8 weeks.

Inspired by the success of the Tawheed Center’s hifz program, which has really become the gold standard for local mosque’s religious instruction, Ms. Ali explained to TMO that the Bloomfield Montessori preschool will offer a hifz program patterned on Tawheed’s–with reliance on Calvert’s home school curriculum, and reliance on Shaykh Ahmad, a trained qari–to instruct the children in tajweed and memorization.

The hifz program at Bloomfield will be for 1st and 2nd grade students.  Ms. Ali explained that “three or four” students have enrolled in the hifz program so far, and that the class will be capped at ten.  The hifz program will cost $600 per month.  The regular Montessori program is $700 per month.  Preschool is $550 per month, and the school is available to parents for the entire year if they want.

Local Mosques and Ramadan

Farmington–August 26–FCNA calculations this year coincided with the Saudi ruling regarding the beginning of Ramadan, leaving most Southeast Michigan Sunni mosques on the same note with regard to the beginning and perhaps also the ending of Ramadan.

FCNA, the Fiqh Council of North America, which calculates based on the physical visibility of the moon in Mecca, determined that the Ramadan moon, which entered early Thursday morning, would not be visible after sunset in Saudi on Thursday therefore the Ramadan month was said to begin Saturday.

The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia in somewhat of a surprise announcement on Thursday said also that fasting would begin Saturday.

Other nations fasting Saturday included Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei–the majority of Sunni nations.  Four nations however began fasting Friday, including Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, and Libya. 

Shi’a followers of the Lebanese marja Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah also began fasting Friday, relying also on calculations.  However, followers of other Shi’a maraja began fasting Saturday.

Local Michigan mosques mainly began fasting Saturday, however with varying reasoning.  The Tawheed Center of Farmington, the Muslim Center of Detroit, and Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center all began Saturday based on following the recommendations of FCNA.

The Flint Islamic Center, MCA of Ann Arbor, and the Grand Blanc Islamic Center began Saturday as well, but for the reason that Saudi Arabia had announced it would begin fasting on Saturday.

MCWS, the Canton mosque, also following FCNA.  ‘Isha and tarawih at MCWS will begin at 10 for the first 10 days, then 9:45 for the second 10 days, and 9:30 for the final 10 days.

Dr. Saleem of the Flint Islamic Center on Corunna explained that ‘Eid will also be based on the Saudi ‘Eid.  ‘Isha and tarawih at FIC will be at 10pm for the first 2 weeks and at 9:30pm for the final 2 weeks.

Flint is having a community dinner every Saturday night, with about 500 people, Dr. Saleem explained to TMO. 

After Ramadan many of the local mosques likely including Flint, intend to participate in the mass ‘Eid celebration at the Rock Financial Showplace, continuing last year’s beginning of the tradition.

11-36

Hell Hath No Fury…

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Mideast Correspondent

jahra As William Shakespeare wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Those words came to life this past week in the state of Kuwait as a raging fire engulfed the tent of a wedding party that was in full swing following the nuptials of a young groom and his beautiful new wife. The swiftness of the blaze took everyone by surprise as the tent–where bride, female guests and children were celebrating–was turned to ashes within three minutes.

There was little chance for victims to escape as the burning tent collapsed on those who were unable to find an exit, then the electricity failed, thus cloaking any rescue attempt in darkness. More than 20 fire trucks and emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene. But it was already too late. Anyone who did not get out at the start of the blaze was shrouded in what remained of the melted tent. Even more victims died in the stampede to get out of the engulfed tent. The death toll stands at 46, with more than 80 injured with severe burns. Authorities expect the death toll to rise, as many victims remain in critical condition. The bride managed to escape, but her mother and sister both died in the blaze.

As the story unfolded the following morning, with some saying that it was just an accident possibly caused by the air conditioners used to cool the tent, it was difficult for even investigators to be sure of exactly what happened. That was until the arsonist turned herself into the authorities. She turned out to be the first, and recently divorced, wife of the groom. So far her name has not been released to the media, however the 24-year-old woman fully confessed to the crime based on the ‘bad treatment’, which was meted out to her by her husband and his parents during the marriage. In her confession, the first wife said that she only intended to disrupt the celebrations. When the police told her that more than 45 people had died and that it was one of the worst disasters to ever hit Kuwait in the past 40 years, she collapsed in tears. Eyewitnesses have since given the police more incriminating evidence. The woman’s housemaid said that she had seen her carrying a large bottle of gasoline and had asked the housemaid to bring her the day’s newspaper. Authorities now believe that she soaked the newspaper in the gasoline and then ignited it outside the tent.

In her confession she revealed that she took two separate taxis to the venue of the marriage. She hid outside of the tent and doused the gasoline around it before lighting a match and fleeing. The arsonist also revealed that she had exchanged SMS messages with her former in-laws during the day and was further incensed by their replies. She even told her ex-husband that she would burn the wedding tent down, but he did not believe her.

Doctors specializing in the treatment of burns have already arrived in Kuwait from Britain and Germany. And the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Kuwait has offered to transport victims of the fire to Bosnia for treatment or dispatch a team of doctors from his country to Kuwait. In a new development both Kuwaiti citizens and expatriates have rallied together to donate much needed blood to the victims. An estimated 1,100 people have donated blood at the country’s blood bank since the fateful incident.

Family members of the victims have already buried their dead in local cemeteries with many praying openly that the arsonist will receive the full punishment from authorities. Kuwait Airways has also stepped in to offer immediate flights for family members of the hospitalized victims, who are on vacation in different parts of the world, to help them return to Kuwait as quickly as possible. His Highness the Amir of Kuwait has sent condolences to all of the victims and their families. The Amir has also said that he will not receive congratulations on the upcoming Eid-al-Fitr holidays to show solidarity and express his remorse for the victims.

It remains to be seen what justice the arsonist will receive as she has not yet been put on trial. However, her vengeful actions have forever changed the course of innumerable lives, including her own.

11-35

Czech Muslims!

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By  Marie Aubrechtova, Islam Online

PRAGUE — Not so long ago the words Czech and Muslim were two polar opposites and it would be almost unthinkable to use them together. But now, two decades after the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Muslims are increasing in numbers, becoming more active and founding new organizations to represent them.

“About 300 come to the main mosque and at least 200 come to the prayer hall in the centre,” Vladimir (Umar) Sanka, one of the managers of the main mosque and prayer hall in Prague, told IslamOnline.net.

He said the numbers of Muslims are slowly but surely growing in the Czech Republic.

“The prayer hall is so overcrowded every Friday that we have been forced to have two Friday prayers and lectures so that all the Muslims can even fit.”

The mosque had to hire a sports hall for `Eid Al-Adha, one of the two main religious festivals on the Islamic calendar which was celebrated in December, to accommodate the record-breaking number of 1,500 Muslims who showed up.

The increase of Muslims is linked to the growing number of Czechs embracing the Muslim faith.

“In our mosque in Prague we are honoured and happy to witness a new conversion almost every week,” says Sanka.

The last recorded number of Muslims was around 12,000 in 2007, but the latest estimate is around 20,000, including 400 converts.

The first official Muslim organization, the Islamic Foundation, was established in 1991.

In 1998 it opened its first mosque in Brno and then one year later in Prague.

There were also attempts to build mosques in smaller cities, mainly Spa towns which are popular with Arab clients, but these plans were met with resistance from both the public and churches.

Islam itself was not legally accepted as a religion by the Czech state until 2004.

New Representatives

“We want to hold more lectures and generally host events which portray Islam in a positive light to the public,” Jitka told IOL.

Until recently, the mosques in the cities of Brno and Prague were the only official bodies representing Muslims in the Czech Republic.

But now new organizations are appearing to meet the needs of the growing and increasingly diverse Muslim community.

Mohamed Abbas is a well-known media figure and publisher of Islamic literature, including the Qur’an and a translation of Riyad us Saaliheen, the only book of hadith so far published in the Czech language.

Abbas is now also one of the founders of a new organization called the Islamic Community, whose aim is to provide more activities for Muslims.

Currently the Islamic Community is in the process of securing 300 signatures needed to become officially recognised, which will make it the second Muslim body in the Czech Republic eligible for state funding.

“At the moment organizations here represent only a marginal number of Muslims in the country and do not include everybody,” Abbas told IOL.

“We want to change this and create an organization for all, and one that is truly democratic and transparent.”

Abbas is optimistic about garnering the needed 300 signatures.

“The number of Muslims here is definitely increasing, especially after Czech Republic joined the EU, and they are interested in seeing an active organization serving them.”

State registration will give the organization a wider scope.

It will be able to rent, build and manage Islamic centers, establish Islamic schools and after 10 years it can ask for other special rights like taking care of the spiritual needs of Muslims in the army and jails as well as support of state for Islamic marriages in mosques.

Another completely new organization, which is quite different from the ones already being set-up, is a new Facebook Group called Muslims from Czech Republic, created by 21-year-old fresh convert Jitka Cervinkova.

When Jitka first embraced Islam in September of last year she searched Facebook for a group of Muslims in her country.

When she didn’t find any, she decided to create one.

Since its creation in November 2008, the group has grown rapidly and now has over 300 members.

“I think Facebook is great for meeting other Muslims as I don’t really go to the mosque here in Prague because it is too far for me and it seems that women there are mainly mums with children,” she told IOL.

“I didn’t meet any young girls of my age when I visited.”

Now Jitka, along with other administrators of the group, are faced with the great responsibility of becoming leaders of the fastest growing, and perhaps most influential, Muslim group in the country.

“I feel the Muslim community in the Czech Republic is growing at great speed, although I don’t know any statistics I feel I meet more and more young Muslims here every day.”

The Facebook group has attracted mainly a young generation of people and consists of both Czech converts and Muslims from other countries, such as the Arab world or Bosnia, who are living or studying in the Czech Republic as well as non-Muslims who are interested in Islam.

Jitka, who is usually busy studying for a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, now also finds time to organise events and post topics to the group.
So far the group has hosted social events for its members and has also organised a film viewing for the general public.

Volunteers from the group translated a film about Islam from English and answered questions about Islam to the non-Muslim audience.

“We have ideas for many projects and events,” said Jitka, citing the need for funding and sponsors who could be able to help.

“We are hoping to organise an exhibition about Islam, as well as set up information stalls with leaflets and information,” she said enthusiastically.

“We want to hold more lectures and generally host events which portray Islam in a positive light to the public.”

11-26

SE Michigan News for week ending May 31, 2006

June 1, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

UMSA Sponsored Seminar/Conference Held at IAGD

Troy—May 28—The UMSA Udruzenje Muslimana Sjeverne Amerike), the Society of Bosnian Muslims of North America, held a conference this weekend with the support of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD).

About 300 people were in evidence this past Sunday at IAGD, part of a loyal following that attended the entire 3-day-long event. Most of those in attendance were from out of town, from as far away as Florida, Missouri, and elsewhere—reflecting the wide diaspora to which Bosnian immigrants to America have spread.

UMSA is an organization that is not particularly well-known among American Muslims, but which has had a growing presence since its founding in 2001. UMSA maintains an extremely well-organized website in the Bosnian language at www.umsa.org.

Speaking with The Muslim Observer on behalf of UMSA was its Secretary, Mirsad, who declined to give a last name. Mirsad is a huge bear of a man with a dark spot on his head from his prayers, who wore through the beginning of our meeting an artist’s beret, with a flowing beard that extends at least eight inches below his chin and that moves in chance breezes. He immigrated to the United States from Serbian Belgrade in the very early part of the war (1993), without himself serving in any military capacity because he was from the start on the wrong side of enemy lines. He had worked as a rock ‘n’ roll producer before the war, but prompted by Serbian and other antipathy to him during the war faced inward and embraced his own Islam.

Bosnians who came to the United States ended up, says Mirsad, in wildly different parts of the country. Some in Grand Rapids Michigan, some in Jacksonville Florida, some in Phoenix Arizona, some in Dallas Texas, some in Amarillo Texas, some in Hamtramck Michigan—in short a huge community of Bosnian refugees scattered across the US in cities—which cities that have nothing in common other than that they have Bosnian refugees.

According to Mirsad, there are within the United States about 500,000 Bosnian immigrants, refugees from the war, many of whom have had large families here. Therefore, he estimates that in the US (counting immigrants and their descendants) there are “more than one million” Bosnians, most of whom have taken American citizenship—a huge portion of the estimated 4 million Bosnians inside Bosnia itself. He estimates that 30% of Bosnians in America actively practise Islam.

But, surprisingly, he says that despite the Bosnian historical trend that most marriages crossed religious lines, within the diaspora that trend has become minimal and in fact Bosnians usually marry within Islam. Mirsad cites himself as an exception to that rule, as he married an American Christian woman who then converted to Islam—the couple has now had five children.
UMSA’s stated ambition is to “patiently work with our community to help them preserve and restore our Muslim identity,” therefore it was established in May of 2001 as an Illinois religious not-for-profit organization “for the purpose of da’wa in Islam.” Da’wa here refers primarily to preaching to people who are already Muslim, because UMSA focuses its efforts on reaching out to the Bosnian-American community.

The Bosnian community under communism lived under constant threat, and was unable to practise Islam fully; under the war of genocide of the 90’s, again Muslims were forced back on their heels. Now that Bosnians have come to the United States, they are faced with a different threat, that of assimilation. Being white and better able than other Muslim American communities to fade quietly into the American mainstream, they face a choice as to whether they wish to retain their Muslim identity or instead distance themselves from it and quietly merge with mainstream Americans. It is these threats to the Islam of Bosnians that UMSA was intended to counter.

Mirsad said that UMSA receives no outside funding for its activities, despite its having been very active since its inception—this week’s conference (though modest in its budgetary requirements—being held at a sympathetic mosque and with few speakers) was its sixth annual conference (UMSA also claims the ability to pay for tickets for Bosnian scholars to travel to the US)—UMSA also sports a publishing house which has already published two books independently, and the professional website mentioned earlier. Mirsad also claims that UMSA has distributed 100’s of thousands of audio tapes on Islam.

UMSA’s website shows that the organization sees the modern world through the prism of the Balkan war of the last decade. It features prominently ten-year-old pictures of murdered Bosnian civilians over whom stand merciless Serb paramilitary members or army soldiers. Random clicking around on the site leads to a disclaimer in English, which specifies that “any mention in any article of any type of weapons is for information purposes only. Udruzenje Muslimana Sjeverne Amerike and the maintainers of this website do not encourage you to commit any illegal acts anywhere, and disclaim liability for the same.”

The website is huge and well-organized—despite its being in Bosnian it is clear that through the website (which Mirsad claims has had millions of visitors since its beginning) viewers can easily access video, audio, and more.

The conference itself featured only three speakers who each spoke multiple times. They are: Dr. Anwar Hajjaj, Dr. Ibrahim Dremali, and Imam Edip Makic. Dr. Anwar Hajjaj is the President of the American Islamic Information Center, which advocates involvement in electoral politics by Muslims. Dr. Ibrahim Dremali is a proponent of the Wahhabi school of thought, featuring prominent and adoring references to the education and background of Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, and the usual detailed explications of what is bid’a and haram.

Mirsad, asked whether Dr. Dremali was representative of the thought of UMSA as a whole, answered absolutely not, that there were many speakers and in fact the speakers originally selected by UMSA had not been allowed to come to the US because of visa restrictions to their travel from Bosnia. Asked what their names had been, Mirsad declined to specify.

Imam Makic, another speaker, is the imam of a Grand Rapids community mosque. Grand Rapids, he explains, is the home of approximately 10,000 Muslim Bosnians, and is intending soon to build a new mosque. Imam Makic spoke in Bosnian to his primarily Bosnian audience—he spoke of the many benefits of Ottoman rule in Bosnia, of the linguistic abilities of historical Bosnian scholars (who spoke Arabic, Turkish, and other languages in addition to their own native tongue) and especially of the many scholars who have come from that area over the past 500 years. Scholars he mentioned prominently included Hasan Kafija Pruscak (1544-1615) and Mehmed Handzic (1906-1944). Imam Makic also mentioned the Rais-ul-ulama of Bosnia, who is Dr. Mustafa Ceric, who follows in the tradition of those great scholars by speaking many languages including Arabic and Turkish.

Describing the benefits of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, Imam Makic explained that since Ottoman rule was withdrawn from Bosnia, there have been 10 attempts at genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims.

In fact, the analogy which Mirsad applies to Bosnia is that of Andalusia, which likewise was a Muslim state in Europe, and which was over the course of a few centuries completely and bloodily hijacked away from the influence of Islam.

Imam Makic expresses his hope for Bosnians in America, saying that in fact their position is improving every day, with more schools and mosques. He says that Bosnian Muslims are also creating good relations with other refugees who somehow arrived in Grand Rapids (whose immigrant community is composed of Bosnians (the majority), Somalians, Ethiopians, and Kosovar Albanians), as well as with the other non-Muslim inhabitants of that western Michigan city.

The imam explained that his mosque is run out of a small rented building now, but that the community recently bought land for a large $1.5 million project intended to include a school, funeral home, and to be the home for many activities for young people.

Asked why the conference did not feature better-known speakers, Mirsad explained first that UMSA wanted to bring Bosnian scholars to speak, but was prevented because the scholars they chose were not granted visas. Secondly, he explained that UMSA wishes to sponsor speakers that speak as da’ees on political and social issues rather than imams who speak humbly on religious issues.

Mirsad explained that the nationwide Muslim organizations like ISNA and ICNA are not interested in UMSA because its base is relatively small, being able to pull only a few hundred people for one of its conferences rather than the tens of thousands attracted by ISNA or the thousands attracted by ICNA.

UMSA’s Mirsad says he is Hanafi, the madhhab claimed by the overwhelming majority of Bosnians.

He dislikes the celebration of Mawlid, which he claims is a cultural celebration which in Bosnia is celebrated with dancing and alcohol. Confronted with the suggestion that Mawlid is a world-wide Muslim phenomenon not confined to Bosnia, Mirsad bristles and appears deeply offended but retreats to his claims that he does not accept it because its Bosnian practitioners use alcohol. He does not debate that Mawlid and alcohol are two completely separate issues.
He proudly explains that UMSA’s participants take an active role in discussions with their lecturers or imams. They “demand the proof” for anything they hear and question, which itself is different from the absolute acceptance given Prophet (s) by sahaba, given sahaba by the tabi’een, given tabi’een by the tabi’ tabi’een, and so on—in fact this tradition of acceptance and following is an unquestioned one still practised by most Muslims and at most legitimate schools of Islamic instruction, that has only recently been upended by modernist reformers.

Mirsad sheds new light on the present situation of Bosnian Muslims, saying that in fact the entire war was decided in favor of the Serbs by the Dayton accords, which ceded huge lands to the Serb aggressors and which hamstrung Bosnia by appointing an EU “High Representative” with executive powers, able unilaterally to veto or ram through any change in Bosnia. He cites the Bosnian flag as the best example of this. Bosnia’s flag, he explains, was imposed on Bosnia by the EU—it is not a reflection of what the Bosnian people themselves wanted. While he avers his belief that the government’s employees are doing their best, whatever they do is subject to outside control and therefore in fact there is no autonomy.

Asked whether Bosnia now endures a lot of corruption, he argues that in fact corruption is everywhere around the world and perhaps less prevalent in Bosnia than in the United States itself.

As a further symptom of unfairness, Mirsad argues that the majority of prisoners brought to the Hague for war crimes trials have been Muslims, despite Muslims being absolutely the victims of the Bosnian war and despite Ratko Mladic and other prominent Serb war criminals living out their lives in hiding in Serbia with apparently very significant government support.

8-23