And whenever you give your word, say the truthSarajevo is approximately 80% Muslim. Just like Kansas City, which is probably 90% Christian, there is a wide range of types of Muslims. Under the moniker "Bosniak" Dionne and I know atheists, agnostics, devote, orthodox, liberal, bacon lovers, Ottomans, and fence sitters. During the summers, Middle Eastern Muslims flock to Sarajevo for vacation. The women are immediately noticeable because many wear full burqas, something we have never seen a Bosniak woman do.
In honor of the holy month of Ramadan, I want to share four views of Islam from four Bosnian Islamic women with whom Dionne and I are friends. (There is a wonderful series of Evangelical books entitled "Four Views" where they invite scholars with different views on a topic to explain and explore their opinions...that series was the genesis for this blog post.)
I selected all four women because each is trying to follow Islam in her own way. Two are students and two are married educators. Two have chosen to cover and two have chosen to not cover. Two are from Sarajevo and two are from smaller towns in Bosnia. Two of the four are comfortable with me using their names and pictures...one asked to remain anonymous and one has given me permission to share a picture but not much else.
I asked each six questions about their faith. I will present their words with as little editing as possible (however recognize that English is not the first language of any of these contributors). I am also planning on keeping my editorial comments to a minimum. I want their words to speak uninterrupted.
Feel free to share this post if you are so inclined. As you read their stories of faith, I do ask that you have respect if you choose to comment. If you have a question that you would like me to ask, I can certainly forward it on.
|Two young Muslim women taking a selfie in Sarajevo.|
There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His MessengerQuestion #1 - How would you describe Islam to an American who does not know much about the faith?
"I would probably start by describing the concept of God in Islam (there are 99 names of God, each of which evoke an attribute...this person and I have had long conversations about the attributes of God...some we agreed on and some we did not) and then it would be easier to understand why this God has talked to us and who we are. I would explain the basics of Islam e.g. who established it, what is the book of the Muslims, what does it say, and why it is important to us."
|The Shahada...the declaration of which is the first pillar of Islam. The other four pillars are salat (five daily prayers), zakat (giving to the poor), sawm (fasting which especially for Ramadan), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).|
|Inscription above a doorway leading to a mosque in Baščaršija.|
Question #2 - How would you describe your personal relationship to Islam? If you consider yourself a "true Muslim," how did you convert to the faith?
And fulfill the Covenant of Allah when you have covenanted
"I believe that I am a pretty good Muslim (not perfect, of course, we can always do better). I fear Allah and his punishment so I always have Him in mind when I do anything. I have never done any of the "must nots" listed above. I pray every day (it's not always all 5 prayers due to my obligations and work but I do my best). Actually, I never converted since I was a little girl I've been doing my best to be a good Muslim. I grew up in such a family, my mother was a religious woman so she taught me to love and honor God, to pray, to be kind and humble, to help anyone who needs help, to respect and treat the poor just like those who are not, to love my family, to behave myself in all situations, to wear decent unrevealing clothes. I believe that the last war strengthened my faith. I was only four when the war began but I remember my mother crying and praying all the time for her father (who unfortunately didn't survive the execution and his remains have still not been found, along with my mother's uncles and cousins). Once I asked her why people were torturing us and why they destroyed our house. Her answer was 'because we are Muslims.' I didn't understand then but later, and still today, I wonder why. What's wrong with us if we are Muslims. We never caused any problems to our neighbors or anyone. All the problems my family and I went through only increased my faith even more."
|This iconic photo is from Srebrenica. The term "ethnic cleansing" was first coined in reference to the atrocities that occurred in Bosnia.|
"I was born as a Muslim. All my family are Muslims. We Muslims find it a pleasure to have Allah as our God. Of course, when I was a child I was imitating my parents while they were praying, fasting, and everything else. In adolescence, people start to question their lives. So did I. Even if I already was Muslim I started to research more about Islam. And as I learned more, the more I loved my religion. When I got sick, there were really hard times when I felt depressed. Of course I have been asking 'why did all of this happen to me?' And each time I asked myself such a thing, I had an answer. Allah has some big plans for me. I have been chosen for something. And He will reward his Muslims for being patient. Because he loves those who have gone through trials. My faith has kept me alive."
|Esma has a special relationship with this ornery fellow named Gypsy. They love each other. He just loves to bite me.|
|Women and children gathering at a mosque in Baščaršija for prayer.|
|Ilma is not comfortable with me saying too much about her so I will not. She did give me permission to use this photo. I will just say that she is a courageous and remarkable woman whom Dionne and I care for dearly.|
So, verily, with every difficulty, there is reliefQuestion #3 - Share an experience (spiritual or non-spiritual) that you have had in your life that is related to Islam.
"One of my experiences was having my younger son. He was a child with disabilities and later I understood that Allah sent me my son with a reason -- so that I could establish an association of parents of children with disabilities. In our town, I have been able to help many other children with disabilities and their parents. Today my son does not need professional support. He is attending the sixth grade in primary school and he is an excellent student. He is a child whom everybody loves and admires."
|Adisa and her son.|
"I think the most valuable experiences for me are the moments of feeling light inside my heart when I read the Quran, feeling confused about how to describe God's grace, and staying speechless during some prayers, crying a lot, feeling connected to God, and receiving his mercy. Those are the experiences I appreciate the most."
|A Quran displayed at Blagaj Tekija, an ancient dervish house located near Mostar.|
|Walking the streets of Baščaršija at night.|
"As I mentioned before, I have been practicing my religion since I was a little girl and I have always lived my life silently and normally within the frames of Islam. However, there are some experiences, painful experiences in my life, which strengthened my faith even more. In my early days it was the war, and later, when I was 18, it was the death of my grandfather whom I loved very much. We had lived together in the same house since I was born (my parents, grandparents, and my brother), and we were very close and affectionate with each other. His sudden death (which was the first experience of that type for me in my adult age) was a great shock for me. I couldn't eat nor sleep for days. I was very sensitive and vulnerable and my only consolation was prayer. I prayed a lot for my grandfather. His death also motivated me to learn Arabic letters so that I can pray more deeply using the Quran. I believe in life on the other side so I hope I will see my grandfather again one day."
|A small Muslim graveyard in Baščaršija.|
Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was sent downQuestion #4 - Will you celebrate Ramadan? What does Ramadan mean to you?
"Ramadan is the month of God's special mercy and it is the month when fasting is obligated to those who accept God and his message. It is somewhat of a trial as well. For me it means enjoying doing something for God and getting closer to Him through my deeds. I fast all of the days of this month and it gives me a special feeling."
|An imam making the call to pray.|
"I would celebrate Ramadan if I can make it a way to not make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Ramadan is the most beautiful month of the year. During the year Muslims are like 'I can't wait for Ramadan.' When it comes, in my personal opinion, during Ramadan it is possible to feel love. What can be more beautiful than to love and be loved. Each Ramadan I am trying to be a better human. We all try to do that. That is one of the phenomena that makes Ramadan so special. Thirty days every year you're dedicated to doing good deeds only. You're seeking to do good deeds all year but during Ramadan good deeds are valued even more. People feel differently during Ramadan and usually that is the time to make some big changes. Many girls decide to cover on Ramadan. Some people stop drinking alcohol and start praying."
|Esma and her family during Ramadan. Love the rabbit ears!|
|I was sent this picture of a typical "iftar," the evening meal which breaks the daily fast.|
|I can see how nightly "iftars" like these would certainly help unite families and friends.|
They should draw their veils over their bosomsQuestion #5 - What is your opinion about whether or not women should be "covered?"
"In my opinion, women should be covered (except face and hands) because that is our obligation and Allah orders us to do that. I am covered and as Allah says, it is protection for women. I always wanted to cover and I am so happy and proud because I am covered. I am a teacher at a primary school and the president of the association. I am really successful at my work and I communicate with a lot of people, organizations, ministers, media, etc. I was the editor of a TV show as well. My covering has never been a problem for me and I have never felt that somebody does not respect me because of it. However, I think that a woman that does not want to cover herself should not be forced to do so. There is no force in Islam. If a woman is covered, she should show others that she is not a slave but is proud of being covered. I always say that my scarf is my crown. And indeed it is. Not every woman can wear hijab. Only the strong and happy women can do it. It is important to know that some women are wearing scarfs as a modern detail and this is not 'to be covered.'"
|Adisa and her staff training on tablets for the first time.|
"In my opinion, women and men as well should be covered. But what I mean by that is not covering their hair or having some special dress code. Rather both should wear modest clothes, act, talk, and walk modestly, watch things that are modest, and try to live life modestly. That is exactly what God ordered to the believers in the Quran. If we see things this way, a lot of men and women are covered properly even though they are not religious."
|What a "covered man" looks like. However, I would say Elder Hardy is definitely wearing his scarf as a "modern detail."|
"In my opinion, every woman should decided for herself whether to cover herself or not. It is definitely one of the "must do's" in Islam and we consciously sin walking around uncovered. Me first. But I believe that it is more important what you carry in your heart and soul than what you wear over your body and head. You cannot guarantee that a covered woman is a perfect Muslim in every aspect. When I was a teenager I also wanted to cover myself since I prayed and read a lot about our religion. But my parents were not very satisfied with that. They thought that it would be an obstacle in my education and work. They told me that I can be a good Muslim without covering myself, so I eventually gave up on the idea (buy maybe one day, who knows). I didn't cover then but I promised myself that I will always be decent with my clothing. So I never wear things like mini skirts. I wear shorts when swimming instead of swimming suits. I never reveal too much so I hope I don't sin too much. I must add, I don't understand why people condemn or mock covered women. For me it is a style of clothing just like men wearing baseball caps all the time. Nothing weird about that, right? I forgot to mention that my approving of covered women is related only to the 'normal' covering where you can see the face of women. I am definitely against the covering where the whole woman is in black including her face. That's prison for a woman and it is not demanded in the Quran. It's more a tradition coming from certain countries."
|A window shop in downtown Sarajevo.|
"Women must wear hijab (clothes that cover her body) but if a woman's life is endangered by wearing hijab then she must not wear it."
|I jumped into this picture with Esma. Note that I do have a thing for baseball caps.|
Question #6 - In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge or threat to Islam today?
Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to him we will return
"The greatest challenge for Islam today are those radicals who call themselves Muslim. They are doing all sorts of horrible killing across the world and saying it's in the name of Allah. Allah and Islam have nothing to do with those sick minds. Because of them the whole world is turning against Muslims and I am afraid that the situation won't get any better in the future."
|These are the children of some Muslim friends here in Sarajevo. If we could only keep the childlike wonder that these two have as they play with bubbles. But alas, our adult egos always seem to get in the way.|
|A Muslim woman stands in front of the eternal flame, a Sarajevo WWII memorial.|
My Lord, increase me in knowledgeI am here in Bosnia as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This does not mean, however, that I cannot learn about the religions of others. Sarajevo is one of the great melting pots of religion. It is located right on the cusp of the East-West divide. By this I mean within Christianity and beyond. Christians are divided among Western (Catholicism) and Eastern (Orthodoxy), a schism that occurred over 1,500 years ago. About 500 years ago, the Ottomans introduced Islam into Bosnia which caused another East-West divide. And until the 1970s (when Tito approved their immigration to Israel), Sarajevo had a sizable Jewish population as well.
For someone interested in religion, Bosnia is like Disneyland. And this little experiment is just one way of sharing some of what I am learning with you.
|Elder Deleeuw practices on a prayer rug at the Turkish dervish.|
|The beauty of old town at night.|
P.S. #1 I am purposely withholding some of the my personal comments about Islam. I have spent a considerable amount of time studying Islam since I have arrived. And I continue to study. If you want to have a private conversation about some of my own personal thoughts, feel free to private message me.
P.S. #2 The issue of terrorism is very concerning to most of the Muslims that I have met in Bosnia. They feel that impostors are trying to hijack Islam. They are not "true Muslims," a phrase I hear over and over again here in Bosnia. Only a handful of Bosnian Muslims radicalized and joined ISIS. The people here agonize over the atrocities committed across the world.