Not long after I returned from my trip to the Americas, I got the opportunity to attend a summer school in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Even though I grew tired of being away from home, I grabbed the chance and travelled to Sarajevo. I didn’t regret it for a minute.
There were 25 delegates from across Europe, most of them Muslims, as the title of the conference was ‘Muslims in Europe: Challenges of Pluralism’. Topics were, for example, Bio Ethics in Islam, Approaching Qur’an and Sunnah and Crisis of Islamic Civilization. It was a tough program, two weeks every day seminars from 9 to 6, even on the weekends.
The summer school was held at the International University of Sarajevo, which campus is located close to the beautiful Vrelo Bosne, the spring of the Bosna River. Almost all participants stayed in the dorms on campus, which was really great. Our group consisted of participants from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, UK, France, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Sweden and Germany. Many of us had roots from different countries, too, such as Iran, Tunisia, Morocco, India and Bangladesh, which made this group really unique. During this summer school it was the first time I met Tartars (from Russia and Romania), Pomaks and even a Serbian convert to Islam. I didn’t only learn more about Islam and the challenges of the Muslim society during these two weeks, I also got the chance to network and exchange ideas and thoughts with young, ambitious individuals with whom I am still in touch.
I went into this program not really knowing what I could expect from it. I came out of the program with so many opportunities, ideas and most of all new contacts and friends. They inspired me to strive for more and not be passive. I guess I was a bit too passionate in my presentation about Muslims in Germany. My thesis was as follows: ‘Are Muslims Part of the German Society? NO!’ I could see in the participants’ faces that they thought my thesis was radical. But unfortunately, I still stick with it and think it is true. After my presentation I was asked many questions. One that made me more thoughtful was the question why I am not engaging actively in Germany to change our situation. I gave an answer (one which I don’t want to elaborate here) but I was thinking to myself: That is an excellent question. I complain a lot, and I know I am not alone, but what do we actually do to change our situation? I am still thinking a lot about this question and how I can contribute to that change. Because if I took one message from the summer school, it is this: Our generation will shape the future. And that’s not the ‘others’. That’s us. You and me. And it is a long process. We won’t see the results of our efforts very soon. But it is us that is going to shape the next generation. And they will raise the next one and so on. You get the idea. So right now I am thinking of what I can contribute to this change. (I am sure I will write an article about it soon.)
In spite of the intellectual aspect there was also a cultural aspect. We visited very often Bascarcija, the old town of Sarajevo, which is really beautiful. It has many small mosques with beautiful wells and gardens, cute shops and good places to eat. What I couldn’t believe was that I was actually still in Europe, because it didn’t feel like it at all. Sarajevo is a small, calm melting pot of East and West. There is a reason why people call it the Little Istanbul of the Balkans. In some parts of Bosnia the Ottoman heritage is still very present. But Sarajevo is not as fast-paced and hectic as Istanbul. The atmosphere in Sarajevo is very romantic, if not magical. But also other places, such as Mostar, are very charming. In particular the famous Mostar Bridge, built by the Ottomans (and rebuilt after the war which lasted from 1992-1995 ) is a great sight to see. There is a tradition that local men jump from the bridge as a tourist attraction. If I am not mistaken it started off as an old romantic tradition, where men jumped off the bridge to prove their love to their partners. In any case it is really interesting to see and afterwards there are nice places in the old town close to the bridge where you can have Bosnian coffee or caj (tea).
Another field trip we took was to Srebrenica, the place where in 1995 over 8000 Muslim men and boys have been murdered during the war. It was the biggest Genocide in Europe since World War II. It was a very sad trip and when we watched a documentary of the survivors many of us had to cry. I just hope and pray that such thing will never repeat itself again. You would have thought that people would have learned from the Holocaust, but sadly they didn’t.
During this two-week stay in Bosnia I learned a lot about my roots, my mother’s home country. It is a beautiful pearl hidden in the south of Europe, with great food, breathtaking landscapes and a sad history. The melancholy is ubiquitous and you can feel that the conflict between the ethnicities and religion is not over yet. Bosnia was the right place for the summer school. It showed us on what we need to work on. I think we had a great start there, exchanging our thoughts and ideas with young Muslims, and also non-Muslims from allover Europe. This was exactly the dose of my religion I needed after six months of seclusion from other Muslims during my stay in the Americas. And who knows, maybe this summer school got the ball rolling.
Peace and Salaams to all of you.