Spirit of Ramadan recalls Bosnian Muslims

Editor’s note: The following opinions column originally appeared in Thursday’s Daily but was cut short by a production error. The text appears here in its entirety.

Over the past month, Muslims here and around the world have been celebrating the Islamic month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which runs on the lunar cycle. Ramadan is important to Muslims because it is the month in which the Qur’an, the Islamic Holy Book, was first revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), through the angel Gabriel (peace on him). Ramadan is a time Muslims use to reflect, meditate and discipline themselves.
During Ramadan, Muslims are commanded to observe the month by fasting from food, drink and marital relations from dawn until sunset each day. Fasting is not only a form of worship, but also reminds Muslims of those among us who are needy and less fortunate.
Sadly, there are many who are suffering: the children of Iraq who have been hurt under U.N. sanctions; the politically repressed in regions such as Kashmir and East Africa; the homeless and hungry here in our own country; and many others. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the situation is still quite grave. For most of their recent history, Bosnians have been treated as if they and their land were a football between the Serb and Croat nationalist ambitions.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and her people have been integral to world history since the 7th century. Sarajevo, the capital, became a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, intellectual haven for Muslims and non-Muslims alike during Ottoman rule. But in 1878, the European powers annexed the Ottoman Baltic states. They denied Bosnia-Herzegovina’s sovereignty and gave her to the Austro-Hungarians (Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria gained their freedom).
In the early 20th century, Russia supported the Serbian nationalists’ call for a Serbian-controlled “great Slav state.” Ostracized Muslim Slavs promoted the old Bosnian tradition of a peaceful, pluralistic, multi-confessional society. Unfortunately, a Serb nationalist’s bullet destroyed any chance for such a peace and, instead, started World War I. By the war’s end, the Serbian nationalists had achieved victory as they crowned a Serbian “King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians” and renamed the land, Yugoslavia, not recognizing Bosnians or others who did not consider themselves Serb or Croat.
Nazis overran Yugoslavia in World War II, apportioning Bosnia-Herzegovina to their Croatian allies. Croatia began to ethnically cleanse the land it controlled, experimenting in mass gas exterminations. The Bosnian-Muslim religious and political leadership spoke out against their murderous practices, to no avail. Nazi-controlled Serbia became the first to declare itself Judenrein (cleansed of Jews).
In Serbia, the nationalists sought to create a “Pure Serbia,” using similar tactics. Serbs opposed to the Nazis and the ethnic cleansing joined the Yugoslav communist resistance group, uniting Yugoslavia. The region experienced a relative economic boom and relative peace for a time. But at the close of the 1980s, Yugoslavia had begun to disintegrate.
When Slobodan Milosovic, a former communist, became president of the Serbian Republic, he advocated extreme Serbian nationalism for a Serb-controlled Yugoslavia. He began curbing the rights of ethnic minorities like Muslim-Albanians and Croats. Frustrated by these tactics, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Serbia attacked both countries and captured nearly a third of Croatian land.
The Bosnian populace (including Bosnian Serbs) overwhelmingly voted for their own independence. On April 5, 1992, a multi-ethnic peaceful demonstration in Sarajevo was held in support of independence. But then the nearly 500-year-old peaceful coexistence in Bosnia was shattered when Milosovic’s Yugoslav National Army snipers ambushed marchers and fired on them. The next day, bombs descended from the sky, and the siege of Sarajevo began.
The Serb nationalists’ ethnic cleansing included the murder of key religious and political leaders, the detention of citizens in concentration camps, and mass rapes of innocent women and children. The Serbian extremists sought to erase the peaceful past by torching historic mosques, synagogues and churches as well as national libraries, museums and archives. The world watched, waited and merely asked the Serbs, “Come on, can you stop now please?”
Yet through all this, Bosnians of all ethnicities still strive for peaceful coexistence. Bosnian-Serbs live freely among the 380,000 citizens of Sarajevo, working and worshipping there and in other Bosnian-controlled areas.
You may wonder why we felt it necessary to write about the history of a people in a seemingly ‘far away land’ and the heinous injustices committed against them. We are writing because some try to bury the truth and attempt to lay blame on the blameless. A recent article published in the Minnesota Daily unfortunately did this. Denying the truth of crimes perpetuated against Bosnian Muslims is the kind of falsity which kills the victims twice.
As we celebrate the end of Ramadan in a peaceful coexisting manner, we hope and pray such a blessing again be bestowed upon the Bosnian people. For the sake of humanity, peace and justice, we hope the cries of the widows, parents and orphans will not go unheard.
Muhammad Yehia Elrashidi is in the College of Liberal Arts and a member of the Muslim Student Association.