PATRONS, CLIENTS AND FRIENDS: THE ROLE OF BOSNIAN ULAMA IN THE REBUILDING OF TRUST AND COEXISTENCE IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

This research was primarily guided by the fundamental question of how broken trust can be restored in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, my personal acquaintance with the ethno-religious dynamics of Bosnia during my preliminary fieldwork from February to May 2006 not only stregnthened my primary critical approach toward the current literature on the problem of trust, but also confirmed the need for alternative mechanisms to be taken into consideration. This discursivelt constructed self-conception of Muslim Bosniak’s religious and national identity alongside the idea of Bosnia as a common homeland potentially seemed to provide channels to establish these mechanisms.

Within the framework of the general problematic of (a)how the broken social and inter-communal relations can be rebuilt and (b) what the actual and potential role of Muslim religious leaders are in this rebuilding process, my research focuses on three interrelated processes, which I frame in the following research questions:

1. How and in what ways does the Islamic Community (IZ) (presented in this study at three levels of leadership, i.e. Reisu-l-ulema as the head of the IZ, muftis as the religious leaders at regional level, and imams as local religious leaders) interpret, support or challenge current attempts of peacebuilding at conceptual and practical levels?

2. What are the initiatives that these leaders individually undertake or involved in to facilitate the rebuilding of social and inter-communal relations?

3. How do they influence the positioning of the Muslim Bosniak community in establishing inter-communal relations through discursive construction of ―identity frames? What strategies have been used to achieve this? What have been the preserved, transformed or eliminated elements?

To examine the role of ulama in these three processes, I conducted an integrated analysis of spoken and written discourse. The first cluster of data is composed of formal speeches delivered in religio-national commemorations. I chose such four commemorations, which mark turning points in the construction of Muslim Bosniak collective memory:

1. Ajvatovica Pilgrimage, marking the Bosniak‘s conversion to Islam celebrated in Prusac in Central Bosnia during the last week of June;

2. Srebrenica Remembrance Day, held at Potoĉari Memorial on 11th of July;

3. Martyrs Day (Dan Šehida), commemorated on the second day of the Eid-ul Fitr (Ramazan Bajram);

4. Mosques Day (Dan Džamija), commemorated on May 7, marking the day Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka was destroyed by the Serb forces of Radovan Karadzić;

The second body of data is compiled from the texts of these “power elites,” indicating their hegemonic order. These are:

1.  Fatwas and fatwa-like non-binding religious advisories, mainly published in the periodicals of the IZ, e.g., the quarterly Glasnik (The Herald) and the bi-weekly Preporod (Renaissance);

2. Friday and Feast Sermons (hutbas), delivered by Reisu-l-ulema, muftis, and imams;

3. Declarations and Resolutions of the organs of the IZ;

4. Textbook for religious education at public schools (Vjeronauka) and mektebs [religious schools on the premises of mosques].

Ulama have increasingly emerged as an important factor in interpreting and determining the characteristics of inter-communal relations in Bosnia. This is due not only to the identification of religious and national identity, but also to a lack of a strong and unified Bosniak political leadership, mainly when compared to the Bosnian Serb leadership. This is further mobilized by the failure of the international community to fulfill its promises during the past 14 years. While there are critical issues where the responsibility lies in the political realm, I argue that religious communities and the IZ in particular can play a constructive role in conflict prevention and transformation to peacebuilding. Their common-value-generating role allows them to deconstruct the message of peace and provide a moral justification by deconstructing the images of the self and the other drawing on respect. This can ensure an overarching common space to be shared for peaceful coexistence. Here, rather than an overemphasis on the intrinsic value of trust by the international community, it would be better to provide suitable ground whereby the structures rewarding exclusivist ethno-politics are eliminated and active cooperation promoted, thereby laying the groundwork for the generation of inter-communal trust.