The week before last and over the weekend I was in Sarajevo for work.
I was involved with a workshop at the Faculty of Islamic Theology at Sarajevo University working with colleagues from around the world. I think we all fell in love with Sarajevo. A few of us wanted to make plans to move there.
If you drink the water from here you are destined to return to Sarajevo so we all drank – I drank twice just to make sure
The workshop and discussions were about religious conversion, co-existence and tolerance. We were from all different faith backgrounds and none (I am the none).
We were based in the Faculty of Islamic Theology (as a little aside, the link here takes you to an article by Stefan Schreiner who was with us at the workshop and took us on a personal tour of the city) which was originally the Islamic School for Theology and Sharia Law established by the Austro-Hungarian administration at the end of the 19th century when they occupied the country. The college trained Islamic judges and other civil servants who were responsible for regulating affairs for the Muslim community in Bosnia in accordance with Islamic law. This I found very surprising and encouraging.
I didn’t take a photo, but in architectural style it is similar in style to the rathaus which is by the same architect.
We visited the newly rebuilt Sarajevo library that was badly damaged in the 1990s war. There is a reason that invading or occupying powers destroy or appropriate libraries and archives – its a means of silencing alternative stories.
While we were at the library the former Grand Mufti (who was also my friend’s teacher many years ago) spoke to us and made us laugh. I also bought some calligraphy – I really like Islamic calligraphy.
Sarajevo used to be a very multicultural city, before the horrific religious/cultural ethnic persecution, murder and horror of the second world war and the Bosnian war in the early 1990s.
There were and are beautiful old mosques, churches and synagogues in the city
and reminders of the conflict in the 1990s.
As we were leaving the city on the last day, the driver of the mini bus (whose name I don’t know) pointed out to my friend (who translated from the Bosnian) and I, the hills where the Serbian artillery was positioned during the siege of Sarajevo. He and his family were living in the city during the siege and he volunteered to try and defend it, getting injured during the fighting.
We also walked passed the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 thereby, according to some historians, beginning the horrors of the First World War. This is a lazy explanation and excuse. Wars don’t start and then drag on for years simply because one person gets shot, it takes the small and large decisions of many people and administrations to keep this type of mass slaughter going for so long. So often history is used to incite difference and hatred and to excuse the deplorable decisions of dominant interests under the guise of clearly explaining what actually happened. Historians should stop being complicit in helping states and governments excuse their involvement in such conflicts and instead tell stories that encourage tolerance, co-existance and understanding – or go and get a different job.