Sie sind auf Seite 1von 33
The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign
policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina
By Eldar Sarajli ć
Paper presented at the conference
‘After the Wahabi Mirage: Islam, politics and international
networks in the Balkans’
European Studies Centre, University of Oxford
December 2010

The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Paper presented at the conference

‘After the Wahabi Mirage: Islam, politics and international networks in the Balkans’

European Studies Centre, University of Oxford, June 2010

The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Eldar Sarajli ć

Central European University Budapest


By the time the Bosnian writer Ivo Andrić finished one of his most famous books, The Days of the Consuls, concerning the endless intrigues of Western diplomats in late Ottoman Bosnia, most of them had already left the country. A new era of the country’s historical development had begun. The year was 1945 and the Second World War had just ended. Besides securing much needed peace in a turbulent region, the end of the war brought a new social and political setting for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a period of relative prosperity, but also a period in which, for the first time in modern history, Bosnians ruled themselves. There were no viziers, consuls or foreign occupiers. Legitimated by the antifascist resistance and communist ideology, Bosnians joined their Slavic brothers in the creation of Yugoslavia, a socialist and independent


country that would exist for almost half a century and leave an indelible mark on European history.

With the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early nineties, however, came an end to the region’s relative independence from great power intervention. Andrić’s ‘consuls’ came back, driven not only by geopolitical interests but also by the pressing need to tame the outbursts of ethnic conflict that had spread through the region, and particularly through Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shortly after it had declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, the country was set ablaze by violent conflict between its constituent peoples, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and Serbs. After almost four years of fighting and several unsuccessful attempts of the European Union (EC prior to 1993) to negotiate peace, the war was brought to an end by decisive US involvement and a peace deal reached in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, under President Bill Clinton.

The end of socialist Yugoslavia, the collapse of the Socialist bloc and the instability of the region left Bosnia and Herzegovina exposed to external influences, both from the East and the West. The vacuum that was created by the breakdown of the entire social fabric in the region was filled with activities of external actors and their local proxies. The country’s exposure to external influence also provided a leeway for many Islamic players to exert their influence and power. Many of them were driven by a sense of solidarity with their newly discovered Muslim brethren in the heart of Europe, but some of them also tried to shape the course of (geo)political events in this country in the direction of their desire. Some of them accompanied humanitarian assistance teams to help the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina during wartime, while many others set out to win the hearts and minds of Muslim Bosnians for their own vision of global or regional Islam. The time of Muslim ‘consuls’ had begun.

A decade and a half later, Bosnia and Herzegovina still seems to be dependent on global and

regional actors for their survival. The country is on a slow but determined path to become a part

of the European Union and NATO. The large majority of the population sees the future of

Bosnia and Herzegovina within Western political and military frameworks. Although not as visible as during wartime and the immediate postwar period, various Islamic networks, with


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

sponsors from Muslim countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, are still present. However, there is also a network of many new players, with various overlapping and conflicting interests and activities that give shape to a completely new situation on the ground.

The aim of this chapter is to gain a deeper understanding of this new situation and analyze the emerging relations of power between various Islamic networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their foreign policy perspectives. It will seek to determine the most active Islamic networks and the most influential Islamic players that affect foreign policy choices and perspectives in Bosnia, and explore the main points of interaction and contestation between them. My working hypothesis is that there is a new quality of the agency of Islamic networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the direct humanitarian/missionary approach of Arab networks, characteristic of the immediate postwar period, is being replaced with a more nuanced and Turkish-dominated web of activities aimed at promoting a new vision of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Islam, and of their position within a broader European framework. It also suggests that these networks’ activities strongly interact with the local Islamic Community, contesting or reinforcing its social and political role in shaping some foreign relations outcomes. This interaction and contestation contributes to a process of re-negotiation of Islam’s presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, its role in Bosnian Muslims’ lives, as well as the country’s regional and global position.

Tracing the plurality of Islamic networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a way of studying different embodiments of Islamic identity in this country. As is the case with other diverse societies exposed to the effects of globalization, the spectrum of Islamic identities in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in no way limited to a narrow and dichotomized division between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ Islamic elements. As I will try to show, Islam in Bosnia exhibits a patchwork of micro- identities that are far from homogeneous and cannot be aggregated into simple categories. Most of these identity embodiments have a foreign policy dimension that is expressed in interactions with centres beyond the country itself.

On a methodological note, this paper defines an ‘Islamic network’ as any organized group or network of people that holds certain Islamic value(s) as the main reference point. It hence has a


wider scope than studies which look at organizations that are explicitly involved in religious Islamic affairs. This may include straightforward religious organizations or groups of individuals active in the public domain, but also those with more mundane identities and activities who justify or legitimize some of their activities within Islamic values or norms. In a similar vein, foreign policy perspectives are broadly understood as visions, choices and acts aimed at positioning Bosnia and Herzegovina within a particular geopolitical framework, not necessarily activities confined to institutions and individuals in charge of the country’s foreign policy.

Before setting out to analyze the main Islamic actors in the country and their foreign policy implications, I will outline the background situation, crucial for understanding of Islam in Bosnia, points of contestation between local and foreign Islamic actors, as well as channels through which this contestation takes place.




in Bosnia


post - Communist






Talking about the foreign policy perspectives of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the context of formal and non-formal networks circumventing the state opens up a number of questions. First, it assumes that the state ceased to be the sole player in the realm of foreign policy. Together with the decline of universal narratives and the end of international Communism, liberalism brought an end to the ultimate relevance and authority of the state (see Wallerstein, 1995: 87; and Jacoby, 1999). The modern exclusivity of the state to determine the basis of foreign policy, highly revered during much of the 20th century, was replaced with the emergence of many other subjects of global politics who started competing for dominance and power. But, who were those new contestants to the state and its political supremacy?

The rise of the global network society has brought identity politics to the forefront of new political struggles in the world (Castells, 2004). Various groups, organized around their cultural identity as the ideological substance, started contesting state authority in determining regional and global politics. The character of these groups varied from religious and regional to ethnic identity organizations and parties struggling to find their place under the sun. Such a setting was


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

particularly conducive for organizations acting on behalf of religious values and identities. Various Islamic groups have been especially salient in this regard (Castells, 2004: 13-23; see also Haynes, 1997). Together with ethnic groups that have entered world politics fighting for their rights and political sovereignty at the end of the 20th century, Islamic groups have also emerged as new subjects of international politics. The fact that a covert and non-institutionalized network such as al-Qaida was able to steer the course of global politics on the eve of the new millennium confirms the existence of a new reality, shaped not only by states, but many non- state actors (Kepel, 2002).

Furthermore, the end of international Communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, which coincided with the global rise of identity politics, have provided a new battleground for various organized identities, including those acting under the flag of Islam. The local setting in Bosnia and Herzegovina was especially fruitful due to the presence of a large group of Muslims involved in the conflict itself, in addition to the tensions of ethnic identity that initiated the conflict in the first place.

The Bosnian Muslim 1 historical experience has provided a particular frame for Islamic identity- based politics. Considered by their non-Muslim neighbours as a remnant of Ottoman invaders, caught between the two established ethno-nationalisms of Croats and Serbs, and subsequently constrained under half a century of Communist rule, the community of Bosnian Muslims has passed several phases of development before it reached its present cohesiveness and independence (see Pinson, 1993). In this historical course, the period of socialist Yugoslavia and Bosnia’s emergence within it (1943-1992) was crucial. Unlike other nations that have formed the Yugoslav socialist union after World War II, Bosnian Muslims had not developed into a distinct and internationally recognized national community. Yet, Bosnia and Herzegovina was organized as one of the constituent Yugoslav republics, and Bosnian Muslims have participated in the public life both of the republic and the federation. Bosnian Muslims, however, remained recognized as solely a religious community, not a distinct, ethnic one, until the beginning of the

1 Though considered to be synonyms, the terms ‘Bosniak’ and ‘Bosnian Muslim’ are treated with a slight distinction in this paper, with a more ethnic (and secular) meaning attached to ‘Bosniak’ and a more religious one to ‘Bosnian Muslim’. The reason ‘Bosnian Muslim’ will be used throughout the paper is because of its Islamic reference, crucial for the paper’s central focus. However, essentially, both terms refer to the same ethnic group.


1960s. In other cases, they were considered to be members of the Serb or Croat nations of Islamic faith (Banac, 1993:144; see statistical data in Dyker, 1972: 240-241). The change brought by their recognition as a distinct and equal ethnic community gradually enabled them to formulate a distinct ethnic and political identity, with Islam at its centre. Groups and actors who promoted Islam as the foundation of Bosnian Muslims’ ethnic distinctiveness and political development already started to emerge in the late 1970’s, reconstituting the pre-Second World War ideology of the Pan-Islamist Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani) group (Bougarel, 2003). The key figures in this movement, later convicted for anti-state activity by Communist rulers, eventually became the leaders of the Muslims of Bosnia and drivers of Bosnia’s independence in the beginning of the 1990s.

The Islamic Community as the repository of Bosnian Muslim identity

The Islamic Community (Islamska Zajednica, IC) in Bosnia and Herzegovina played a particularly important role in the development of Bosnian Muslim identity. Lacking the cultural institutions Serbs and Croats had established before and during the period of socialist Yugoslavia, Bosnian Muslims invested most of their social and cultural capital into the Islamic Community, which had become the repository of the community’s identity since its inception in 1882 under Austro-Hungarian rule.

During the socialist period, the IC encompassed and regulated Muslim religious affairs in all of Yugoslavia. This included Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the IC’s main office was based, but also Muslims in other Yugoslav republics such as Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. With the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the IC splintered along ethnic lines. The Sarajevo-based IC became the Islamic organization of Slavic-speaking Muslims who identified themselves as Bosniaks, spreading territorially to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and the Sand žak region in Serbia and Montenegro. The break-up of the IC, paradoxically initiated by the Pan-Islamist current in the Bosnian Muslim political and religious elite, brought to the front two phenomena. First, the IC gained a distinctly political role. The break-up of a pan-Yugoslav Islamic community was undertaken by individuals and groups close to the emerging Bosniak political elite, organized around the Party of Democratic Action


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

(Stranka Demoratske Akcije, SDA) and led by Alija Izetbegović, a member of the Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims) and Bosnia’s first post-independence President. There was a significant overlap between religious and political circles: the SDA and IC shared similar visions and concerns over the fate of Bosnian Muslims. The line between religious and political domains was blurred, and both groups acted under the same umbrella of interests, with political leaders trying to steer the wheel of the IC into their desired direction. This strategy won the overwhelming support of the Muslim population. In the first years of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence and Bosnian Muslims’ emergence as sovereign political actors, the relations between the IC and the state (or its Bosnian Muslim part) resembled those of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, as a state-driven and controlled religious institution. In this sense, there was continuity with the Communist period, when the IC had also been under direct control of state authorities. The only difference was that this time, the state was characterised by distinct Bosnian Muslim features. When the end of the war brought power- sharing arrangements with Serb and Croat parties, the institutional links between SDA and the IC significantly deteriorated, but the IC remained one of the most influential institutions in Bosniak social and political life.

Secondly, the role of the IC in the development of Bosnian Muslim identity and its relation to politics indicate that the rise of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a distinctly ethnic role. Thus, many authors claim that what has usually been considered the ‘Islamization’ of Bosnian Muslims during the 1990’s was rather an ‘ethnification’ of Islam under the particular Bosnian cap (Bougarel, 2003: 14) 2 . This development was confirmed even by the apparent paradox of Bosnian Pan-Islamists’ efforts to detach the IC from its wider Yugoslav base and transform it into an exclusively Bosniak religious community.

In that sense, the overall rise of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the dawn of the new millennium needs to be understood as a broader and more complex phenomenon, which is not only related to the rise of Islamic politics elsewhere, but also to the post-Communist context of the region and its inherent logic of ethnic politics. In its local embodiment, it was much more an

2 Xavier Bougarel speaks of the ‘nationalization’ of Islam in Bosnia, but I think that ‘ethnicization’ is a more appropriate term, given Islam’s role in building Bosniak ethnic identity, rather than its national (state) institutions.


ethnic than an exclusively religious phenomenon. Here, Islam served as a tool of identity building of an ethnic community, rather than as a final destination of identity politics. The religious authority of the IC would only be challenged later, when individuals and groups from various Islamic countries started creating networks of their own in Bosnia. The Islamic Community was transformed into an ever more stringent defender of ‘authentic’ Bosnian Muslim identity and into an active player in the field of international relations.

2 . Domains of contestation: Who speaks for Islam in Bosnia?

The Islamic Community drives a significant part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s foreign policy, especially in the immediate neighbourhood of the Western Balkans, as I will show later. However, the wartime and postwar arrival of various organizations, state and non-state actors from Islamic countries, has posed a challenge for the Islamic Community on a number of grounds and created a basis for a re-negotiation of Bosnia’s foreign policy position. The points of contestation between the local Islamic authority and transnational Islamic organizations were thus of both external and internal nature, ranging from interpretative to administrative domains, but in the end reflected the core issue at stake: who speaks on behalf of Islam in Bosnia and what is its relation to regional and global politics? Three of those domains of contestation can be especially highlighted—that of interpretative authority, administrative authority, and that of the representation of Islam.

The domain of interpretative authority

The interaction between local and foreign Islamic actors has resulted in frictions along the ideological dimension of Islamic self-understanding. The present Constitution of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, last revised in 1997, provides that the IC is, among other things, in charge of ‘protecting the authenticity of Islamic norms’ and the assurance of their interpretation and application. Additionally, Article VIII provides that the interpretation and performance of Islamic rituals and practices will follow the principles of the Hanafi school of thought, or madhhab (Alibaš ić, 2003: 5).


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

The arrival of many other Islamic players, belonging to other schools of thought and practice within Islam, has brought these in conflict with the local Islamic practices and produced conflicts along the interpretative dimension of Islam in Bosnia. Given the IC’s emphasis on the specific “Islamic tradition of Bosniaks”, also shared with some intellectual circles in the country (Moe, 2007: 383), this is an important fault line. Essentially, it is a matter of a particular ideological vision outlining the orthodoxy and orthopraxis of Islam in Bosnia. It is related to a broad spectrum of faith-related issues ranging from forms of religious practice to gender roles, media and education. The fissures become apparent in debates on the wearing of niqab; the details of prayer; the conduct of religious celebrations; and the display of popular piety.

Nevertheless, when it comes to interpretative authority, the IC is not as homogeneous as it tends to appear to outside observers. The discourse on the dichotomy of local versus imported Islam in Bosnia is, to a large extent, an oversimplification. Though the IC is institutionally trying to be the sole interpreter of Islam in Bosnia, the views of its members very often differ significantly. As I will show in more detail, many IC officials were educated abroad and do not always share the same ideological outlook with their colleagues from the Community. The discrepancies inherent in these understandings affect the capacity of the IC to deliver a homogeneous ideological message while contributing to the overall complexity of the Bosnian Islamic setup.

The domain of administrative authority

The Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina is also the administrative authority for Bosnian Muslims. Mosques, religious schools (madrasas) and other distinctively Islamic institutions are under direct rule and control of the IC. As in the case of the interpretative domains, however, the administrative exclusivity of the IC is also challenged and contested by the presence of other Islamic actors and networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their activities, ranging from the running of educational institutions and the administration of networks to the provision of information and advisory content (usually online), contests the IC’s authority in administering the everyday social lives of Muslims in Bosnia.


A particularly important administrative domain is related to the financial dimension of Islamic

networking. The declining international aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina, including that coming from Islamic countries, positions the remaining Islamic players in a setting in which they have


compete over financial support from abroad. This is often the case when it comes to funding


activities like publishing, reconstruction and building of mosques and madrasas.

The administrative contestations within the Islamic sphere in Bosnia also pertain to the job market. Both the global and local rise of interest in Islam, as well as an educational interchange between Muslim countries, has produced a significant number of Islamic studies graduates, from high-school to university level. The opening of several new madrasas in Bosnia and frequent student exchanges with Islamic countries have further contributed to this trend. As a result, there seems to be a certain saturation of the job market with cadres educated in Islamic affairs (see Macháček, 2007: 422 for a similar interpretation). If one adds the dire economic situation in the country to the equation, this particularly mundane type of contestation between Islamic actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes apparent. 3

The domain of representation of Islam

Although Bosnian Muslims, as already noted, belong to a particular branch of Islam, the Hanafi madhhab, these recent developments have challenged the view that the Hanafi branch is the only and exclusive style of practicing Islam in Bosnia. The main reasons for this are the increase of the visibility of various alternative (mainly Neo-Salafi) activists and networks across the country and similar developments indicative of a different situation on the ground. The current existence of Islamic actors in Bosnia that contest the practice and interpretative traditions of the local Hanafi mainstream attest to the challenge posed against the IC’s representative power of Islam.

3 Paradoxical as it may seem, this very often lies behind many de-secularization processes in the country, especially in terms of the establishment of religious education courses in primary schools and kindergartens in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

In this sense, the question of who represents Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina still remains contested (see Moe, 2007: 391). Though the IC tends to dominate the representative domain, the issue is seldom as straightforward and easy to control as its self-representation would lead us to believe.

3 .

Channe l ling in Bosnia








Depending on the nature of contestation, Islamic actors rely upon a variety of nodes to exert their influence and promote their particular vision of Islam in Bosnia. The local Islamic authority tends to use traditional ways and methods of exerting influence on the domestic level, while alternative Islamic groups and networks rely on more innovative channeling methods. The following are the most frequent nodes of Islamic networking in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

mosques, schools, non-governmental organizations, embassies and cultural centres, education abroad, publications and the cybersphere.


The control of mosques throughout the country yields probably the strongest influence for Islamic actors. Especially in rural areas, where the mosque is the key community institution, this influence is particularly strong. Although one might assume strong IC control over the communities, this is not always the case. Namely, given the large number of local preachers who have studied abroad and the local presence of various alternative Islamic actors, such as Islamic NGOs, the interpretative authority over local mosques throughout the country can be dispersed over a number of alternative Islamic actors.


The same could be said for Islamic educational institutions in the country. Currently, there are more than 1,700 maktabs (informal elementary Islamic schools, organized in six regional groups), eight madrasas (Islamic high-schools, six of them in Bosnia itself, plus one in Zagreb, Croatia, and one in Novi Pazar, Serbia) two Islamic pedagogical academies and one faculty of


Islamic Studies 4 (see Alibaš ić, 2003: 7 for details). Although all of these fall under the administrative umbrella of the IC who controls the curricula and staff, some act almost independently from the IC. Several authors pointed out that this autonomy is rooted in the fact that the teaching or managing staff employed at the local level have been educated at Islamic universities in the Muslim world where different Islamic schools of thought and practice are applied (see Moe, 2007: 384; also Macháček, 2007: 401, 416). One should also note a number of other schools and educational institutions, not necessarily Islamic in character, which affect the diversification of Islamic self-understanding and agency in the country. Many private schools and institutions (such as various Turkish schools) in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been established by Islamic actors since the end of the war in 1995.

Non-governmental organizations

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with a large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), both local and international. The immediate years after the war have seen a steep rise of the number of NGOs in the country. In just a four-year period, between 1994 and 1998, the number of foreign humanitarian NGOs working in Bosnia and Herzegovina rose from 50 to 332, while the number of local organizations rose from 130 to 200. 5 A significant number of the international organizations have their headquarters in Muslim countries or among Muslim immigrant populations in the UK. While most of them left with the stabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the end of their humanitarian missions, a few of them stayed on. To the number of foreign Islamic NGOs in the country should be added a still-rising number of local NGOs concerned with similar Islamic affairs, in both their religious and secular dimensions, such as Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims), Novi Horizonti (New Horizons), AIO (Active Islamic Youth) or women organizations such as Nahla, Kewser and similar. Given the broad network of NGO activities in the country, the points of their contestation may be numerous, just as the grounds for channeling their influence.

4 More information on the names, location and capacity of these institutions can be found at:

5 See more at


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Embassies and cultural centers

The discovery of Bosnian Muslims by their Islamic brethren during the 90’s led many Muslim- majority states to open permanent diplomatic representative offices, such as embassies and cultural centers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Iran and Saudi Arabia were among the first, remaining diplomatically active through such institutions ever since. Unlike the wartime years, when they provided military assistance and material support, their current scope of work (see Bougarel, 2005: 16) has shifted to cultural exchange, the dissemination of books, the provision of funds for various local actors and activities, as well as the organization of cultural and promotional events. These actors have the systematic financial support of their home states, which empowers them vis-à-vis local actors. However, their formal and diplomatic character can also constrain their ability to interact with and shape local actors.

Education abroad

The practice of Bosnian Muslims studying at universities in the Islamic world predates recent developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the Islamic Community of Yugoslavia lacked higher educational institutions between 1945 and 1977, a number of Bosnians studied at some of the universities acclaimed for Islamic studies, such as Al-Azhar in Egypt. 6 However, with notable exceptions, their impact on the local Islamic scene was limited, and they were eventually eclipsed by more successful scholars and Islamic leaders educated at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo, founded in 1977 (Alibaš ić, 2003: 13).

The wartime and the immediate postwar period brought another generation of students to universities in the Muslim world. In recent years, the number of students who graduated in Sarajevo equaled those who graduated in other Muslim countries, from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Jordan, to Pakistan, Turkey and Iran (Alibaš ić, 14). Given the postwar need for Islamic cadres in the mosques and madrasas of the country, many of them easily found local employment 7 , thus representing a potential channel for exerting influence by the countries

6 There are no records of Bosnian students embarking on higher education studies between 1940 and 1950. The first group of Bosnian students went to Al-Azhar in 1962. See more in Aliba š i ć , 2003: 13. 7 The ratio of local- vs. foreign-educated imams in local mosques throughout the country is said to be 60:40. Source: interview with an IC official in Sarajevo.


where they had received their education 8 . The IC, however, has a strategy for limiting this type of influence by setting up norms for employment at its local institutions, such as those providing that only a person with high-school education from one of the IC madrasas in the country can be employed.


The missionary activity of many of the Islamic networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the end of the war in 1995 included significant efforts at publishing various Islamic materials, from religious literature aimed to instruct on Muslim rites to translations of famous historical Muslim authors. In the first postwar years, the majority of these efforts aimed at educating the population about the basic tenets of Islamic faith; besides the IC, the Saudi government and non- government networks pioneered this process. They have published dozens of books on the history of Islam and the Prophet 9 , distributed the Saudi authored and printed translation of the Koran (500,000 copies are claimed to be distributed), as well as other publications aimed at promoting their vision of Islam. Most of the authors whose books found their way to Saudi distribution in Bosnia had a distinct Salafi inclination, with few exceptions in cases of local authors whose views had not diverged from the Salafi norm. One of the most renowned publishing efforts of the High Saudi Committee was the so-called ‘Family Library’ that had included some 20 titles, including the shortened version of Ibn Khatir’s Tafsir, and the complete translation of Bukhari’s Sahih (see Alibaš ić, 2003: 12-13). All of these publications have been distributed free of charge.

Later developments saw an increase in alternative Islamic actors’ publishing activities. Among those, Sufi circles have had a noticeable presence, with translations of Sufi authors such as Nazim Haqqani and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi distributed across the country. However, the most prominent actor remains the IC, with its official publications, but many other organizations participate actively, notably the Iranian government and its local representatives, providing a

8 This is not to say that every student coming from abroad to his or her home country necessarily represents a potent channel for the foreign country’s political or social influence. Rather, it is meant to indicate to the potential of such individuals to act as cultural, social and even political bridges between two countries. Such bridging can always be utilized for channeling particular influence.

9 Such is the Zape č a ć eni d ž ennetski napitak, HSC, Sarajevo, 1996.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

number of journals and book translations. The IC’s most prominent publications are the weekly Preporod (Renaissance) paper, a journal with the longest tradition and the widest circulation in Bosnia (around 60,000 copies), the Novi Muallim (New Teacher), and the almanac Takvim. The Iranian networks publish more academically-oriented journals, aimed at promoting Gnostic and Sufi studies, such as Znakovi vremena (Signs of the Times) journal.


In addition to traditional published materials, recent years have witnessed an increase in online activities of various Islamic actors. Unlike the print publication domain, the online sphere is dominated by non-state actors and organizations, which are moderately influential and active. The cybersphere very often replaces traditional means of communication and interaction and provides an alternative Islamic guidance to readership, from fatwas to other counseling and advising assistance. Most of them are run by Bosnians, both in the country and abroad. Some of the most prominent ones are the and

4 .

The Islamic Space: Main networks and their influence

After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina once again became the playground of global and regional powers. Just as in Andrić’s novel, foreign powers are contesting not only host actors but also other players on the ground. The contestation among foreign actors affects internal politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it also shapes the foreign policy domain, influencing the position and perspectives of the country within larger frameworks. In these terms, there are three levels of regional interaction that are strongly related to the interplay of Islamic actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the immediate neigbourhood of the Balkans, the immediate regional context of Europe, and the global level. The focus of different actors varies along these levels, but what they all share in common is the prolific foreign policy dimension of their actions, which we will explore in this section.


The Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina as regional actor

There is little doubt that the IC is now one of Bosnia’s major Islamic foreign policy actors, a reflection of the emergence of Bosnian Muslims as autonomous political actors (see Bougarel, 2003: 4). However, the IC’s transformation from a communal organization to a political actor is not a recent phenomenon. Its development can be traced to the late 1960’s, when Bosnian Muslims slowly transformed from a religious community to a political (or ethnic) one. Especially indicative of this shift was the change in the official title of the IC in 1969. Namely, following the official recognition of Bosnian Muslims as a distinct ethnic (instead of religious) community by the Yugoslav Communist authorities in 1961, the IC changed its name from the Islamic Religious Community (Islamska vjerska zajednica) to the Islamic Community (Islamska zajednica) of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This change indicated a clear tendency to transform the IC into a national institution of Bosnian Muslims that would fill the absence of Bosnian Muslims’ cultural institutions in socialist Yugoslavia. Indeed, the IC eventually became the ‘national church’ of Islam in Bosnia (Moe, 2007: 382; see also Filandra 2010: 29).

It could be argued that its organizational nature makes the IC an effective player capable of influencing foreign policy outlooks. Namely, the IC in Bosnia likes to think of itself as an independent organization, free of state and political control. Since the end of communism the IC has been managing its own affairs: it exerts institutional control over all mosques, educational institutions and waqfs (foundations) in the country. It tends to assert not only administrative, but also interpretative authority, through the institutionalization of the fatwa authority in 2005, and attempts to require all formal Islamic groups in the country to submit their programs to IC for review (Moe, 2007: 383).

In addition to the administration and control of local mosques and its staff, it has branches in the neighbouring countries and diaspora, with power to appoint and supervise the administrative and managing staff, though contestations between the Sarajevo-centred IC and the local branches can occur.

As an ethnic institution in a diverse region, where ethnic boundaries do not necessarily overlap with state ones, the IC has developed a natural inclination towards a regional political role.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Given the complex political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the state’s dependence on the political consensus between opposed ethnic parties, the IC has taken on a significant regional political role. This has become particularly explicit in the IC’s role in mediating the recent inclusion of a Bosniak minority into the new Croatian Constitution and in the challenge to IC’s authority in neighbouring Serbia.

As I argued earlier, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav IC in 1993 to its ethnic constituents, the Slavic-speaking community of Muslims in Serbia has been administered by the Bosnian Riyaset (headquarters of the IC). The majority of Serbia’s Muslims live in the southwestern Sand žak area that stretches across the border between Serbia and Montenegro, and the Sarajevo- based IC has been in charge of the Bosnian Muslim minority in that area, but also beyond, including Serbia proper. However, in 2007, a group from the Meš ihat (regional IC office) in Belgrade embarked upon forming a separate Islamic organization to administer the Islamic affairs of all Muslims in Serbia, including Albanians, Turks and most importantly, Slavic- speaking Bosniaks. The Riyaset responded angrily and accused Serbia of political involvement and manipulation of the Muslim community. The situation generated frictions between different groups, including minor armed conflicts between pro-Sarajevo and pro-Belgrade Muslims in Sand žak, only to end up in a status quo ante, with two separate Islamic authorities existing in Serbia—the newly formed Islamic Community of Serbia 10 and the regional office (Meš ihat) of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Serbia 11 .

In addition to the opposition to what they saw as the ‘division’ of Bosnian Muslim minority in Serbia, the Riyaset of Bosnia and Herzegovina extended strong support to its official proxy in Serbia, trying to win the allegiance of Sand žak Muslims’. This included a symbolic support in the form of public statements, but also official visits of the Grand Mufti Mustafa ef. Cerić , the leader of the Bosnian Muslim community. This was not the first time that leaders of the Bosnian Riyaset and the Grand Mufti Cerić tried shaping the course of regional political events. At times when official state relations between Bosnia and Serbia were significantly low (in 2008), the IC organized high-level meetings with Serbia’s political leaders. Similarly, shortly after Kosovo’s

10 See more at 11 See more at


declaration of independence in 2008—still not recognized by the Bosnian government—the Grand Mufti Cerić visited Priš tina and met local Islamic authorities in a show of solidarity with the former Serbian province.

The IC in Bosnia and Herzegovina is also active at the regional and global levels. The European level seems to be particularly important for the Mufti Cerić. The head of IC is the only Balkan religious leader participating in European Islamic forums, such as the European Council for Fatwa and Research, indicating his commitment to European integration and the ‘Europeanness’ of the Bosnian Muslim community (see Bougarel, 2005: 25). This was also obvious from the Declaration of European Muslims calling for the “institutionalization of Islam in Europe”, which Mufti Cerić has been promoting Europe-wide since 2005 (Moe, 2007: 376- 382). Although the Declaration has received some criticism, its networking and promoting role for the IC in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been relatively successful (see Sarajlić, 2009: 53-79; and Moe, 2007 for criticism). Mustafa Cerić is a frequent guest of political events on Islam in Europe and a sought-after speaker on Europe-Muslim relations. Some European decision- makers consider him a good representative of the moderate Muslim tradition, and hence a partner in negotiations. This provides some space for Cerić to promote his vision of Islam in Europe and help position Bosnia and Herzegovina on the regional and geopolitical world map. More importantly, this provides the IC with the forum to promote its vision of the institutional culture of Islam in Europe.

Another significant networking tool for the IC is the Bosnian Muslim diaspora in the world. This predominantly pertains to the diaspora in Europe and the US, since relations with emigrant Bosnian Muslims in Turkey are relatively of a different kind, regardless of the fact that a large number of Bosnian emigrants now live in Turkey. 12 The IC administers official Bosnian Islamic institutions in North America and many European countries, with power to appoint or recall official representatives. Bosnian Muslims living in the Europe, however, are seen as relatively ‘invisible’ when compared to other Muslim communities. Despite some exceptions, such as Senaid Kobilica, the Bosnian imam leading Norway’s Islamic Council, these groups are rarely involved in European Islamic affairs (see Moe, 2007: 391).

12 According to some estimates, nearly 7 million descendants of Bosnian refugees live in Turkey alone.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Arab and Neo-Salafi networks

Since September 11, 2001, Bosnia and Herzegovina has repeatedly been branded a hotbed of Islamic terrorism in Europe. It is true that up to 4,000 Muslim mujahid (jihadi fighters) from Arab countries and Afghanistan fought in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, and some of them had links with Al-Qaida (see Bougarel, 2005: 16-18; Kepel, 2002: 248). Although the majority of those Muslim mujahid left Bosnia following the signature of the Dayton Peace Agreement, around 1,300 of them acquired Bosnian citizenship and remained in the country. In the course of several years following the end of the war, state authorities revoked the citizenship of most of these people on the grounds of fraudulent acquisition, while many others migrated to European countries. Today, no more than 200 of the former mujahids are recorded as residing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and most of those who are are married to Bosnians (see Sarajlić, 2010:

21-23 for more details). However, the image of Bosnia as a safe haven and launching pad for Jihadi terrorists has been firmly established in European mainstream media, and perhaps in the minds of many decision makers.

The failure of ‘global Jihad’ and the transnational Islamic networks to change the course of events in wartime Bosnia drove most radical Islamist actors out of the country (Kepel, 2002:

237-254). However, some networks, following the Salafi tradition, remained relatively active and visible. Most of these actors are foreign or local non-governmental organizations and informal networks without formal links to any Muslim country, even though they may receive occasional state grants and donations, such as the Active Islamic Youth and similar networks and organizations. To a large extent, this reflects the fact that most Muslim states were reluctant to push for action in wartime and postwar Bosnia due to their geopolitical alliances. Some of these countries, like Indonesia and Libya were part of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was traditionally close to Belgrade, and thus more likely to support the old ally, or at least stay inactive. In the context where some Muslim states refrained from direct action, the space for non-governmental and non-formal agency opened up and many of these actors acted to fill it. The result was increased activity of Islamic NGOs and informal networks concerned with the destiny of Bosnian Muslims; these organisations pushed for action (Kepel, 2002: 238).


Some of the activities were of a humanitarian nature, following the involvement of Saudi Arabia and its contribution of around 150 million USD in the first year of the war, but other forms of intervention clearly aimed at changing the content and practice of Islam in Bosnia. Networks of former mujahedins were joined by local Muslims, who had been educated abroad and felt close to Salafi philosophy. Some of these have been shut down after a few years, but others remained active, like Active Islamic Youth and New Horizons. Initially, some of these organisations enjoyed support from the embassies of Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia and its High Saudi Committee for Assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina (HSC), but soon after September 11, 2001, and media reports concerning alleged links to international terrorism, Saudis withdrew their support, which led to the closure of a number of these organizations, like Furqan (Alibaš ić, 2003: 8).

The official Islamic Community was not particularly welcoming to Saudi-leaning NGOs, nor was it explicitly opposed to them, even though its interpretative and administrative authority somewhat suffered from the presence of contending institutions. I would suggest that the reason behind the IC’s mild response to its potential rivals is the IC’s desire to prevent a fragmentation of the Islamic front in the country, which might have endangered the smooth flow of Saudi resources that provided support for both the NGO’s and the IC itself 13 . The High Saudi Committee contributed significantly to the IC’s institutional structure, rebuilding more than 200 mosques and constructing several new ones, including the massive King Fahd Cultural Centre and an adjacent mosque in one of Sarajevo’s residential areas.

This aid, however, came at a price, and the IC still faces challenges to its interpretative authority from Salafi groups that were heavily influenced by Saudi Arabian networks. Religious literature donated by the Saudi government tends to reflect Neo-Salafi views, while the mosques and cultural centers usually employ Salafi-leaning local staff and preachers, ultimately heralding a split of the Islamic community. To a certain degree, a rapprochement between Salafi circles and the official IC has occurred, resulting in a more moderate outlook on the part of Salafi actors. In

13 According to some estimates, Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the reconstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina culminated at 560 million USD, which was employed in the reconstruction of infrastructure as well as in the promotion of different cultural and educational activities.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

the media, these actors are represented through magazines such as Saff 14 and Novi Horizonti 15 and online portals such as

Iranian networks

Unlike Arab and Salafis, Iranian networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina are almost exclusively linked to the Iranian embassy. Their activities began during the wartime, when Iran was one of the first Muslim countries to provide aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in terms of humanitarian assistance as well as arms (Bougarel, 2003: 16). Furthermore, Iran sent a number of training staff for the Bosnian army, took care of the wounded, assisted refugees and aided in the country’s reconstruction. Iran’s approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war helped in winning the hearts and minds of many Bosnians; at the end of the war, more than 86 per cent of Bosnian citizens held favorable views of Iran (Kepel, 2002: 247).

The relative success of Iranian networks has stemmed from a balanced, well planned and comprehensive approach, reaching beyond exclusive humanitarian and missionary domains. The Iranian Cultural Center was opened as early as 1994, during the siege of Sarajevo, and since then has initiated cultural exchange between Iran and Bosnia through various activities ranging from academic and professional visits to publishing and language courses.

Among the current Iranian (officially) non-state actors, two are especially important. The Ibn Sina Institute 16 , opened in 1996, focuses on academic exchange between the two countries and the promotion of Iranian thought. The Institute publishes the ‘Signs of the Times’ (Znakovi vremena), an academic journal edited by local scholars on issues of philosophy, culture and society. Similar to Ibn Sina is the Mulla Sadra Foundation 17 , an organization centered on the promotion of Islamic and Gnostic studies and eastern philosophy. It translates and publishes books by Iranian authors and organizes public events and lectures. Though both of these are nominally non-state actors, the links with official Iranian representatives in Bosnia are very strong.

14 See more at

15 See more at

16 See more at

17 See more at


Iranian influence is particularly effective thanks to local Muslim intellectuals and Islamic studies professors in Sarajevo who have come to promote Iran’s cultural values and ways of thinking. Many of these intellectuals, who participate in the academic exchange with Iran, write and edit publications by Iranian NGOs in Bosnia, and are influential in local communities, such as Reš id Hafizović and Adnan Silajd žić , amongst others. At the same time, many of them are frequent critics of Salafi actors and of the official IC establishment and fervent defenders of the “traditional fabric of Bosnian Islam” (Hafizović, 2006). Via such local supporters who seem to advocate an autochthonous vision of Islam in Bosnia (related to Shi’a philosophy through Bosnian Sufi tradition), the Iranian actors’ contribution to Bosnia’s Islamic constellation is significant. Being limited to intellectual circles and expressed only in limited media outlets, however, the overall impact if this influence has been rather mild.

Turkish networks and their impact

Although the Turkish state has been active in war and postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina through refugee assistance, reconstruction aid and peace-building, the bulk of Turkish presence in today’s Bosnia is represented by non-state groups and organizations. Besides internal rifts and shifts in the last decade spanning the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, Turkey’s official bid to the EU and its membership in NATO have significantly framed its official approach to post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bougarel, 2003: 19; Bulut, 2004: 2; Gangloff, 2005: 4). Turkish religious policy, while active in other Balkan countries through the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İş leri Ba ş kanlığ ı), has only limited impact in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the AKP electoral victories in 2002 and again in 2007, semi-state actors entered the picture, aiming to capitalise upon the welcoming atmosphere in Bosniak parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to promote their cause. Some variation of the ‘Turkish-Islamic synthesis’ that has displaced secular nationalism as the state ideology is hence to be found in the outlook of both state and non-state Turkish actors in the Balkan region (Solberg, 2007: 434, Bulut 2004: 8).


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

The Gülen movement has so far been the most influential Turkish non-state actor in the Western Balkans, with more than 20 educational institutions in the region. They have been active in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1998, when the first framework organization was established, the Bosnia Sema Educational Institution 18 . The Bosnia Sema is the umbrella organization for seven educational institutions, including a university, three colleges and three primary schools throughout the country. Primary schools and colleges attract a number of students, mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina but also from Turkey and other neighbouring countries, including the children of members of the diplomatic corps. The working language in these schools is English and most of them are branded as international educational institutions. Unlike the primary schools and colleges, the majority of students at the International Burch University 19 are Turkish, with less than 15 per cent being local Bosnian students. The large majority of both groups appears to be derived from the middle and upper middle class. 20 Most of the administrative staff is local, while the overwhelming majority of the faculty is Turkish.

Although the character of these institutions, from curricula to the overall appearance, is secular, there are a number of elements that indicate the presence of Islamic references and norms. First of all, hizmet (‘service’) is considered to be key motivation among both the local staff and Turkish faculty, providing a clear link to similar neo-Sufi movements and networks dedicated to the service to “Allah and humanity”, such as Nurcus and Süleymancis (Solberg, 2007: 441). The Nurcu ideology of blending religion and science in service to God seems to be especially present in most of their activities. Secondly, a gender separation exists at the college level, with girls’ and boys’ institutions being physically separated from one another. Thirdly, prayer facilities have also been established, from separate rooms to a mosque on the newly built Burch University campus in the outskirts of Sarajevo. Finally, a large majority of female students (more than 70 per cent) wear hijab, indicating a socio-cultural profile of the entire organizational system.

18 See more at

19 See more at

20 The university fees are moderately expensive, compared to the Bosnian standard, with fees of 10,000 Euros for a four-year university level education.


Another education-focused network of Turkish actors in Bosnia is organized around the Sarajevo Education Development Foundation (SEDEF) which runs the International University of Sarajevo (IUS) 21 , founded in 2004. The group of people behind this organization consists of Turkish businessmen and Bosnian intellectuals close to the Deniz Feneri, Erenköy and AMHV (Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Foundation) charity organizations, but also to the official AKP establishment (Solberg, 2007: 451). The IUS is of international character, with English as the main language of instruction, while the majority of students are from Turkey, with a significant number of hijab-wearing female students. The newly built campus was opened in early 2010 and was honored by a high-profile visit from Turkey, headed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdo ğ an.

The Turkish state has recently become an active participant in Balkan politics, mainly because of the strategic change brought by Ahmet Davuto ğ lu’s appointment as the country’s Foreign Minister in 2009. His vision of the ‘strategic depth’ of Turkish foreign policy is based on a shared heritage in the Balkans under Turkish regional leadership, a fact that became obvious during a visit to Sarajevo in October 2009. Again, though symbolically, this act drew Bosnia and Herzegovina back into Turkey’s foreign policy orbit and raised local spirits around the concept of ‘neo-Ottomanism’. Even beyond rhetorical gestures at conferences, Turkey’s new policy has achieved some practical success in mediating relations between countries in the Western Balkans, particularly between Bosnia and Serbia. The tripartite ‘Istanbul Declaration’ signed by the heads of respective states’ foreign ministries in April 2010 calls for mutual cooperation, respect and stability in the region. The signing of the Declaration comes on top of a series of earlier meetings on a trilateral level spearheaded by the Turkish Foreign Minister and the ruling AKP administration. To Davuto ğ lu’s credit one may also assign the recent adoption of the Srebrenica Resolution by the Parliament of Serbia, which represented a significant step towards regional reconciliation. Clearly, Turkey’s role in this process was crucial and reflected its self-perception as a regional leader in the Balkans.

The agency of Turkish state and non-state actors seems to converge on several strategic points which might give them a competitive advantage over other foreign Islamic networks. First, both

21 See more at


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

groups of actors promote a leading role for Turkey among Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through references to common heritage, Ottoman past and shared emotions with the local population. Indeed, popular sentiment is often very receptive to such references, as one can infer from the expression of solidarity and common belonging among Bosniaks towards Turkey. The celebrations of a Turkish football victory against neighbouring Croatia in Sarajevo on 20 June 2008, or the public lecture of Grand Mufti Cerić on the Turkish origin of Bosniaks, also during 2008, are only two such cases. Secondly, both non-state and state actors push for a progressive modernization, in social and economic terms, through educational, trade and development activities that, as a result (if not necessarily always intention), bring Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to Europe. Thirdly, and most interestingly, the way both actors approach Bosnia and Herzegovina circumvents the need for state-related religious activities. Furthermore, the role of the Diyanet in the country is very weak. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only Balkan country without an official Diyanet representation office. This does not mean that religion plays no role in both actors’ activities, but that any agency that refers to Islam in some way is free of Turkish state control. This is particularly striking in the case of the cooperation with the Bosnian Islamic Community, which appears to be closer to non-formal Turkish Islamic networks than to the institution of Diyanet.

This may not be surprising, given the self-perception of the IC in Bosnia and the potential competition between the Bosnian state-independent IC and the Turkish regionally influential state-related network (see Solberg, 2007: 454; Korkut 2009: 124-126). Hence, the IC is affirmative of the growing influence of non-state Islamic actors from Turkey, if very critical of any Turkish religious state institution. Turkish Islamic networks’ dismay of Salafi influences and the affirmation of Hanafi tradition that unites Bosnian and Turkish Islamic mainstream traditions further contribute to the creation of a common Turkish-Bosnian front against external pressures on the local Islamic outlook.

This cooperation, however, does not represent a full harmony between various Turkish actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Conflicts and contestations between them do exist, in most cases reflecting the rifts in Turkey’s internal political and religious landscape as well as slightly diverging visions of leadership. Difficulties in institutional cooperation between actors within


the same domain, such as education, are indicative of such fissures. For example, although located in the same neighbourhood, sharing common public facilities and coming from the same country, there is virtually no institutional cooperation between the International University of Sarajevo and the International Burch University, and besides few courtesy visits, no interactions on the management or faculty levels exist. 22 Clearly, Bosnia and Herzegovina, among other things, represents an additional ground for the interplay of Turkish politics between internal actors and the export of conflict-ridden issues, such as the education of hijab-wearing students, who are not allowed onto University campuses in Turkey. The mirror to Turkish internal dynamics and their foreign reverberations was reflected in recent events around Israel’s raid on Turkish humanitarian ships heading to Gaza, in which Sarajevo, similar to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, saw organized demonstrations with hundreds protesters flying Turkish and Palestinian, if not Bosnian, banners. 23

Other Islamic networks

Besides the most influential local, Turkish, Iranian and Arab networks, there are smaller actors who take Islam as reference. Most of them are not influential alone, but they do serve as useful links with the local population or other foreign actors and organizations. The example of the International Forum of Solidarity (EMMAUS) 24 , a humanitarian organization with a local branch in Bosnia whose representative was on board at the Mavi Marmara at the time of the Israeli raid, is a case in point.

Among other actors, two types are particularly important. First, the non-formal Sufi circles, organized in loose groups around charismatic leaders, are relevant to the point of their members’ integration in other webs of power and influence—from politics, high society, and university to the domains of culture and the media. They provide necessary links between religious and secular domains, contributing thus to the build-up of group influence in society. Notwithstanding their non-formal nature, the networking potential of these groups is significant

22 The case is even more interesting given the fact that Sarajevo is one of the two cities outside of Turkey that hosts two Turkish universities. To the author’s knowledge, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) is the other case.

23 See more at

24 See more at


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

since most of their members belong to the higher or upper-middle class with strong links to the country’s institutions of power, from political parties to state institutions.

Secondly, the alumni organization of former students of the International Islamic University in Malaysia (IIUM) has many members in Bosnia and Herzegovina who are highly influential in Bosnian society and hold many important posts in business, education and diplomacy. One such group is organized around the Center for Advanced Studies (Centar za napredne studije, CNS) 25 and coordinates academic exchange, research, publishing and cultural events. The group’s links to Turkish and other Islamic networks are strong and rooted in the fact that some of the members have studied at the IIUM under the professorship of Ahmet Davuto ğ lu or have connections with businessmen from the Islamic world. One of these members is Mr. Amer Bukvić, the head of the Bosnia Bank International (BBI) 26 , an Islamic-capital bank that has operated in the country since 2000, while the other, Mr. Emir Had žikadunić, after working as the Secretary of the International University of Sarajevo, was appointed to serve as Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Tehran. Moreover, this group’s Center for Advanced Studies was the organization that provided a forum for Davuto ğ lu’s Sarajevo lecture in which he espoused the ‘neo-Ottoman’ strategy of Turkish foreign policy in the Balkans.

5 .


Herzegovina and the Turkish factor

Re - negotiating






The final outcome of the interaction between different Islamic actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina is important in terms of the country’s foreign policy for a number of reasons. First, the very presence of Islamic actors and networks and the level of their visibility sets the context for Bosnia’s relation with its neighbours. For instance, it could be said that one of the most explicit consequences of Islamic non-state actors’ involvement in the war has limited Bosnia’s ability to lift the stringent visa regime imposed by European and Western states, especially after 9/11 and the publication of alleged links between al-Qaida and Islamic fighters in wartime Bosnia. By

25 See more at 26 See more at


many Europeans, Bosnia still appears to be seen as linked to potential Islamic terrorist organizations.

However, the concerted efforts of Turkish actors might shift this perception in another direction. Education-based activities and projects undertaken by Turkish NGOs and businessmen in the country could contribute to a new symbolic constellation and build a new vision of Islam, which is espoused by Muslims in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This is likely, especially given Turkish actors’ comparative success in building networks throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and throughout the Balkans that have replaced and surpassed the activities of other Islamic state or none-state organizations, from Iran to Saudi Arabia. Additionally, regardless of current internal difficulties, Bosnian foreign policy is likely to follow a Turkish orientation, both on the regional and global levels of politics. Also, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political development and EU integration will depend on regional reconciliation and cooperation in the Western Balkans. An increased and well-played role for Turkey in mediating regional cleavages and providing partnership relations will further strengthen this orientation, already demonstrated via the state’s mediation efforts in temrs of Bosnian-Serbian relations. Future developments of in Turkey’s internal politics will also significantly impact the interplay between Turkish networks in Bosnia, local institutions and other actors on the ground, especially in terms of religion and its role in public affairs.

Secondly, the interaction between Islamic actors in Bosnia can contribute to the debate on the most sensible institutional set up for the management of Islamic affairs, both in the EU and beyond. The Bosnian Islamic Community provides an organizational model of independence vis- à-vis the state and might be an object of desire by many non-state actors from Muslim countries.

An independent status of their organization is what enables Bosnian IC representatives to play a significant foreign policy role and affect the course of development in the region. However, exactly because of this independent character and promotion of their institutional model in Europe, conflicts on certain grounds may arise. Namely, unlike the fragmented immigrant Muslim communities in the EU who require a particular type of institutionalization of Islam mainly related to the regulation of family law and similar issues, and the Turkish state-related


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Islamic community, Bosnian IC is an independent political player and its institutional model primarily reflects this fact. Thus, attempts at grafting this specific institutional model of Muslim representation in Bosnia—forged under Austrian-Hungarian sovereignty, Yugoslav dominance, and finally through the ‘ethnicisation’ of Bosnian identity—onto Europe is destined to meet immense challenges.

In the immediate region, similar conflicts are already taking place, as the case with Serbia’s new Islamic Community shows. The unwillingness of the Mufti Cerić to come to terms with the independence of Serbian Muslims from Sarajevo indicates the distinct ethnic and political role assumed by Bosnian Islamic leadership. This role is also indicated by the conflict between two different institutional cultures of Islam—one independent and politically sovereign, and the other dependent and state-related. In the time to come, this conflict may develop further and influence foreign policy choices of the respective countries.

Even the relations between the Islamic Community and Turkey, in the Bosnian as well as the European framework, are not free from potential conflict along the lines of institutional culture. Close relations between the IC and Turkish non-state actors and networks might pose a significant challenge to the future relations between the Islamic communities of the two states. Conversely, these relations can also provide new ground for the creation of alliances that cross institutional boundaries and involve both state and non-state actors in promoting a common Islamic cause. In this event, the role of the Bosnian IC will be significant, not only in providing a case model for similar relations elsewhere, but also providing links and networks of other actors promoting similar aims.

What remains certain is the fact that the situation dominating the initial postwar years in Bosnia and Herzegovina has nowdramatically changed. The missionary and humanitarian era of the Muslim world’s support to Bosnia is long gone. New interactions and activities are now shaped by more nuanced approaches of actors and networks no longer concerned with the basic survival of the Bosnian Muslim community. The aims of these actors are business opportunities and cultural exchange that can yield long-term benefits for the countries and groups involved in terms of political and economic influence. The space for Islamic actors’ activities in the country


will continue to change, both reflecting and influencing wider trends in international politics.

Two key players are likely to dominate the time to come: the local Islamic authority, embodied

in the ethnic Islamic Community of Bosnian Muslims, and the variety of Turkish state and non-

state actors in areas of education, business and diplomacy. Depending on the global and regional

political context, these might reinforce or contest one another in the process of negotiating the

Islamic identity in Bosnia and its place in Europe.

6 .


Alibaš ić, Ahmet (2003), ‘Traditional and Reformist Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ C-SIS Working Paper No. 2. Cambridge: Centre for International Studies, University of Cambridge.

Banac, Ivo (1972), ‘Bosnian Muslims: From Religious Community to Socialist Nationhood and Post-Communist Statehood’ in Mark Pinson (ed) The Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Their Historic Development from the Middle Ages to the Dissolution of Yugoslavia 1918- 1992. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bougarel, Xavier (2007), ‘Introduction: Balkan Muslims and Islam in Europe’ in Southeast Europe Journal of Politics and Society, No. 04, pp. 339-353.

Bougarel, Xavier (2005), ‘The Role of Balkan Muslims in Building a European Islam’ EPC Issue Paper No. 43, European Policy Centre.

Bougarel, Xavier (2003), ‘Islam and Politics in the Post-Communist Balkans (1990-2000)’ in Dimitris Keridis and Charles Perry (eds.) New Approaches to Balkan Studies. Dules:

Brassey’s, pp. 345-360.

Bulut, Esra (2004), ‘The Role of Religion in Turkish Reactions to Balkan Conflicts’ in Turkish Policy Quarterly, No. 3, available at

Castells, Manuel (2004), The Power of Identity. London: Blackwell.

Dyker, David A. (1972), ‘The Ethnic Muslims of Bosnia: Some Basic Socio-Economic Data’ in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 50, No. 119, pp. 238-256.


The Return of the Consuls: Islamic networks and foreign policy perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Eldar Sarajli ć |Oxford| 2010

Filandra, Š aćir (2010), ‘Umjesto dr žave: Mustafa‘ in BH Dani Magazine, No. 677, June 4, 2010, Sarajevo, pp. 28-29.

Gangloff, Sylvie (2005), ‘The Impact of Ottoman Legacy on Turkish Policy in the Balkans (1990-1991)’ in Paris CERI, pp. 2-20, available at

Hafizović, Reš id (2006), ‘Oni dolaze po naš u djecu’ in Oslobo đ enje Daily, November 25, 2006.

Haynes, Jeff (1997), ‘Religion, Secularization and Politics: A Postmodern Prospectus’ in Third World Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 709-728.

Hećimović, Esad (2009), ‘Turci se vraćaju sebi. I nama‘ in BH Dani Magazine, No. 645, October 23, 2010, Sarajevo.

Kepel, Gilles (2002), Jihad: the Trail of Political Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Korkut, Ş enol (2009), ‘The Diyanet of Turkey and Its Activities in Eurasia after the Cold War’ in Acta Slavnocia Iaponica, Vol. 28, pp. 117-139.


Š těpán










Herzegovina’ in Southeast Europe Journal of Politics and Society, No. 04, pp. 395-428.

Moe, Christian (2007), ‘A Sultan in Brussels? European Hopes and Fears of Bosnian Muslims’ in Southeast Europe Journal of Politics and Society, No. 04, pp. 374-394.

Pinson, Mark (ed) (1972), The Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Their Historic Development from the Middle Ages to the Dissolution of Yugoslavia. Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press.

Russell, Jacoby (1999), The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in the Age of Apathy. New York: Basic Books.

Sarajlić, Eldar (2009), ‘Europe as a Media Myth: The Case of Bosnian Muslims’ in Kerem Öktem and Reem Abou-El-Fadl (eds.) Mutual Misunderstandings? Muslims and Islam in the European Media, Europe in the Media of Muslim Majority Countries. Oxford: European Studies Centre, St. Antony’s College, pp. 53-79.











Working Paper, 2010/06, School of Law, University of Edinburgh.


Solberg, Anne Ross (2007), ‘The Role of Turkish Islamic Networks in the Western Balkans’ in Southeast Europe Journal of Politics and Society, No. 04, pp. 429-462.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1995), After Liberalism. New York: New Press.