BBC Monitoring International Reports - November 29, 2006 Wednesday

Text of report by Davud Muminovic: "Wahhabis latent threat" by Bosnian Serb newspaper Nezavisne novine on 26 November

Asked if they considered themselves to be supporters of the so-called Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in Bosnia-Hercegovina [B-H], that is, if they practiced this kind of approach to Islam, 3.3 per cent of respondents in B-H gave a positive answer.

This is only one of several questions from a poll conducted five months ago by a Sarajevo Prism Research Agency; a poll that went almost unnoticed by the public. The poll was based on the face-to-face method, going to respondents' homes. The Prism Research representatives say that the margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 7 per cent.

The poll was carried out on a random sample of 431 adult B-H citizens of Muslim religion, and its subject was the so-called Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in B-H. It showed that 3 per cent of the Bosniak population declared themselves as Wahhabis, and that less educated people were more sympathetic to this category.

The B-H citizens who declared themselves as Muslims were asked three questions, which enabled them to express their opinion on the Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in B-H.

The results of this research showed that the two-thirds of the Muslim respondents in B-H had heard or knew something about the Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in B-H. The respondents with higher education were better informed about this type of Islam.

The majority of respondents (69 per cent) were against the presence of the Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in B-H. Nevertheless, every ninth citizen expressed a certain level of support to the presence of this form of Islam (12.9 per cent).

The respondents' view on the Wahhabi interpretation and practice of Islam in B-H largely depended on their level of education.

Namely, those with higher education, in contrast to the respondents with a low level of education, opposed the presence of this interpretation of Islam in B-H.

Arrival of Wahhabis in Bosnia

The arrival of the Wahhabis in B-H is linked with the war, 13 years ago, when various humanitarian workers and Mujahidins began to spread this interpretation of Islam, which had previously not been significantly present in B-H. Except for the research conducted by certain private research agencies, there is no real data on the Wahhabis. The people wearing long beards and short trousers that we can see in the streets and small towns are a big mystery to the majority of people in B-H, including the majority of Bosnian Muslims. There are many people who are even afraid of them because of their attitude and often aggressive preaching and propagation of religion.

The Riaset [highest religious and executive body] of the B-H Islamic Community recently reacted in connection with Wahhabis over "inappropriate aggressiveness of individuals and groups in the interpretation of Islam," by issuing a resolution on the interpretation of Islam.

The B-H Islamic Community reacted after a physical attack and shooting in a mosque in Sandzak [Serbia] between traditional believers and more radical ones, whose appearance and manner of practicing Islam stands out from the long Bosniak tradition in this region (Wahhabis). This reaction came also as a result of the media statements of certain Wahhabis, who severely attacked traditional Islam in B-H and the religious leaders and imams. The resolution calls on the Muslims to demonstrate unity, and it condemns and regards as undesirable in B-H those who create any kind of disturbance in mosques under the pretext of preaching a "true faith."

Even though the official religious institutions believe that the Wahhabis do not represent a threat for the Bosniaks or other B-H citizens, some other institutions think differently.

Extremism negates moderation

At the beginning of this year, Jasmin Merdan [former Wahhabi member] and Adnan Mesanovic, graduate Islamic theologians, translated a piece of work called "Wahhabism - Salafism" by renowned author Hasan Ali Sekkaf. This work gives a scientific interpretation of the meaning and the doctrine of Wahhabism.

Merdan claims that the Wahhabis represent a latent threat in B-H

"There is no doubt that the Muslims demonstrated their tolerance, moderation, and fairness in the past war, for the umpteenth time. These three attributes, along with God's will, are the three main factors for the survival of Islam in this region. If we considered the Wahhabis in the context of these three factors or virtues, the conclusion would undoubtedly be that none of these virtues describes them. Their extremism negates their moderation; their hatred towards others, even towards the Muslims that think differently, negates their tolerance," Merdan said. He is a 26-year-old man from Sarajevo, who obtained his degree in the Arabic language and literature in Jordan, and he is also a hafiz (knows the Koran by heart.)

Merdan and Mesanovic claim that ever since this book was published, for which no B-H Islamic scholar [expressed interest] except for Resid Hafizovic, who was often under criticism because of his warnings about the Wahhabi movement, they have been targeted by the Wahhabis and have been under constant pressure.

"Wahhabism is a dimension of the literal interpretation of certain texts from the Koran and the Hadis regarding God's entity, which emerged already in the early stages of Islam. The essence of this ideology is that it is a sect and the biggest newfangled thing that has ever emerged in the Islamic world," Merdan said, adding that terrorism was only one of the "loose ends of Wahhabism."

Something to be done urgently

Merdan is one of the few people to draw attention to the alarming situation in connection with the Wahhabis in B-H. He says that when the Wahhabis arrived in B-H, 13 years ago, the people disapproved of them, considering them a foreign element. However, over the years, they managed to establish a "brand" so that the Bosniaks have in a way "legalized" their existence in B-H.

The main reason why this movement managed to achieve success in our country in such a short time is an aggressive and radical campaign, generously helped with money from the Arab world made available to the members of this movement. This enabled them to print numberless brochures and booklets containing several pages of their explanations of the essence of Islam, in which they reject all the religious authorities.

Merdan says that the Wahhabis will soon take primacy in B-H unless something is done now.

"In other countries it took them around 30 years to take over power, to put it like this, which would be fatal for us if it happened here. It is enough only to look at what the Wahhabis are doing in Iraq these days, where they plant explosives in mosques and around other buildings of their brothers in Islam, Shi'is, which is a sufficient example to us. The situation has been alarming for quite some time. Senad effendi Agic (chief imam in the United States) and Resid Hafizovic (Faculty of Islamic Sciences) had warned about this even before, but we as a nation usually do not identify troubles until they hit us hard."

In one part of the book, Merdan and Mesanovic warn not only against the danger to traditional Islam, but also against aggressiveness that can lead to terrorism, which, fortunately, has not yet happened to us.

"We should not wait for someone to blow up the US or British Embassy to realize how serious this problem is. Ideological terrorism, which includes the Wahhabis' intimidation of those who think differently, is a platform for practical terrorism. Everything that is happening today in the Muslim world and what we can see on the media every day proves our point. No Muslim, Shi'i or Sufi, or the followers of mezheb (four recognized schools of law in Islam), stands behind the unrest and commits crimes except for the Wahhabis! This also indicates that terrorism cannot be associated with Islam but with only one group of Muslims who have gone astray and whose elements are presented in this book," Merdan says categorically.

Solution is in education

In order to prevent such teaching, Merdan founded the first NGO Centre for Prevention of Terrorism "Zapret," the purpose of which is to explain what this is all about.

Merdan says that the organization does not intend to fight terrorism, as that is the job of the police.

"We have done this in the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, when he says: "Help your brother, whether he commits violence or is a victim of violence." The question was then asked: "It is fine to help the victim of violence, but why should we help the one who commits violence?" The Prophet answered: "Prevent him from doing it!" Wahhabism is a typical form of indoctrination, and the only way to prevent it is proper education and doctrine. I think this is the only and the best way to resolve this global problem, primarily the problem of the Muslims but of others, as well," Merdan concluded.

Source: Nezavisne novine, Banja Luka, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 26 Nov 06 pp 8-9

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Copyright 2006 BBC Monitoring/BBC Source: Financial Times Information Limited

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