Islamist movements in the twentieth century and their presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

5 Maj 2015
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5 Maja 2015, Comments 0

Piše: Muhamed Jusić

There are several theories in the world’s scientific and analytical circles, about the appearance and the rise of what is called “Islamist movement” in the Muslim world in the twentieth century. So we have a significant number of those who see in Islamist movements only attempt to create an ideological counterpart to the then dominant conflicting ideologies of capitalism and communism and their versions who have been fighting for control of that rich part of the world. Others see root of the whole phenomenon long before in the frustrations of the Muslim world because of the lag in all after technical and scientific superior West and the consequences of brutal colonization, which is

that part of the world tried to impose a system of thought and values that they considered foreign and therefore they decided to return to their own traditional values generally based in Islam in order to develop their own vision of revival and renovation that would guarantee the prosperity and welfare.

Those who advocate a synthesis of these two reasons believe that Islam, especially after the political collapse of the ideals of Arab nationalism, served as the basis for ideological forms of the twentieth century.

This new ideology, they often call “Islamism”, hence there is already established term “Islamistic”, not Islamic movements. Everyone today specially in the West who uses the term Islamism is trying to emphasize the difference between it and traditional Islam as just another more religious system. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of confusion about exactly what Islamism really means. Thus, for example, in a debate organized by the Middle East Forum in 1990 several different definitions of Islamism had been given. For example, according to John Esposito, Islamism is in fact “Islam interpreted as an ideology to support political and social activism.” Professor Martin Kramer researcher at the University of Tel Aviv said in a statement that “it is Islam as it was reformulated as a modern ideology. Whereas Islam in fact traditionally originated in category of Judaism and Christianity, Islamism is a response to the ideology that appeared in the modern West – such as communism, socialism or capitalism.”

Gruh Fuller, advisor to the RAND Corporation believes that “Islamism is largely synonymous of political Islam – the attempt to derive from Islam solutions for the modern state, social and political problems.”

There are those, particularly among the Islamists, who believe that it is not a new kind of ideology rather than merely trying to reform Islam, which according to them was never just a religion but a complete system of life, which includes both, state and social system based on its principles. This had certainly come with what is called “political Islam” with all its models from that one which advocates “reform from within” (through the existing political system) to one that is more revolutionary and ready to use violence to achieve its goal.

Understanding of another group of scholars, such as Oliver Roy is very interesting. He states that Islamist movements and the occurrence of those most radical among them, where they consider some Salafi movements by “westernization and globalization of Islam”. So he believes it is “wrong to assume that the phenomenon of religious radicalism (under this term he is mostly thinking of Salafism), and political radicalism (“Al Qaeda”) only imports from the culture and conflicts of the Middle East. These appearances are primarily consequences of globalization and Westernization of Islam. Today’s religious revival is primarily characterized by the separation of culture and religion, whatever that religion was. This explains the mutual affinity of the American Protestant fundamentalism and Islamic Salafism: both reject culture, philosophy even theology, in favor literally reading of religious texts and direct understanding of truth through individual faith, on detriment

of educational and religious institutions.

“When it comes to the reason of spread and the influence of “Islamist movement”, many analysts see the poverty, hopelessness, undemocratic, tyrannical regimes ruling for a long

time, so that the only real alternative and opposition were Islamist movements, until recent developments in so-called “Arab Spring”, whose humanitarian, educational and opposition activity often received significant support of the Muslim masses who are traditionalist and looking for social changes that will bring them prosperity without questioning the fundamental social values.



In Communist Yugoslavia, Muslims were placed under some sort of ideological glass bell which largely kept them isolated from the ideological and other turmoil in the rest of the Muslim world. That glass bell was broken in the flame of war that occurred in the former Yugoslavia after the collapse of the communist regime. Muslims in this area, primarly Bosniaks who were representing the significant portion of Islamic community in that time, and their religious community did not have enough time to gain the necessary experience and knowledge in order to cope with the invasion of ideas, ideologies, sects and other social phenomena inspired by Islam who splashed Bosnian society destroyed

by the war. Due to half a century isolation to which Bosnian Muslims were subjected, they have not been able as a community in the early years of the war and postwar to develop some kind of “immunity” on an ideological interpretation of Islam, nor to form a clear attitude towards pluralism within the Islamic thought. This process is now largely ongoing and it is up to Islamic community at home and in the diaspora, where similar processes have been recorded, to find models which will in the spirit of the principles of Islamic pluralism preserve their identity and to keep Muslims from religious and ideological adventures. Time will show are they and how going to succeed.

There is no doubt that of all the movements and sects in the Islamic world, whose teachings were swept the coast of traditional Bosnian Islam greatest attention was drawn by the Salafi movement (popularly known as the Wahhabis). Due to the number of its adherents, but also incidents in which they were participated in the last decade, the movement has attracted significant media attention to their activities.

Salafis (ar. salaf, predecessors of the first generation of Muslims) or the Islamic traditionalist movement created around the teachings and actions of Muhammad ibn Wahhab (1703-1787) reformer from the Arabian Peninsula. Despite they are well known in our country and in the world as Wahhabis (the founder of the movement, Abdul-Wahhab), followers of this movement do not accept that name. Moreover, one of their key teaching is opposition to the cult of personality.

This is a movement that insists on the preservation of the Islamic doctrine of monotheism and opposing to all innovations in the Muslim practice and teaching, what is evident from only a quick review of only the titles of the books that are printed and distributed among them. They see themselves as a movement aspirating to return to the original teaching of the Qur’an – the holy book of Muslims, the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) and the practice of the first generation of Muslims.

Salafi movement in BiH since the time of the war, when the volunteers coming from the Arab world started to spread its teachings among Muslim boys and girls, experienced a gradual ideological transformation that even the members of the movement were not aware of. Although this ideological transformation was conditioned by Bosnian social circumstances, a far greater impact had global trends, especially developments in the parent movement in Saudi Arabia. Despite of that Salafis have seen as unified and monolithic community, today they are one of the Islamist movement with the highest number of clashed fractions, most of them have its own vision of Islamization of the world and the societies in which they operate. One thing is common for all of them, they think of themselves as the only consistent followers of the Sunnah (practice of Prophet Muhammad) and they interpretation of Islamic tradition as

only valid. Through detailed analysis we can identify four main fractions in the Muslim countries (and this is reflected in the branches of the movement in BiH) who fight for dominance within the movement generated around the teachings and actions of reformer from the Arabian Peninsula, Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab.

Formal and official stream, which enjoy the support of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia are es-Selefijjetu taklidijjun – traditional conservatives who were very apolitical, and who claim that the militant Salafis like Osama bin Ladin are “only making disorder on earth.”

Selefijjetu-to-sahva (sahva – wake up) or Salafi reformists are the direction that enjoy the greatest support among Salafis in the UK, and in abroad. They advocate the Islamisation of society through gradual reforms, education and ideological confrontation with secularists and westernized liberals. They are against the violent methods and constantly evolving their attitudes by adopting more open and liberal values atypical for Salafi tradition.

Selefijjet-ul-Jihad-Sher`i, or jihadists, “legal jihad” represent military wing of salafism who consider fighting as a strict religious duty of every Muslim, but only when and where the Muslims are attacked and where the enemy is clearly defined (as the trouble spots around the world in which they counted and Bosnia during the last war).

The most extreme form of Salafi ideology has evolved under the influence of militant Islamist movements from Egypt who on Afghan battlefields and training camps combined Salafi religious conservatism derwith ideas of Takfir (declaration of Muslim communities and individuals who live in them infidel, or non-believers) and we can classify them into a group Selefijjetu al-Jihad al-Takfir and international jihadists tend to Takfir. After September 11, these militants under unwitting support of global media have become the only exponents of Islamic militarism and almost completely suppressed the idea of the Mujahideen “legitimate jihad” opponent to terrorism that were until then considered only as the “freedom fighters”. Synonym for this militant group has become the famous Al-Qaeda organization. All this turmoil in the mainstream movements has influenced the Salafis in Bosnia and the Bosniak diaspora, so that we have today among them a lesser or greater number of representatives of each of the previously mentioned factions.

Recently, due to increasing pressure from security agencies Selefijjetu al-Jihad al-Takfir is mostly focusing only on the polemical debates with other Salafi organizations, but also with other Islamic authorities over the issue of Takfir and acceptance or rejection of laws that are not divine or that have been passed in the democratic legislative procedure, and thus the whole relationship of Muslims towards a democratic society and its institutions.

Those who advocate Takfir calling this concept Tevhidul-hakimije or belief in God’s monotheism in the power which is belief that Muslims should not accept any other than God’s low, and therefore should not respect any law that is not from Him. Teaching of Tevhidul-hakimije rests on a very simple and theological argumentation, according to it Islam teaches that God is One, absolute Ruler and Lord, who only prescribes what is good and what is evil. Being a Muslim means to submit to the will of God and organised ones life in accordance to the standards of good and evil that God provides.

This alignment is not only at the level of ethical and moral, personal and private but also collective life, which involves the organization of society and the state in accordance with the norms of the Sharia and for them Sharia represents only a fixed set of traditional punishments (ar. hudud) and not the system of values from which derived the various legal methods and regulations and laws. From this point, every Muslim who is satisfied to live in a society regulated with standards different from those they see as Islamic ceases to not be a Muslim anymore because he chosen a value system that is not Islamic. That kind of person accepted that someone else besides God prescribes to him standards of good and evil, which is like heresy and worshiping other god but One. At the same time, any participation in democratic and political processes through a nominee in political parties or a mere support system

through voting, or accept the state court that is not based on Sharia is violating God’s right to prescribe what is good and what is bad or adopting laws (what is been done in parliamentary procedure by passing laws about what is permissible and what is not).

Some authors who have written about this doctrine see the roots of this interpretation of religion in the first sects the first years after the Prophet’s death. They were Harijiets who had according their theological doctrine declared the majority Muslims as non-believers because of committing great sins. Contemporary advocators of Takfir do not consider committers of major sins as unbelievers, but, as we explain before only those Muslims who do not believe in Tevhidul-hakimije it the way they interpreted it. So we find that within Selefi branches but also within academic circles they call them Harijiets or neo- Harijiets, aiming their disqualification.

Others can remember the mid-seventies of the last century, when the world public was shocked by the brutality of Egyptian most radical militant movements Jem’at al-Takfir ve-l-Hijra, in which others see the roots of the modern movement Takfir. Members of these organizations have declared their fellow Muslim, who were recently sharing their opinion as infidels and moved on into an open fight that did not refrain from using the most brutal methods of terrorizing civilians. They were infidel members of the political and ideological movement the Muslim Brotherhood, who came from the Egyptian regime attempted to quell their opposition, often after long years spent in horrible prisons, convinced that a society in which they live is so moved away from the Islamic principles that could not be longer considered as a Muslim, as well as those who were satisfied with life in such environment. After bloody murders of opponents and categorical action of Egyptian government

and the wide public diminished and moved away from social reality. As an organized structure has ceased it existence. Most followers were killed or publicly distanced themselves from the attitudes of the founders of the movement, young agronomists Shukry Mustafa, but the idea of Takfir, considering the other Muslims unbelievers for accepting to live in according to them non- Islamic states has survived. Takfir has survived in the ideological baggage of Arab mujahedin who participated in the Afghan struggle against Soviet occupation. It is in the fighting trenches Afghanistan’s mountainous cliffs, that this idea has found fertile ground among the members of another movement that had very little in common with the Muslim brothers, among the Salafi movement from Saudi Arabia who came as volunteers to join brothers in Afghanistan in “the Jihad against the Soviets. “Takfir is reincarnating this time in the outlaws from the official Salafi teachings or in some way it bobbins, and his followers began to claim for himself that they are the only true supporters and followers of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and his first followers were known as the “Ikhwan” they believe that the Saudi ruling family used them to come to power and

then abandon.

Due to the fact that the Salafi movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina came along with the Arab volunteers, very often those who in Afghanistan were in contact with carriers of ideas of Takfir,

which in that time still was in its beginning, traditional Bosnian Muslim community was again targeted by another Islamist ideology.

It should be mentioned here that among the Arab volunteers from Detachment (later unit) El-Mujahedin who fought on the side of the BiH Army in the war, were considered to be base of Salafi teachings, their official ideology was closer to opponents of official Saudi Ulama then those followers of Takfir. Those who were prone to ideas of Takfir kept their attitudes for themselves, or did not join this formation. Individuals who were carrying the idea of Takfir which will later terrorist organization Al-Qaeda rely on never succeeded to impose their views to larger number of fellows. Some see this as a reason why Al- Qaeda and its ideological leadership have never given, at least through press releases, provided significant support to

this type of engagement of Islamist volunteers. For them, in fact, it was unacceptable that they were fighting in the ranks, despite of the autonomy they had, along with official military that fought for the secular and democratic state.

By dissolution of the Al-Mujahideen and departure from Bosnia of its key ideologues and the opening of old and new Salafis in Bosnia towards other directions within Salafism, primarily through the Internet and contacts with the Muslim world and the BiH Diaspora, there has been a significant expansion of the idea of Takfir among Bosnian Salafis. In addition, the reality of Salafi movement in BiH includes the imitation of changes within the parent movement in the world and applying that on Bosnian space. Thus, the organizational and ideological strengthening of the rogue Salafis who advocate the incompatibility of Islam and democratic order of society, have found their supporters among the new generation of young Bosnian origin Salafis. Today, in the web site regulated from the unknown location of those who claim that they are the only correct Salafis, we can read the press releases in which the Islamic Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina is declared as no believing, a prayer led by the imam who advocates or urges the believers to participate in democratic elections and in civil society incorrect. For the first time we could meet boys who do not recognize the laws of BiH, the court or who do not want to possess identity documents of BiH or any other state. It was initiated and inner Salafi debates on many Internet sites and forums.


While various aspects of the Salafi movement draw most of the media attention, numerous other sects and islamic movements that call themselves islamic movements are at work amongst Bosnian Muslims in BiH, and its diaspora. For some time Ahmediyya Muslim Jamaat is trying to register as a religious group in Bosnia, and have already registered their own masjid in Sarajevo. They are in the Diaspora even more active since the Ahmadiyya in the EU have a strong and developed network of the Jamaats. Only in Germany they now have 25 mosques built with plans in the near future to build 100 mosques only in this European country in order to spread his teachings in it. In other parts of the world, where the Ahmadiyya act, often are recorded conflicts between them and the followers of traditional Islamic teachings, even Ahmadiyya are called on Islam, their doctrine most of the traditional Muslim authority consider opposite to fundamental principles of Islam. Ahmadiyya, were founded in India 1889th by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) from Kadijana – which is why the followers of this sect is also called Qadianis.

What most resent Muslim authorities criticize the Ahmadiyya is their teaching that Mirza Ghulam is in fact prophet and that Prophet Muhammad is not the last prophet what is one of the fundamental teachings of Islam. The same case is with modified teaching that Mirza Ghulam is expected Mahdi and that “the soul of Jesus and Muhammad are appeared in the form of a man and this man is Ahmed Mirza,” what often creates tensions within the Muslim communities around the world from Indonesia to Western Europe.

Besides the Ahmadiyya, in BiH, the other organization appeared named Behaija who, however did not act under the name of their sect but rather through the projects aimed at bringing peace through the current education system in BiH. It should be noted that the Ahmadiyya and BEHAIJA advocate for peace dimension of Islam.

As for the Shia influence, which is also another challenge for the BH Muslims, in the contest of preventing invasion of counterproductive ideology (sectarian, revisionist, and those that promote the politicization of religion and ideological interpretation of Islam) and in terms of revealing one for the Muslim religious circles long time unknown culture and civilization, there would experience of the Muslim world in which the interaction of Shiites and Sunnis is historical reality be useful. In addition to numerous state institutions and projects supported by the Iranian government there is a large number of nongovernmental pro-Shia organizations among Bosnian Muslims who are trying to spread Shiite teachings and their own vision of Islamic history, especially the first period of division within the Muslim com munity which led to the emergence of Sunnism and Shiism. Bosnian Muslims, perhaps with the reason show they concern and because of these proselytic actions of some Shiite organizations especially because of the traumatic experience of bloody Sunni-Shiite conflict in history.

In this context we should not neglect activities of various Islamist movements, and educational institutions based in Turkey who for period of time play a very important role in the organization of religious life among some Muslim communities in Southeast Europe, and whose presence in BiH is getting stronger, such as numerous neo-Nakshibendi Tarika, Nurji, Sulejmanji or followers of Fethullaha Gulen. There are also Muslim Brotherhood, Tahriries, Tabligies, neo-Muteziles, modified Sufi Tarika who have their sheikh from Malaysia to Cyprus, as well as modernist with various backgrounds and teachings that is rarely written about them, and whose views are rarely analyzed because the focus of the public is kept only on those movements that represent a security challenge, or whom by their teachings and actions are questioning the legal system and constitutional order of the state.

Emir Hadzikadunic

About Emir Hadzikadunic

Emir Hadzikadunic completed interdisciplinary postgraduate program in Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Sarajevo / University of Bologna in 2002., undergraduate program in Communications at the IIUM in Kuala Lumpur in 1997. Obtained additional academic training at College of Europe Bruges, Belgium; San Pablo CEU University Madrid, Spain; Danish School of Public Administration Copenhagen, Denmark; and Diplomatic Academy Dubrovnik, Croatia. Currently PhD candidate at the International University of Sarajevo (2013-2016). Published two books: Zašto Iran (in English: Why Iran), by the Center for Advanced Studies, Sarajevo in 2013 and Od Dejtona do Brisela (in English: From Dayton to Brussels), by the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, Sarajevo in 2005. Additionally published chapter in books, academic journal articles and media outlets on Middle East, Political Culture in B&H and European Integration. Lectured at the International University of Sarajevo, Media Plan institute, London School of Public Relations / implemented by SPEM Komunikacijskas kupina from Maribor and Multilateral Academy. Served as Ambassador of B&H to IR of Iran from 2010-2013. Currently working as the Secretary General at the International University of Sarajevo.