The Mufti's Funeral
by Anna Husarska
He was a living symbol of the multi-ethnic Bosnia. His death sparked ethnic hostility that symbolizes the divided Bosnia.
Ibrahim Halilovic, the mufti of Banja Luka, leader of the decimated Muslim
community of Republika Srpska, died last month at age 52 of a heart attack. His
death provoked pain in some quarters and, not entirely surprisingly, shameful
behaviour by some Bosnian Serbs.
Following an appeal by the supposedly moderate Serb Party of Posavina and
Krajina, about 1,000 Bosnian Serbs gathered on the grounds of what was once Banja Luka's central mosque to prevent the mufti's burial there.
It is tragically ironic that the death of this gentle and soft-spoken man, who
had dedicated himself to preserving a multi-ethnic Bosnia, provoked such a display of ethnic intolerance.
The demonstration followed a familiar pattern: the Serbian flag was hoisted;
loudspeakers blasted nationalist Serbian songs; the mob chanted, 'We won't give
up Serb land'; a UN policeman and another international officer were attacked;
Bosnian Serb police prevented 10 buses of Muslims from coming to what the
believers had hoped would be the mufti's funeral; three journalists were roughed
up, and two cameras were smashed.
It brought out the worst in a small group of fanatics and failed to bring out
the best in Banja Lukans or in the Republika Srpska authorities, who did not so
much as squeak in protest or in shame.
Mufti Halilovic stayed in Banja Luka throughout the Serbian ethnic cleansing
that decimated his flock. At the beginning of the war, in 1992, he organized humanitarian aid. He helped those who wanted to leave and those who decided to
stay. Only two imams remained in Republika Srpska, six were murdered and almost
200 were expelled.
In May 1993 the Bosnian Serbs blew up Mufti Halilovic's beloved Ferhadija
mosque. The other 207 mosques in Serb-controlled Bosnia, of which 16 were in
Banja Luka, were either burned to the grounds or blown up by the Bosnian Serbs.
The postwar Republika Srpska is a Muslim-unfriendly place. Political violence
continues, with expulsions and intimidation. Of the 220,000 Muslims in Mufti
Halilovic's congregation, only 14,000 remain. The mufti stayed on to protect
them, fighting untiringly for religious tolerance and reconciliation. Recently
his battle was to obtain permission to rebuild the Ferhadija mosque.
This spring the Serb mayor of Banja Luka announced that reconstruction of the
mosque 'would be perceived by Serbs as the darkest humiliation, which would open
up old wounds and bring far-reaching consequences.'
Mufti Halilovic was saddeÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
ned but determined. He was convinced that reconstruction of the mosque and his presence were a sine qua non for the return of the
Muslim refugees to Banja Luka.
The mufti, always respectful of Bosnian Muslim tradition, wanted to be buried on
the grounds belonging to the Islamic community, where the Ferhadija mosque once
stood. This was made impossible by some of his neighbours, and he was buried in
Apart from the human tragedy this represents and the moral shame that it brings
to the Banja Lukans who allowed a group of thugs to impose their will - and to
the international community, which has troops on the ground and could have offered protection - there is a political lesson to be drawn. The presumably
peace-loving, Dayton-agreement-supporting and multi-ethnicity-favouring authori-
ties of Republika Srpska - Milorad Dodik and Biljana Plavsic - were either
unwilling or unable to show a minimum of humanity and stop the rule of the mob.
This does not bode well for democracy's chances in the Bosnian elections, scheduled for 12 and 13 September.
This story of his funeral would have broken the mufti's heart.
The writer, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, contributed
this comment to the International Herald Tribune, 13 August 1998.