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Islamic Schools in the Balkans - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Sarajevo, Asharq Al-Awsat- With September comes the preparation of millions of students all over the world to return to school. Among these are the thousands of students of Islamic schools in the Balkans, the number of which is estimated at 10 thousand students, in addition to thousands of pupils at state schools, learning circles and the councils for memorization of The Holy Quran.

Students return to these Islamic schools amidst somewhat difficult circumstances due to the international blame that is placed upon these institutions with accusations of inciting and supporting terrorism. Supervisors of these schools confirm that, &#34these accusations are merely impressions dictated by the cultural and religious differences, as well as superficial readings of those who seek revenge,&#34 which the scholar Abu Hamed Al-Ghazali calls &#34blind accusations&#34. In fact, the Islamic schools suffer, as the case is in Macedonia and Serbia according to officials. In addition, these schools &#34played a basic part in preserving the identity of Muslims who represent a minority in an ocean of animosity that has continued for centuries.&#34

The supervisors of Islamic schools in Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Albania relate the methods of organized destruction, with which Islamic schools were confronted, from the consecutive regimes during the first ninety years of the previous century. Muharram Omardic, responsible for the Islamic schools affiliated to the Islamic Authority in Bosnia, emphasizes to Asharq Al-Awsat, &#34During the communist era, only 10 people in Bosnia knew the Qur”an off by heart. Today, we have 160 hafids (memorizers of the Holy Qur”an), and this number will increase in the future. We have eight Islamic secondary schools, six of which are in Bosnia, one in Croatia, and another in Sinj.

There are 1600 students in these schools receiving an outstanding education in other fields besides Islamic education. Islamic schools have an enhanced curriculum and distinguished students, which is why only successful students can enroll there.&#34 When questioned whether Islamic school graduates are allowed to join other colleges, Omardic replied, &#34not only do they join other colleges, but they excel and achieve the highest grades there, especially in the faculty of medicine, due to their experience and knowledge gained from Islamic schooling. Our students study in over 20 universities around Bosnia, as well as around the world. Their results confirm that they are the best, owing to the syllabuses followed and the level of education they received in the Islamic schools. Many have also gained awards for their achievements from their universities.&#34

Omardic further explains that, &#34Our students are also sent to study in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, USA, Libya, Malaysia, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan as well as European countries. At the school, we teach five languages: Bosnian, Arabic, Turkish, Latin, and English in addition to mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and history. Of course, we also teach Islamic Law, Islamic studies, Islamic history, Quran, Hadith (narration about the Prophet Mohamed”s life) and the interpretation of The Quran.

A noticeable change occurred however between the Ottoman era and the post-independence phase, including the imperial stages of Austria and Yugoslavia, in which there had existed 42 schools and only 50 teachers. Commenting on this point Omardic said, &#34It is true that there were a large number of education institutions during the era of the Ottoman Empire. Almost every city had a school. In Sarajevo for example there was a school called Dar Al-Hadith. The curriculums were not unified so that every school would select its program according to its specialization. There were schools for studying Hadith, others for studying The Quran, and others from which legal judges graduated. During the Austrian colonization of Bosnia, the number of schools was limited. Then, with the arrival of the Serbs, a significant number of the schools were closed down. Later, the communists closed down all schools except one named Al-Ghazi Khasro Beik in Sarajevo. After independence, between 1992 and 1995, six schools were established in Bosnia, however a new law came into practice that would prohibit anyone to become an Imam unless they had graduated from the Islamic college.&#34

Omardic further emphasized that there is no place for extremism within the curriculums of Islamic schools whether in Bosnia or in the Balkans. For example, an Islamic school in the Balkans had requested that a young girl who wore the face veil remove it, and to retain the ordinary veil otherwise she would be removed from the school. This request was made due to the fear of being accused of supporting terrorism. Paradoxically, the girl moved to a public school and kept her full veil there. In Bosnia, there is also the Islamic college in Sarajevo, the Islamic Academy in Bihac, and the Pedagogic Academy in Zenica.

In Croatia, the beginning of this academic semester witnessed the opening ceremony of an Islamic college, which adds to the Islamic school in the capital Zagreb, where more than 300 thousand Croatian Muslims live as well as other Muslim residents. The Islamic schools have over 300 students. Furthermore, over 5000 students take part in Islamic classes in public schools and participate in study circles at the weekends at the local mosques. There are approximately seventy mosques in Croatia as the General Mufti (authority on religious ruling) Sevko Omerbasic told Asharq Al-Awsat.

&#34Veiled girls at Islamic schools had been subject to several forms of harassment by Croats, but the phenomenon disappeared after it became a crime punishable by law.&#34 The media, however, from time to time raises the issue of terrorism with an implicit reference to Muslim students.&#34

In Macedonia, there is Is”haq Beik Secondary School and the Islamic Studies College. There, Islamic educational establishments as well as the 500 mosques, encompass over 700 cadres of teachers and administration staff. However, Sheikh Nejadi Effat Limani, the Mufti of Macedonia, had previously informed Asharq Al-Awsat that, &#34Issa Beik School as well as another 100 Islamic schools for memorization of the Quran were threatened with closure due to limited resources. In Albania, there is only one school after Kuwaiti authorities had built an Islamic school that was closed down as soon as accusations were made that it sought to incite terrorism. There is another Islamic school in Sarajevo attended by hundreds of students.&#34

In Serbian Sinj, there is an Islamic school that is supervised by the Mufti of the city, Sheikh Omar Zokarlic, which keeps approximately 300 students. Muslims in Belgrade, under the supervision Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic, are seeking to build an Islamic school in their city. In Montenegro, under the supervision of the young Mufti Refat Fejzic, Muslims succeeded in building an Islamic school. The number of Muslims in Serbia and Montenegro excluding Kosovo is approximately one million.

In Bulgaria, the secluded village of Saranic in southern Rodebes Mountains of the Tosbat Toy region holds 4 thousand inhabitants. Three Islamic schools had been founded there several years ago to support the Islamic identity of the region. The project was supervised by Said Moklo and Abdullah Sali, two graduates of Saudi Arabian universities, however, &#34they were not spared the biased accusations of terrorism&#34 said Mufti Salim Mohammed. &#34As well as looking after the Muslim youth and teaching them the principles of Islam, its history and its culture, these schools provide courses for Muslim women who were deprived of learning about their religion during the dark communist era,&#34 the Mufti said. Muslims of different age groups and both sexes take part in the educational courses.

Nevertheless, &#34some aspects of fanatical Bulgarian media continue to instigate ill feelings towards these schools by claiming that such institutions graduate fundamentalists.&#34 Fatima Tchochev says, &#34They are still provoking hatred against us and accusing us of the crimes that they commit. They called my neighbor &#34Taliban&#34 because she wears the veil.&#34 Another woman who did not wish to reveal her name said, &#34We are supposed to be living in a free democratic country. Terrorists are those who prevent us from wearing a veil over our heads.&#34

In Hungary, there are over 20 thousand Muslims living, most of whom have come from the Arab world especially Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. Many are merchants, students and academics. This limited presence, of no more than two out of 1000 inhabitants, is an intricate extension of one thousand years of Islamic presence in Hungary. There is evidence to prove that a thousand years ago, there existed 30 Muslim villages as part of the Ottoman Empire during the middle of the second millennium AD, which stood as a promising and advanced feature for the Islamic world in the heart of Europe.

Although they do not have schools in the familiar form, they have built private schools to teach their children the principles of Islam and how to memorize the Quran. Today, twenty thousand Muslims in Hungary express deep sadness over the destruction of tens of mosques, schools and Islamic sites in the country, which were burnt, destroyed or demolished after 1686. On the other hand, in recent years an important point has been made by adding the remaining sites to the list of historic establishments preserved from ruin according to law. Muslims maintain the hope that the preservation of these sites shall restore their normal position, important for life in the shades of religious freedom and democratic atmospheres.