The project to reconstruct the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka is a sign of hope for us all, for Muslims, Christians and Jews and all who honour God’s name.
The Ferhadija Mosque was dynamited and completely destroyed on May 7th 1993. The stones were taken away and dumped. The destruction of the Ferhadija was part of a well planned programme of ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia. In Banja Luka all 16 mosques were destroyed. But the Ferhadija built in 1579 was the jewel of them all. Nearly the whole of the Muslim population was driven out. The intention was to eliminate every trace of Islam as if it had never existed – people, mosques, graveyards, business premises, fountains, watch towers.
The Soul of Europe discovered all this on our visit to Banja Luka in 2000. We promised Mufti Camdzic we would do all we could to help reconstruct the mosque exactly as it was: an intimate, elegant building, richly decorated and loved by all the people of Banja Luka, Catholics, Orthodox as well as Muslims.
The Soul of Europe is a small Christian organization. We are not missionaries. We are not an aid agency. We are ‘brokers’ bringing people together who wish to work together for the common good.
We quickly discovered the depth of animosity between the Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The war ended in 1995, but there were no victors. Helping Bosnia function as one nation is an uphill task.
We invited senior politicians, religious leaders, teachers, business people, the mayor of Banja Luka, and members of his cabinet to the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. It took a year to persuade them to come, understandably since no one knew who we were and trust of foreigners was and still is in short supply. But they came.
From that meeting in September 2001 has followed a string of initiatives: a Civic Forum to breathe life into politics and also particular projects with the Orthodox and Catholic communities.
But the Ferhadija is our main project. Since 9/11 the world needs imaginative, symbolic actions which prove that it is possible for Muslims and Christians to work together, to discover common ground and build bridges of understanding and appreciation. The project to reconstruct the Ferhadija is one such activity. There need to be many others.
We are setting up Ferhadija Associations across Europe. Each association promises to support both the project to reconstruct the Ferhadija and also to work together on local and regional projects. So the Ferhadija becomes an emblem of what could be. The project costs 3 million pounds. A substantial part of this funding will, so it is anticipated, come from Qatar. But as the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Dr Mustafa Ceric has said: ‘One pound, one euro, is worth more than a thousand dinars,’ – because the Ferhadija is as much as anything a European Christian and Muslim project.