One day stands out among all our activities over the past year. On the 29th October we returned to Banja Luka and saw the Ferhadija Mosque now reconstructed as it was in 1579. It came as a touching surprise to see first of all the slender graceful one hundred and fifty foot high minaret as we approached the city centre.
The Ferhadija Mosque today
To make sense of that unforgettable moment it is necessary to recall our first visit to Banja Luka fifteen years ago. After the war and the total destruction of all sixteen mosques in the city, the decimated Islamic Community was in a state of shock.
The survivors felt utterly defeated. As Edhem Camdic then mufti of Banja Luka told us:‘ I am the only mufti in the world without a mosque’. Over one thousand mosques throughout Bosnia had been vandalised, damaged or destroyed, as well as numerous Catholic churches and a smaller number of Orthodox churches.
On that first visit to Banja Luka the Soul of Europe made a solemn promise to Mufti Camdzic: ‘ We will help you rebuild the Ferhadija’.
Pasha Ferhad’s mosque, famous throughout the Balkans and a jewel of Ottoman architecture that came to be known as the Ferhadija, was demolished on the orders of the administration of the Serbian entity of Bosnia, known after the Dayton Accord as the Republika Srspka. The mosque had been designed by Sinan, or more likely one of his students. Sinan is famous for the Sulejmanija Mosque in Istanbul.
The site of the Ferhadija Mosque in 2000
Cultural Heritage without Borders, a Swedish organisation experienced in restoring Islamic buildings describes the Ferhadija as ‘one of the most important Islamic monuments in the region and of Europe. The building was a remarkable representative of the relationship between Islam and Christianity where many of its technical and spatial features are related to traditions belonging as much to the architecture of churches as to mosques‘.
According to legend when the mosque had been completed Ferhad Pasha, who commissioned it, ordered the stone masons to be locked in the minaret so they could never again make anything so beautiful. But the story goes that the stone masons made some wings and flew away. The mosque nominated a cultural heritage site under the protection of UNESCO was blown up on May 6th/7th 1993.
The destruction of the Ferhadija shocked Bosnian Serbs, because the famous mosque stood prominently at the centre of the city next to a mediaeval castle. Alexander Rovic, a Bosnian Serb, wrote: ‘We were not able to believe that the authorities would find the courage to commit such a crime…when the curfew was over we gathered round the destroyed place of worship’.
But the late Simo Drljaca, a Bosnian Serb police chief from nearby Prijedor, had declared about the Muslims in Banja Luka: ‘with their mosques, you must not just break the minarets you have got to shake up the foundations because that means they cannot build another. Do that and they will not want to stay; they will leave by themselves’.
The mufti of Banja Luka Dr Osman Koslic and the imam were waiting to greet us. Even though our direct involvement with the Ferhadija had ended some years ago, Dr Mustafa Ceric the former Grand Mufti of Bosnia said publicly many times: ‘Without the Soul of Europe there would be no Ferhadija.’
We worried that our contribution may have been forgotten. However Mufti Koslic greeted us warmly and thanked us for all we had done.
Left: Mufti Koslic, the Revd Donald Reeves and Peter Pelz in front of the Ferhadija Mosque
‘Without the Soul of Europe there would be no Ferhadija.’
The Ferhadija official website stated after our visit:
On Thursday October 29 2015 the mufti of Banja Luka Dr. Osman Kozlić received an official visit from the Revd Donald Reeves, director of the Soul of Europe in the UK.
The meeting between Mufti Kozlić and Revd Donald Reeves took place at the Ferhadija Mosque. The time was spent touring the complex of the Ferhadija. In warm friendly conversation, they exchanged experiences, gained during the construction of the Ferhadija. The guests expressed joy especially at the fact that the Ferhadija has been resurrected and its presence shines again on the banks of the River Vrbas.
Let us remind you that Revd Donald Reeves has contributed significantly to the rebuilding of the Ferhadija. This was confirmed by the visit and especially by the emotions that the Revd Reeves expressed during the visit. Mufti Kozlić also informed the distinguished visitors about the projects he is planning for Banja Luka. The visitors wished the mufti the best of luck in his future work.
At the end of the visit the mufti thanked Revd Donald Reeves for the visit and invited him to attend the opening ceremony of the Ferhadija, God willing.
Left: Interior Decoration
The Soul of Europe had made the reconstruction of the Ferhadija possible. Our contribution invigorated the project. Those who said previously the mosque could never be rebuilt, were now more confident.
Everything we did in the Balkans was designed to bring the different communities together on the long, uneven and hazardous road to some kind of reconciliation.
We brought together the entire political leadership of Bosnia together with religious leaders, business people, teachers and the mayor of Banja Luka for a three day consultation held at Coventry Cathedral in September 2001; its purpose to make reconciliation more than words. At the end the Catholic Bishop of Banja Luka, Bishop Komarica told us: ‘at least we are now neighbours’. All our activities, including rebuilding the Ferhadija Mosque, have been attempts to realise this idea of neighbourliness in a region scarred by war and ethnic cleansing.
We had more ambitious plans. As the project progressed we explored possibilities for the rebuilt Ferhadija becoming a Centre for Reconciliation. We visited interfaith groups and Muslim organisations in Helsinki, Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, Cologne, Rome, the Vatican, Assisi and even Trinidad. We made several visits to Istanbul and more to Tripoli in Libya. All expressed vague interest but preferred words to action. From the very different Muslim communities, the response was the same: ‘Let them build their own mosques’. We set up a meeting between Dr Ceric and the Prince of Wales and a network of young Muslims and non-Muslims from across the continent in the European Parliament in Brussels. The Ferhadija became the network’s flagship project.
There were many difficulties Apart from weak co-ordination between the Soul of Europe and the Muslim community in Bosnia there were unrealistic expectations that a small NGO like the Soul of Europe would one day arrive with a large cheque. We also stumbled into a fierce argument as to whether the Ferhadija should follow a Saudi design or be a replica of the original Sinan mosque.
We met opposition from local and international NGOs in Bosnia who made it clear they considered building mosques to be a waste of time. Politicians and administrators in Brussels expressed no interest. Dismissing the project as being too ‘religious’ they ignored the fact that the destruction of mosque and churches had been a potent symbol of ethnic cleansing.
Mufti Camdic told us how influential officials and ambassadors used to visit his office, listen sympathetically and then leave, offering nothing.
Left: the Ferhadija Mosque rebuilt
However the British Embassy in Sarajevo supported our intentions unreservedly. Ambassador Graham Hand and his successor Ian Cliff together with Roy Wilson who ran the British Embassy Office in Banja Luka opened doors for us to meet presidents and prime ministers. Thanks to the efforts of the British Embassy the Soul of Europe was able to persuade the Republika Srpska to make a substantial donation towards the rebuilding of the Ferhadija. Mufti Koslic told us that even now Bosnian Serbs are contributing.
The story of how we prepared the way for the rebuilding of the Ferhadija Mosque is told in Peter Pelz’s forthcoming ‘Dust’ which concludes a trilogy about our work. The first book ‘A Tender Bridge’ describes how the Soul of Europe came to be; the second book ‘The White House – From Fear to a Handshake’ recounts our attempts at building a memorial to those murdered at the killing camp at Omarska, an iron-ore mine in Bosnia owned by Arcelor Mittal.
As we left the resurrected FerhadijaMosque, Mufti Koslic invited the Soul of Europe to help set up some opportunities for dialogue. We are taking this invitation seriously. The Ferhadija can after all become a centre for reconciliation.
Left: Adnan Jabucar, Mufti Koslic and the Revd Donald Reeves by the fountain in front of the Ferhadija Mosque
We intend to visit those perpetrators in European prisons who had participated in the destruction of the Ferhadija and other Islamic buildings. We need to hear from them why they did what they did.
This newsletter is being written in the shadow of the Paris and Mali attacks. The project to rebuild the Ferhadija Mosque in an obscure region of south east Europe has been a story of collaboration between Muslim and non Muslims, in this case a Christian based organisation. It is a story of hope: that cooperating between different religions and communities is possible and necessary, so that the varied and various Muslim communities in Europe will know they are citizens of Europe – and not a minority to be mistrusted.
Jon Calame, founder of Minerva Partners, a New York company whose purpose is to show how traditional buildings help community building, worked on the reconstruction of the Mostar Bridge. In a letter to us, he wrote: ‘You are doing what the World Bank and UNESCO do not. You have invested personally and emotionally without getting buried by politics. Bosnians are good at sizing up foreign intervention, locating their Achilles heel, and your honesty and competence have kept the more cynical snipers in abeyance – amazing!’
Donald Reeves is writing a pamphlet. It is called Shove the Dove, a personal reflection on the Soul of Europe’s activities as peace builders. One question is addressed: ‘Why do you do this work, given the many obstacles you encounter?’ Martin Luther said. ‘If I knew the world was going to end tomorrow I would plant a tree.’
That’s the answer in a sentence. More about that in Shove the Dove.
Other News in Brief
1. A conference on the Future of Bosnia Herzogovina. The conference will be led by a consortium of Bosnian NGOs. The aim of the conference is to make the everyday concerns of Bosnian citizens a priority for politicians. The Soul of Europe initiated this but the lead will be taken by the consortium.
2. Mentoring. The Soul of Europe will arrange a gathering of those interested in mentoring for people working in interfaith dialogue and conflict transformation. If you would like a copy of this paper please write to us.
3. Peace-building and Bach. These presentations are proving popular. Donald speaks about his experiences as a peace-builder over the past fifteen years and plays some of Bach’s expressive Chorale Preludes. If you know of a church which would welcome this presentation please be in touch with us. Our website will give dates and venues for these presentations.
This long news letter has little space for a reflection on our year’s activities but we appreciated a conference organised by Winchester University on Arts and Peace-building with special reference to Bosnia.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this. We are grateful to those who support the Soul of Europe’s efforts, some for many years. In the light of what we have achieved people should want us to continue the work. We need to be able to cover our travel and other basic costs. If you have not already done so please consider setting up a standing order. We are a registered charity so Gift Aid is available. We are looking for a minimum of £6,000 a year. Donations can now be made on our website: www.soulofeurope.org
Please forward this newsletter to your networks.
With every good wish for Christmas and 2016
Donald Reeves and Peter Pelz
For more pictures and a film of the Ferhadija Mosque as it is now, follow this link: