Mustafa Ceric, the head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, appealed Tuesday to Belgrade to take greater responsibility in ensuring that human rights are guaranteed for all citizens.
At a central gathering in Novi Pazar he said human and religious rights of Muslims in Serbia are being violated and emphasised that this has to change.
“This is a message to Belgrade to think it through and take responsibility, to provide human rights and democracy to all of its citizens. We do not ask for more nor less than others,” said Ceric, at the ceremony organised for the academy of high school graduates of Gazi Isa-beg madrasah in Novi Pazar.
His comments come after Serbia’s police banned a public gathering Monday night in the central square of the town of Tutin, which was to greet Ceric upon his arrival from Bosnia, citing security threats.
Instead the meeting was held in the harem of the central mosque.
At the same time, Ceric criticised Sarajevo’s “stepmotherly” behavior toward Sandžak’s Bosniaks, saying that Sarajevo acts as if it does not care to what happens to Bosniaks elsewhere. “Sarajevo must not be selfish,” he said.
At the beginning of the Ceric’s address, a fatiha (prayer) was said for 50 shehids (warriors) from Sjenica and other citizens of Sandzak who were killed in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The meeting sent out the message that Sarajevo is the spiritual centre of Muslims from Sandzak.
The main mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia Muamer Zukorlic said he was pleased to see so many people there, and complemented them on their decorum, alluding to the large number of police gathered in the town.
He echoed Ceric’s statements, and reminded the authorities in Belgrade that Bosniaks are a constructive and not destructive people.
Before Ceric’s arrival, Tutin’s municipal council and city assembly decided to ban religious gatherings outside religious buildings and in public spaces until further notice.
They were concerned about the potential security risk arising out of the deep divisions between Serbia’s two Muslim communities: the supporters of the main mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia Muamer Zukorlic and supporters of reis-ul-ulema of the Islamic Community of Serbia Adem Zilkic.
The divisions among Muslims in Sandzak began in 2007, when two Islamic communities were formed.
The Islamic Community in Serbia led by Zukorlic considers their supreme leader to be Ceric, and Sarajevo the spiritual centre for the Sandzak Muslims.
The Islamic Community of Serbia was formed a couple of months earlier and is Belgrade-centred. They elected Zilkic as their supreme leaders Zilkic, who was the earlier religious officer of the Meshihat led by Zukorlic.
Zilkic’s Islamic Community of Serbia had earlier sent a letter to the Rijaset of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina protesting against Ceric’s visit.
The letter said that by participating at the Uniting Assembly of the Islamic Community in Novi Pazar in March 2007, Ceric contributed to further divisions among believers.
“That is why we think that the visit and public speech of the Bosnian reis Mustafa Ceric is not welcome in Sandzak, and that it is not in the interest of peace among believers, as well as that it can only have negative consequences,” said the letter.
Since the forming of the two Islamic communities in Sandzak, there have been frequent incidents, primarily due to efforts by both religious leaders to take control of mosques and property.
In an incident in front of the Altun-alem mosque in November 2007, a policeman was hurt. Police have frequently tried to prevent conflicts, which is why religious buildings have often been guarded by them.
The latest incident happened on Friday night, when Zilkic’s close associate Mustafa Makic was hurt in Sjenica.
In Tutin last year, two persons were wounded from a firearm.