When one thinks of Bosnia, one of the most important things about it is that it survived such a vicious and violent war with people who were part of its own fabric of society, and even nation at some point. It is something that I think of often and find it is so sobering to contemplate, that your own neighbor turns on you, to the point of torture, rape and mass killings in the blink of an eye based on religious divide and long ago historical events of not forgotten, nor forgiven violence.
It is shocking to realize that this mass turmoil was sparked by one man, the convicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. He incited anger for the past and prejudice for the future, in order to realize his greedy aspirations for a Greater Serbia, a desire that would only be possible through destruction.
I decided that it was appropriate to start speaking of Bosnia by remembering those who have passed away and standing in solidarity with those who have survived with their faith and their humanity beautifully intact. Yes, the Bosniaks (what Bosnian Muslims like to call themselves) have their idiosyncrasies of sometimes a serious bedside manner, but on the whole there’s a gentle, earnest, open and hospitable way about them. Both their painful past and their beautiful character despite or because of their experiences made me feel such kinship and love for them right from the start. And, there is a lot to fall in love with as you will see in the coming posts about Bosnia between culture, nature, architecture, faith and food.
The good ways of understanding what a people have gone through were all there and I was lucky that my first visit to Bosnia was through a program with Cambridge Muslim College (CMC). I got to hear excellent lectures on the history and hear the imams of important mosques speak of the past and present, and see important exhibits. Not to mention, the excellent reading list that CMC provided.
Then, on my second visit, Holiday Bosnia and its founder, Kamraan saw that my interest went deep, so he introduced me to a friend of his and his wife, delightful Edin and Amina. Through them I got my fill of history and the Bosnian way of life, but in addition, I got precious time with their family and friends. We also did some service for single mothers of abused backgrounds who have as much as seven precious kids to take care of. I am so grateful that my introduction to this special country and people was in such an immersive, thoughtful and personal way.
This time I want to speak of the museums in Sarajevo, as the city is filled with them. Each is small, but well formed, and acts as a piece of a puzzle to give you glimpses into a culture and a history so rich and precious.
The first and most sobering one I want to talk about is Galerija 11/07/1995 and it’s permanent Srebrenica exhibition. It is an exhibit that tells the harrowing story of the almost 8000 Bosniaks that were killed over a week in Srebrenica while under the protection of the Dutch UN representatives. Heartbreaking to contemplate, this was such a disturbing dose of reality on so many levels. Tarik Samarah’s photographs and a powerful documentary are a permanent reminder of what happened. I recently learned that there is a walk that happens in solidarity with those who lost their lives and those who were left behind to mourn of relatives and loved ones. Those stuck during those days had only one way out through the forest and mountains, but even then Serbs were lurking and mass graves were found all along the way. My intention is to accept the invitation from my new sister Dzevada and do the walk with her. I will do it for all those who left us and are in a better place, and as a voice of love and honor for those left behind, patient, and grieving. I pray that they stand strong in their faith and belief that there is a better place, and that their loved ones are in it and in sha Allah they will all be meeting there where there is just peace and no goodbyes.
The second museum that is just as sobering, but in a different way is the War Childhood Museum. It’s another tiny one close to the Sarajevo old town , of course up a hill (Sarajevo is in a valley and is renowned for its almost vertical streets as you ascend anywhere outside of the town center)! Its concept has evolved from a book that was documenting the memories of those who lived their childhood, or still do, under war. It’s a blatant and powerful eye opener to what it means for children to go through war. I liked that I saw concrete examples of how war harms childhood and of course I was in awe of how children survive with their sense of hope and humanity intact. It was touching to see that they had dedicated part of the exhibit to memories of kids from Syria, living through a crisis that is still ongoing.
The third museum draws just as strong a picture of the darker side of human nature but in the same stroke, true to its name, gives the spark of light and promise to survive beautifully; the Tunnel of Hope. Sarajevo lived through 1,425 days of siege. From May 1992, Sarajevo airport was included in a Sarajevo security zone, but following Serb demands, it was only opened to UN airlifts. Bosniaks desperately still trying to find ways to get necessary food or medicine for the survival of their loved ones, would attempt to run through the airport’s grounds, but as they did, light would be shed on them and Serb snipers would shoot at them. The only way to bypass the siege was through Igman Mountain, tough as it was, but what to do. Then the idea for the Tunnel came and there was a brave and loyal family who gave up their home for a tunnel to be built. The story and the details you will read in the section about the Tunnel are incredible testaments to the tenacity of the human spirit, but also the benevolence of a Merciful Just God. One story reflecting that Mercy is how the tobacco factory acted like a bank during the siege, and cigarettes as currency because physical money was running out. Even soldiers were paid in cigarettes. The miracle also lay in that the raw materials needed to make the cigarettes also lasted the duration of the war, as I was told.
EXPLORE Gallery 11/07/95
Gallery 11/07/95 is the first memorial gallery in Bosnia and Herzegovina – an exhibition space aiming to preserve the memory of the Srebrenica tragedy and the 8372 persons who perished in the massacres. The permanent exhibition provides documentary scenes of what was left of Srebrenica in the wake of this genocide. Through a wide range of multimedia content – images, maps, audio and video materials, the Gallery offers documentary and artistic interpretation of the events that took place in this small town in Eastern Bosnia during the month of July 1995.
UNCOVER the War Childhood Museum
Rising from the crowd-sourced book War Childhood and championing the principles and practices of social entrepreneurship, the independent, youth-led War Childhood Museum has garnered recognition as the world’s only museum focused exclusively on childhoods that have been affected by war.
Through its unique platform, the WCM is able to tackle trauma at an individual level for both participants, whose personal stories and objects comprise the museum’s collection, and visitors – ultimately contributing to greater understanding for society on whole.
FOLLOW the Tunnel of Hope
The Sarajevo Tunnel, also known as Tunel Spasa and Tunnel of Hope, was a tunnel constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations.
JOIN the Srebrenica March for Peace
Each year, thousands march in Bosnia-Herzegovina to remember Bosnian Muslims killed and displaced in the 1995 massacre in the town of Srebrenica. The three-day, 68-kilometer Peace March begins from the eastern town of Nezuk and concludes at the memorial to the victims in Potocari. In July 1995, some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb troops in the worst mass killing on European soil since World War II. If you would like to show your support for what happened in Srebenica and join together to ensure it doesn't happen again, you can find all the details on these websites.
LEARN more about Cambridge Muslim College Tours
Approved by The Open University to "Train the Next Generation of Muslim Thinkers", the Cambridge Muslim College tour to Bosnia includes visits to:
Baščaršija area including the National Library, Sebilj Fountain, Baščaršija Mosque, Ferhadija, Old Orthodox Church, Morića Han, Gazi-Husrevbey Madrasa
The Spring of the river Bosna (Vrelo Bosne)
Olympic mountain Bjelasnica
Mostar Old Bridge
Alija Izetbegovic Museum
Colored (Sulejmania) Mosque
ENJOY with Holiday Bosnia
Holiday Bosnia is a Tour Operator and Destination Management Company specialising in unique experiences in Bosnia- Herzegovina. They believe that the sophisticated, educated and socially aware traveler of today wants a more meaningful holiday experience than just being a tourist who is ‘passing through’. For this reason, their tours are unique and tailored to meet the individual needs of every visitor or group. No two tours they offer are the same.