The Spiritual Treasures of Bosnia: Old Mosques in Old Town Sarajevo and Beyond
The old mosques of Bosnia are jewels of Islamic heritage that had to be gathered in one post to be seen and admired together! I am enjoying learning more and more about them, and it’s a pleasure to share what I know with you here! If you have further insights, please don’t hesitate to add it in the comments so we can all learn and grow together.
One of the first aspects that I noticed with the Bosnian mosque architecture, is the connection to the Ottoman legacy. The old Ottoman mosques in Turkey dazzle with the grandeur of their high spacious domes, exquisite workmanship in their windows, doors, and medallions that usually have the name of God Mohammad peace and blessings be upon him and the caliphs. Masterful calligraphy of choice Quranic verses or Hadith serve as reminders of what is real and what is illusion; what matters and what is mere distraction in this world we are passing through towards our final destination hopefully towards God’s beautiful acceptance of us and our choices.
The Bosnian mosques have these same design traits, but they also have an extra special touch with the addition of Bosnian wood as an element to bring in the warmth of nature that is so abundant in the beautiful country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ma sha Allah. Even their unique, plump masbaha/prayer beads are made from Bosnian wood and have captured my heart. Another unique aspect of the mosque grounds is the turbes/graves of the important shuyukh/scholars, some who led prayers at the mosque or were important pious people in the community. It’s something to see graves and to be reminded of the imminence of death and what one really takes to the grave with them. What is also so special about these mosques is that each one has a story that brings together the history of Islam in Bosnia and of the war. It was such an honor and a blessing to go on the tour with the Cambridge Muslim College (CMC) and have the privilege of being welcomed by the imam of each mosque we visited and told the story of that mosque and its city.
The heart will always lean towards some things more than others for known or unknown reasons and my heart resonated deeply with a few. The war mosque was definitely one that made my heart flutter, as it’s made of all wood and nestled on the lush and Green Igman Mountain, which was the only way to leave Sarajevo during the siege until the tunnel was built. Quite amazingly, its mezzanine women’s prayer area was used as an operating room, we were told by its incredibly humane giant imam who led the mosque throughout the war.
Two other mosques that I fell in love with, were the tobacco and the tannery mosques in both Sarajevo and Mostar respectively. There are two opposing tales to why they were built which probably makes the truth a bit of both. The smell that stays with the clothes and skin of those who work with leather and tobacco is so strong that people don’t like to pray with that smell around them and the workers didn’t want to bother others with the smell. So, of course, they had their own separate mosques. They are humble mosques, which makes sense, so it’s not their outer beauty that drew me in but their energy and concept. The tobacco mosque in Sarajevo is also known for having excellent circles for youth. Anyone who is involved in faith work knows that inspiring the youth is one of the trickiest things to do successfully and I felt it was God’s blessing on this small nondescript mosque, to honor those who did the hard work to serve others and stayed to themselves at prayer times. It’s also the mosque that collects food and school supplies. Now that is a mosque filled with light upon light of worship and service.
The next mosque that stood out for me was the Sherifudin White Mosque as it deservedly won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983. Not only is it just so beautifully zen and minimalistic inside, with just the right touches of wood as warmth and color amidst expanses of white stone. But, the concept behind it is what wows even further. It was built upon the idea of the cave that hid the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him and his companion Abu Bakr during the Hijra from Mecca to Medina. This was such an important event for Islam that Muslims date their lunar calendar based on it. So to one side of the ceiling there is a cobweb made of wood just like the cobweb that formed over the cave where the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him and his companion Abu Bakr, stayed safely as a miracle of God’s care to throw the people of Mecca off their trail and intent to kill the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him. The whole feel is of a cave and to compliment the idea of the cave, the Khoulwa Zawiyah/ alone meditation room is accessed through a set of stairs to evoke the sense of spiritual ascension that comes with the act the intention and the act of contemplation and worship. So inspiring, isn’t it!
Another one was the Hajji Alija Mosque. It’s off-white stone with colored windows and gorgeous writing over the Mihrab/The direction of prayer, was just breathtaking. Let alone the green curvy stepped climb, to it, peppered with street vendors along the way.
One last one that again looks so nondescript from the outside, but is beautiful on the inside is Cekrekcijina Mosque. It’s so sweet and delicate inside with its gorgeous pastel wall drawings of vegetal designs that evoke a garden. It may very well be meant to evoke The Garden in Heaven. It’s the mosque that has the oldest waqf/ deed endowment in Sarajevo.
Basically, each mosque is a jewel, revealing one more piece of the puzzle in Bosnia’s journey of faith. Last but by no means least, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Husrev Beg Mosque, as it’s the biggest size-wise and is just so elegant and beautiful on the inside. There are so many details to marvel at, that open and disarm the heart in awe of the beauty of this special place of worship.
Now, I will leave you to read and look through the information and images of these mosques and more. From Sarajevo and beyond with love. This is the last of my series of posts on Bosnia, but I will write on it again as we have just scratched the surface of the gems of Bosnia.
Old Mosques of Old Town Sarajevo
To the gaurdian of Bascarjia Mosque for generously sharing photos that he had of the mosque as it was closed for renovations.