KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 9 April 2001

BOSNIA: BANJA LUKA'S FERHADIJA MOSQUE TO BE REBUILT
FIRST. After years of foot-dragging, the urban planning department of the
town of Banja Luka in Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia and
Herzegovina) has agreed that the Ferhadija (Ferhad Pasha's Mosque) should
be rebuilt. The Republika Srpska religion minister told Keston News Service
that the Bosnian Serb authorities would respect freedom of religion for all.
However, there are 5,500 Muslims in Banja Luka, and no plans to rebuild
any of the other mosques destroyed there during the war.

BOSNIA: BANJA LUKA'S FERHADIJA MOSQUE TO BE REBUILT
FIRST

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

After years of foot-dragging, the urban planning department of the town of
Banja Luka in Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia and
Herzegovina) agreed on 19 March to issue a permit for the re-building of
Ferhadija (Ferhad Pasha's Mosque) in the city centre. Consent was given
eighteen months after the House of the Nations court ruled in favour of the
local Islamic Faith Community, but the Republika Srpska religion minister
dismissed the delay. `It is true that a year and a half has passed since the
court made its decision,' Dusan Antalj told Keston from Banja Luka by
telephone on 6 April, `but it was not easy to complete all the necessary
steps.' He pledged that the Bosnian Serb authorities would respect freedom
of religion for all. However, none of the other more than a dozen mosques
destroyed in the town during the war are likely to be rebuilt soon.

Serb nationalists levelled Ferhadija to the ground with a massive explosion
on 7 May 1993 in the middle of the 1992-5 Bosnian war, despite the fact that
no fighting took place in the town. In 1996 the town authorities bulldozed
the surrounding buildings belonging to the Islamic community. With no
mosque, the town's 5,500 Muslims currently have to meet for prayer in the
old house of the mufti.

Banja Luka's mufti, Edhem Camdzic, believes it will be possible to begin
ground works on 7 May, the eighth anniversary of the old mosque's
destruction, but is not certain of funding. `Help has been promised by
UNESCO, the Saudi Committee, humanitarian organisations and also the
Republika Srpska government. [Bosnian Serb] Prime minister Mladen Ivanic
has promised concrete help to the Islamic Faith Community,' Mufti Camdzic
told the Bosnian news agency Srna. `These moves are very much needed for
us to live again in multiethnic Bosnia, as it was for centuries. I am convinced
Ferhadija will play its role in this.'

Bosnia's top human rights court ruled in June 1999 that the Banja Luka
authorities should allow the reconstruction of seven of 15 mosques destroyed
there in 1992 and 1993, but the authorities failed to comply. Last November
the town authorities allowed the community to use the Ferhadija site, but
refused rebuilding permission for a mosque of the same size as the original.

The urban planning department announced that the new mosque should be
no taller than 18.2 metres (60 feet). `The new mosque will be an exact
replica of the old one,' Antalj insisted. `Ferhadija was a cultural and
historical monument of the highest importance and, as such, it will be
restored.' He linked the reconstruction to similar projects to rebuild the
Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Zitomislic near Mostar and the Roman
Catholic Church in Derventa. `They were all destroyed and all will be
restored to their previous condition. Now we have mutual agreement and
political will, the actual tempo of rebuilding these sacral objects will depend
only on the financial abilities of the religious communities.'

However, Banja Luka's Muslims have one last hurdle to overcome. `We still
require the Islamic Faith Community to submit the proper construction plans
for final approval to the town's urban department, and also to ensure that
Ferhadija will be reconstructed properly.' Antalj would not commit himself
to the rebuilding of other destroyed communal buildings on the site,
including several Turkish-style small mausoleums (turbe). `As to the other
buildings that existed on the site until 1993, I think we will have to wait a
little bit longer to see them again.'

He did not believe the town's majority Serbian population would obstruct the
mosque's reconstruction. `I do not anticipate any problems with the
population, though this remains to be seen. We will do our best to respect the
freedom of religious practice of all of our citizens according to our
constitutional requirements and rights.'

The old Ferhadija was built in 1579 by Serbian masons from Dubrovnik and
Split, who were executed after the building was completed at the order of
Ferhad Pasha, the first Bosnian pasha under Ottoman rule. It is said he did
not want them to build anything of such beauty again. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.