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Preporod newspaper: An agent of and a witness to islamic revival in Bosnia

Islamic revival in Bosnia symbolically began with the appearance of the first issue of biweekly paper Preporod (Renaissance) in Sarajevo on September 15, 1970.[1]   That paper celebrated 25th anniversary in September 1995 in besieged capital of Bosnia.  It has been recorded that during a quarter of century of continuous appearance Preporodhas been edited by 11 successive editors. News, essays and articles written in Bosnian and submitted by more than 1,100 contributors were published and the paper reached circulation of circa 30,000 copies.[2]  .

The founder of “Preporod” was Husein Djozo (1912-1982), a leading Bosnian Muslim thinker during the period after the War World Two.  In 1970 he was the president of Association of ‘Ulama (Udruzenje ilmijje) in Bosnia.  Trying to reach out Bosnian youth and to overcome predominant concern of ‘ulama with themselves and their economic and social status, Husein Djozo decided to start publishing an Islamic paper.  In the then Bosnia, a paper could be published only by a recognised institutions. Religious communities were allowed only to publish papers devoted to the exposition of religious teachings and dissemination of news on confessional matters. The leadership of the Islamic Religious Community (Islamska vjerska zajednica), the Administration of Islamic affairs virtually under the control of Socialist state, did not feel any need to start a paper which will come out of sphere of narrowly defined devotional matters. Among the ranks of the Association of ‘Ulama there were people who realised that Islam should become relevant for social reality of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and that such move should be done in a way understandable to young generation grown in increasingly modernised society.  Preporod  from its first issue  began to address a number of topics which were out of narrowly differed “profession” of ‘ulama in a socialist country:  observance of Islamic regulations in a secular state, social engagement of Muslims, religion and education, Islam and ethnicity, contemporary trends in the Muslim world,  development of Islamic institutions in the then Bosnia and Yugoslavia and the like.   Husin Djozo as the founding editor of Preporod was assisted by a group of young Bosniak students who come mainly from state universities but were conscious that something should be done for the preservation of Bosniks’ Islamic identity.

Preporod was followed by the appearance of several more Islamic papers and magazines in the different parts of Yugoslavia: Islamska misao (Islamic Thought) in Sarajevo, El-Hilal (The Crescent) in Skopje and Edukata Islame(Islamic education) in Pristina.  Before 1970 Muslims in Bosnia and Yugoslavia only had three periodicals: Glasnik (The Herald), an official bimonthly journal published by The Supreme Islamic Authorities in Sarajevo, Zemzem (Zam-zam), a paper of the students of Gazi Husrevebegova Medresa(Madrasa al-Ghazi Khusraw Bey, established in 1537) and Takvim  (Taqwim), an almanac with Hijri calendar,  published by the Association of ‘Ulama.[3]

New papers provided the Muslims with new channels of internal communal communication: reports on rejuvenated religious life within the community and proper information about the teaching of Islam now reached the most distant Bosnian villages.  Occasionally, Preporod cautiously mentioned demands for broader religious freedom, criticised rigidity of local bureaucrats toward Muslim request for building new masjids or defended Islam and Muslims form attacks in state-sponsored media.  Doing all that Preporod  kept low profile in comparison to the Catholic Glas Koncila (The Voice of the Council)  or Serbian Orthodox papers.[4]

The circle around Preporod begun to organise promotion of the new issues of the paper in different Muslim local communities (jama’ats), lecturers on Islam, Arabic classes special programs on the celebration of famous events of Islamic history, and the like. The premises of the Association of ‘Ulama in Sarajevo became a focal point of renewed interest of Bosniak youth.  Soon, a number of Bosniak intellectuals begin to publish in Preporod, mainly using pseudonyms.

The Islamic activism expressed in the circle around Preporod draw attention of Yugoslav socialist regime.  In winter 1972 the students of Madrasa Ghazi Khusraw Bey  went on strike asking for change in curriculum and  improvement of teaching. The state and the pro-regime leadership of the Islamic Religious Community indicated Preporodas the main source of new ideological and activist trend among young Bosniaks.  In April 1972, Husin Djozo was forced, by continued pressure of government agencies and official leadership of Islamic Community, to step down.  With him, a circle of young students was enabled to continue work.[5]

The pro-government figures took control over Preporod, but in the same time Zem-zem, paper of the students of Madrasa Al-Ghazi Khusraw Bey, continued to publish articles written in the spirit of Preporodcircle.  A more dynamic approach to Islam became evident among young Bosniaks. That trend made possible for the ousted first team of the Preporod to return to public scene after several years of silence.

On April 15, 1977 after the elections in the Association of ‘Ulama, Hilmo Neimarlija, a lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Theology in Sarajevo and one of the figures of former Preporod circle, was appointed as the editor-in-chief of the paper.  That appointment coincided and, in fact, reflected increasing trend of the revitalisation of Islamic institutions in Bosnia.  Preporodregained its position among Bosniaks and virtually became the only paper of this religious and ethnic group.  Namely, the Yugoslav Socialist regime recognised the Bosniaks under name Muslimani (Muslims) as a separate ethnic group (nacija), but did not allow them to have separate cultural institutions.[6]  Therefore, Islamic Religious Community, in spite of being a confessional organisation, has acquired role of “national” institution.

Revivalist Islamic orientation of Preporodand its circle very soon was stopped by  secularist Muslim intellectuals  who enjoyed a high rank in Marxist hierarchy in Bosnia such as Hamdija Pozderac and Fuad Muhic.  In summer 1979, pro-regime writer Dervis Susic published a part of his book Parergonattacking Bosnian Muslim leaders in pre-war period and during War World Two for their pan-Islamism, collaboration with Nazies, betrayal of the Muslim masses and the like. The editor of the Preporod reacted openly contradicting to what was considered to be an “official truth”. At that point the Socialist state  decided to crash down on the Preporodcircle.  Husein Djozo and Hilmo Nemarlija were attacked in state-controlled media as “pan-Islamists”, “Muslim nationalists”, “clerics”, etc. A public attack on a person in Communist countries could mean two things: criminal prosecution or removal from the office.  In this case it ended with a removal: in November 1979 Husein Djozo was removed from the Presidency of the Association of ‘Ulama and Hilmo Neimarlia quit his post as the editor of the paper.[7]

Preporod came under the jurisdiction of Supreme Islamic Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia (Starjesinstvo Islamske zajednice u Bosni i  Hercegovini, Hrvatskoj i Sloveniji) and returned to a conformist position of non-involvement in disputes. That was justified by a  new editor as “ a program based on reality and not utopia and dreams”. [8] That orientation generally continued for a decade.

During the period 1989-1991 Preporodagain became actively involved in public debates of Muslim issues in Bosnia. But, now a new editorial team mainly included younger generation of the graduates of Madrasa Al-Ghazi Khusraw Bey, the Faculty of Islamic theology in Sarajevo and Sarajevo University. Previous editors and contributors continued sporadically to publish in Preporod. In the new editorial team focal figure was Dzemal Latic, a poet jailed for his Islamic activism by the Socialist regime after infamous trial in 1983.

A good example of the Preporodinvolvement in public debates in that time was a forum on topic “Islamic fundamentalism: what is that?” organised in winter 1990. It was first opportunity for Bosniak intellectuals to critically discuss this obscure term and its, mainly, arbitrary use. [9]

The activism of the Preporodcircle coincided with the revival of political life in Bosnia and the introduction of political pluralism. In 1990 new political parties were formed. Among the Bosniaks the only and later on the biggest party was the Democratic Action Party (Stranka demokratske akcije) lead by Alija Izetbegovic. That development opened the question of the relationship between Islamic Religious Community and a Muslim political party: possible overlapping of activities, loyalties and representation of Muslim Bosniaks, as an ethnical and a religious group.

About the same time personal changes took place in the leadership of Islamic Religious Community in Bosnia. It was  a result of internal upheavals within the community. The  breakdown of the monolit political system was followed by the eruption of dissatisfaction with similar structures in every aspect of life. In that context the Islamic Religious Community was shocked by the wave of the protest of imams. That phenomenon still has not been properly studied. Its evaluation varies from the description as a pro-democracy movement within the Islamic religious administration to its qualification as a manipulation by state security service in order to undermine the position of the part of religious leadership favourable towards pro-active Muslim role in the solution of incoming Yugoslav drama.

Tensions between Preporodcircle, which obviously became close to the Democratic  action party, and new leadership of Islamic Religious Community in Bosnia and Hercegovina lead by Salih Colakovic of Mostar, who was involved in “the movement of imams”, became visible. Consequently in March 1991 editorial staff of the paper was sacked.  Editors and journalists who left Preporod very soon started Muslimanski glas(The Muslim Voice) political weekly paper close to Democratic action party. That paper continued to express political views of the majority of the Bosniaks in the eve of war. After several month of publication in besieged Sarajevo in 1992 the paper stopped to be replaced by the Liljan (The Lily), published by some journalist of former Muslimanski glas who went to Croatia when war broke up. Toward the end of war in Bosnia the editorial office of Liljan moved to Bosnia.[10] Today Ljiljan is a weekly magazine mainly dealing with Bosniak national issues with a manifested Islamic dimension.

Meantime, new leadership of the Islamic Religious Community, after the sacking of the old editorial board of Preporod, appointed new team. That team lead published Preporod  from  March 1991 until the first month of war  in  1992.[11]

The disintegration of Yugoslavia brought about the collapse of all institutions formed on federal principle. The Islamic Religious Community of Yugoslavia resembled the federal organisation: almost in each republic there was an Islamic council (Starjesinstvo) and at federal level there was a Supreme Islamic council (Rijaset) as a religious administrative body.[12]As a consequence, when Yugoslav federation has been dissolved the federal structure of the Islamic Religious Community collapsed too. In April 1993 the Muslims of Bosnia decided to reconstruct their own religious administration within the borders of the independent state of Bosnia. That move marked an end of the legitimacy of the previous Muslim religious leadership. New leadership headed by Dr. Mustafa Ceric was elected. In the beginning he had a title naib al-rais (deputy religious head)which indicates temporary and transitory nature of the function, and later on  rais al-ulama,which is a customary title of religious leader of the Bosniaks .[13]

In June 1993 the Council of the Naib of the Islamic Community of Bosnia appointed Aziz Kadribegovic as the new editor-in-chief in charge to revive Preporod.[14]Aziz Kadribegovic, a publicist, was one of the close aides of Husein Djozo from the first years of the history of this paper. In the autumn of 1993 the Preporod  appeared in the broken windows of bookshops and courtyards of the masjids  in war-torn Bosnia. The circle of the personal and ideological changes in the orientation of this paper has been closed.

Today Preporod is regularly published by Rijaset Islamske zajednice u Bosni i Hercegovini(Riyasat of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Hercegovina).  Its address is: Preporod, Zelenih beretki 17, 71000 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina. E-mail: elkalem @bih.net.ba.

The story of the paper Preporod is a story of Islamic revival in Bosnia from 1970s until present times. It is a story of the role of newspaper in the process of revival (tajdid) and reform (islah), relationship between an Islamic activism, Islamic establishment and a state, intellectuals and politics, inner pluralism within a Muslim community and ideological struggle.

Published in Intellectual Discourse (Kuala Lumpur) 1999, Vol. 7, No.1, pp.91-97


[1]On Islamic revival in Bosnia and other Balkan countries see, Fikret Karcic, “Islamic Revival in the Balkans 1970-1992”, Islamic Studies, 36: 2, 3 (1997), 565-581.

[2] Preporod, XXVI,   no. 9 / 580 (September 1995), 4.

[3]Ahmed Smajlovic, “Muslims in Yugoslavia”, Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, 1(1979) 2:141-142.

[4]  S. P. Ramet, “Islam in Yugoslavia Today”, in Religion in Communist Lands, 18 (1990), 3: 232.

[5]  Preporod, XXVI, no. 9/ 580 (September 1995), 2.

[6]Sabrina P. Ramet, “Primordial Ethnicity or Modern Nationalism: The Case of Yugoslavia’s Muslims Reconsidered”, The South Slav Journal, 13(1990), 1-2:14.

[7] Zachary T. Irwin, “The Islamic Revival and the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina”, East-European Quarterly, 17(1984), 4:451.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Islamski funfdamentalizam:Sta je to?, ed. Nusret Cancar and Enes Karic, (Sarajevo: Preporod, 1991).

[10] For an analyses of the Ljiljancoverage of pre-war and war events in Bosnia  see, Mark Thompson, Forging War: The Media in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (London: International centre Against Censorship, 1994).

[11] For the illustration of different approaches of Preporod and Muslimanski glas  to certain issues during 1992 see, Xavier Bougarel, “Ramadan During a Civil War (As Reflected in a Series of Sermons)”, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 6 (1995) 1:79-103.

[12]The Constitution of the Islamic Community in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Glasnik Rijaseta Islamske zajednice, 53(1990) 2: 99-121.

[13]Fikret Karcic, “The Office of Rais al-Ulama Among the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims)”, Intellectual Discourse, 5 (1997) 2:109-120.

[14] Glasnik Rijaseta Islamske zajednice u Republici Bosni i Hercegovini, 56(1994) 1-3:114.

Autor: Fikret Karčić

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