Minarets and mementos

Since entering Bosnia & Herzegovina, I’ve seen a lot of mosques. This shouldn’t be surprising since the Ottoman influence here left the country with a strong Muslim presence, which today stands at 40% of the population. For me, this adds an exotic touch to the landscape: I’ve not been in a majority Muslim country before, and the change is quite refreshing (I was getting a little sick of churches, to be quite honest).

In Mostar, I visited the Koski Mehmed Paša mosque, which marked the first time I had set foot in a Muslim place of worship. Hey, there’s a first time for everything. There is a fountain outside where the devout perform their ritual washing before each of the five daily prayers, the water from which is clean and drinkable. Entry to the building is just €1, or €2.50 including the minaret, with its terrifyingly steep and narrow spiral staircase. It is from the top that I took the last photo of the old bridge in my previous post, in case you were wondering.

On the other side of town is a former tannery — leather was a primary product of old Mostar. Since the workers there would stink of animal flesh after working in the tanning vats all day, they had their own tiny mosque built just outside the tannery, and a Turkish-style bathhouse where they could get thoroughly clean before taking to the prayer mats.

In a bar last night I met a local Muslim man who fought in the conflict in Mostar. He gave me more of an insight into what it was like here, although of course I cannot relate directly. The emotional scars of the war were apparent, even 17 years later. ‘I fight not for Muslims, but for Bosnians’, he told me. It seems that religious divides are not as intense in this microcosm as they are elsewhere. In fact, he recalled a visiting Arab, whose brand of authoritarian Islam clashed with the more laid-back approach of the locals. This local chooses not to adopt a strict approach to his faith, opting to drink alcohol, and go to mosque only on special occasions; although he assured me he very much believed in Allah. I don’t know how common this more liberal, tolerant form of Islam is, but I found it quite surprising, and a little encouraging. It’s a shame the different communities of Mostar have yet to fully reintegrate themselves.

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2 Responses to Minarets and mementos

  1. A very common approach to Islam in Turkey….

  2. If you plan on going to Banja Luka at any point, you should stop by Jajce, and why not Sanski Most. Kozara National Park is amazing, somewhere half way between Sanski Most and Banja Luka. Also might be worth going east into Srebrenica, it’s beautiful around the town, and they make the best berry wine. I’m sure you’ll go to Sarajevo, there is a very beautiful, but a bit hidden spot in the old town: a small Persian market, with a Turkish cafe next to it. The owner is quite chatty and very nice, he’s also a writer.

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