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The importance of the Imaret
Interview with Professor Kemal Zukic (Sarajevo)
ML-Online: I would to start by thanking you on behalf of Muslim Lawyers for
this interview Professor Kemal Zukic. Could you please tell us what a little about yourself and how you came work in the field of Architecture?
Zukic: I studied architecture in Sarajevo, I've worked all over the former Yugoslavia as a designer, but not really as a mosque designer, because it was prohibited in the former Yugoslavia to work in the design and construction of mosques. Still I worked on the repair of old mosques during those thirty five years, but that was secretly. I worked without publicity, I helped people to repair old mosques, but not officially. I
did the design without pay as the people who worked on the site did their work without pay. The Islamic community was separated from the government and the people, the jamaat worked and I helped as a professional.
During my whole professional career, I've traveled all over the world. I've visited nearly every Muslim country and at the same time I studied Islamic architecture and especially the mosque's architecture. I compared what we are doing here in Bosnia with what is being done in Indonesia, Malaysia and China. It was a long study, but I was very
pleased to see the differences in Mosques all over the world, in Africa, Maghrib, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, China. So I completed my idea of mosque design by studying 14 centuries of mosque architecture. As a result of this study, I have produced a book on Islamic architecture, painting and handicrafts, in two volumes that I am really proud of.
The case with all of the Islamic disciplines is similar, we have books written by English, French, Greeks, Russians but not by Muslims. It is a ridiculous and tragic situation. How can you present an art of an unknown people. Anything is of course good, and I am grateful for that which has been done, but we need books from Muslim authors, if you want to have a real presentation. What is even worse is that architecture is the most representative art of the Islamic world and if the Islamic world is superior in any discipline, then it is superior in architecture. If you find some books about architecture in western libraries you usually find a presentation of pieces one style, one country and so on, a presentation in parts, but the most important quality of Islamic architecture is continuity. Not only in the 14 centuries of Islamic world, but a continuity with pre-Islamic architecture and art in Mesopotamia, in Iran and ancient Egypt. It is a continuity with Islam. For example the first mosque is really an Abdanna
which is Persian building for meetings. As the Muslims could not think of a better architectural solution, they accepted this kind of building and after that they continued to invent other styles or possibilities so that now you have big domed mosques completely different from abadanna mosques.
ML-Online: Was the Abadanna then the style of the Mosque of the Messenger of Allah,
Abadanna is the name of a pre-Islamic structure in Persia. The first mosques are know as Iraqi style, but it is practically speaking abadanna. The Arabs at the time of the Messenger of Allah were not architects. So if you speak of the first mosques of Kuba and Medina, then you can't really speak of architecture. So for example at the time
of the Messenger of Allah, the Arabs invited a Persian architect to repair the Ka'ba. So really if you want to speak of Islamic architecture or Mosque architecture then you have to look at Iraq then Iran and Egypt.
ML-Online: So then the mosque begins to fulfill a different function, they start to
put roofs over the mosques so that one can pray in all types of weather?
Zukic: Yes, Abadanna was accepted firstly because the first Mosques were not only for prayer, but was also created for many kinds of social activities even poetics. So Abadanna was created to receive many people for different social activities. Afterwards they understood that this form was not really very good for a mosque, you have many things that are not completely suitable. They continued to look for a functional
design for the mosque. So they started with Abadanna and after that they developed many different kinds of mosques. This is what we call local styles and it is a specification of Islamic architecture. This is because you have one idea given by the deen, by Islam, but in other details it is possible to create and change the concept to need, so you
have many different local styles. For example you can compare in the Maghrib or in Africa to China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They appear to be completely different if you'd like to compare the London Mosque to an Indonesian Mosque. Sometimes you can not be sure it is a mosque, but practically speaking, it fulfills its purpose.
ML-Online: So the mosque is fulfilling the same function in these places or are
other practices being added in the local architecture of the mosque?
Well the function of course always remains the same but for example with our mosques here it is normally very cold with snow in comparison with Malaysia were it is always hot and humid, it is not possible to have the same building here fulfill the needs of Malaysia. They are completely different, climate customs and geography are some of the many different factors outside of the parameters of Islam that allowed people to invent
other details to be adapted to other nations and regions. In my book you can start from the first mosque and go to the whole planet. There is a rich variety of mosque design.
You should also remember that some countries are capable of building large mosques because they have the means, but a poor country can not build the Sulimaniyya. So mosque building has been a great creative endeavor over the past fourteen centuries all over the world and we have marvelous results.
ML-Online: What sort of difference do you find between the modern mosques here and
say the traditional mosques of Sarajevo? For example we have this new mosque here donated by Indonesia, which is very modern and compare that to the mosque of Ghazi Husrev Bey? What is the difference.
Zukic: You see the Osmanli occupied Bosnia and Islam was accepted by the Bosnians very quickly, so the big mosques were practically Osmanli mosques from Turkey such as Ghazi Husrev Bey and Ali Pasha, this is a small modification of the original Osmanli mosques. Ghazi Husrev Bey's mosque was built by an Iranian architect, but really early in Istanbul style. This didn't prove to be a problem because the whole of the Muslim
world at that time was in communication with itself. They knew what somebody was working on, so they could accept something from the Persian tradition or Turkish tradition or not, they can imagine something suitable to their vision, but generally it was communication in the Islamic world. So here it was an Osmali mosque with a domes and one
minaret which is very elegant, but at the same time it was an activity in Bosnia to build our popular mosque. You can see this in many villages a mosque with a tiled roof and veranda or safa in front, sometimes it has a small wooden minaret. So it is a modest variation of the mosque. And now when we are trying to do new mosques designs, architects face the same problems as always within in Islamic world, we must respect the
general tradition of Islam and the local styles using a mixture of both. Some architects think it is good to forget the tradition and do a completely new design not dependent on past. We call this the "international" style. I am not sure this is o.k. but it is one activity to create something completely new and many people think it is a new time, a new manner of living and different circumstances, so we need a completely new design according to the new materials that are being used in construction.
ML-Online: Sometimes I have the feeling that some of the social aspects of the Mosque are being lost in the architecture, there is no waqf, or imaret associated with the mosque. These things that brought people into the mosques seem to be missing in the modern architecture?
Yes, You know when Ghazi Husrev Bey's mosque was built it was another time. He donated three hundred buildings to Sarajevo, a donation from one man! He gave them as a gift. He didn't even build his own house, it is unknown were he lived, I know he did not leave behind a large house or a palace. Still he built three hundred buildings for the city. I
consider him the greatest humanist of Europe. No where can you find a man like him. At the same time he established his waqf along side one kind of agglomeration called in Osmanli kulliyyah, we don't use this expression, but it is from the Arabic of kulli meaning everything.So we have a mosque for praying, a madrassa for learning, imaret, a
hospital, and market, often you have turbe of the founder as well. Ghazi Husreve Bey had his kulliyyah, a real kulliyah in every sense of the word.
Imaret is very important institution for a Muslim society, still we don't speak about it. What is the Imaret? As a traveler in Sarajevo you can be at ease, you can sleep, you can eat, for three days without paying anything. Poor people could eat every day as they needed to. Scholars, professors and students could also eat in the Imaret of Ghazi
Husrev Bey. I regret very much that we stopped, we need this. This is really a symbol of humanity in this period.
Why has it stopped, why don't cotemporary Muslims concern themselves with this tradition? We have the mosque, Muslims still donate them, but all of the things that are traditionally associated with the mosque are no longer donated. Wouldn't this be a means to bring people back into the ummah and the mosque?
I am convinced that this was organized during the two Yugoslavias, the kingdom of Yugoslavia, meaning the Serbian Yugoslavia and the communist Yugoslavia. It has been a period of one hundred years. In the end it has been a period of the organized destruction of our society. They worked very effectively. The first step was the robbery of the waqf. The waqf is the fundamental institution for the organization of an Islamic
society or Islam. For example the waqf of Ghazi Husrev Bey is three hundred buildings it has an imaret and also many shops near the mosques. You can't earn money with a Mosque or a Madrassa but with shops you can earn from the rent to support the other aspects of the waqf. They took the awqaf they destroyed them. Practically speaking they cut the
connections between the mosque, madrassa and the economic foundations of
the Society. It was a terrible crime.
ML-Online: This has not only happened in Bosnia, but in the rest of the Muslim
world too. What is this?
I do not understand what has happened elsewhere, but here it was organized by the Serbs to destroy our society and they succeeded very well. And now we are trying to return the waqf to the Islamic society, but we are experiencing many difficulties. I am sure that many Muslims don't understand the problem. They think that we just want to have
buildings, but we don't need the buildings, we need a means that the waqf can earn money to invest in Islamic life. Finally it is a crisis of the Islamic world, a great crisis. For the Muslims we have an excuse, we are two million people in the former Yugoslavia among 27 million people, who are all more or less our enemy, and they have worked practically to destroy everything of our culture.In the end they have managed to destroy more than a thousand mosques, it is a terrible destruction and they new what they did. What's more, this criminal activity was lead by intellectuals, by doctors of science, by
architects. I studied in Sarajevo as I said, but a college of mine studied in Belgrade, he told me that the first lesson on that university by a very famous professor, a Serb, said in his lecture, I think we have to destroy every mosque in Yugoslavia, this was an architect! He's there to study how to build, and the first lesson the students receive is a lesson on destruction. Thus they succeeded and unfortunately the Croatians did the same. Finally the people of the west, tend to neglect this crime too. For example I asked one Canadian architect, who tried to help us with the reconstruction of the Terhadiyya in Banja Luka what he thought of the Serbs of Banja Luka, the destroyers of the Terhadiyya mosque, who tried to stop the restoration of this mosque by saying we
need planning and construction permission to repair the mosque, and this from the people of the very people who destroyed the mosque in the first place. Representative of the international community this Canadian said that this is normal and you must respect the rules and government of this place, the Republic of Serbia. I asked him, "are you mad, what are you thinking? I've asked them, I've begged them to give me permission to
reconstruct." Normally, the international community has decided that the Serbs themselves should pay for the reconstruction because they cause this problem. Remember, that even when we rebuild the mosque it is never really the same. So then after that I asked this Canadian, "how can you sleep after this? Forget the Muslims and the Serbs and look at it from the point of a human being. How can you justify this?" He became obviously nervous, but said nothing.
So I think in general the western approach was nationalism, an invention of Europe or the Western World. And it is the most important characteristic of western science. For example if an French architect writes about the French gothic, it is a style developed in France, not in England and not in Germany. Of course at the same time we have gothic
architecture in England, and English scholars think that it is a creation of English Architects. But just to prove it is a French invention, which are in fact the arches are Persian arches taken from the east, because they don't want to believe that it was invented in Iran three or four centuries earlier, they say yes it is similar but it
was invented separately in Iran and three or four centuries later in France. Of course it was a period of the crusades and the contact of two worlds the east and the west. Now this architect is supposed to be a scientist, but he is French before anything. This means that anything is permitted if you do it in the interest of your nation.You can lie, you can perpetrate crimes and at the same time you continue to be known as a honest man and scientist. It is simply incredible.
Another example might be that of Africa. In Africa, if westerners decide to take a country from someone, they present that nation as animals, so they can kill them without any difficulties. But we know the Incas and the Mayans had a great civilization, and when they started to neglect their traditions they had trouble. They didn't have any culture and could therefore be killed without a problem. It is similar here in
Bosnia, they (communists and Serbs) started to neglect our tradition and so we forgot our traditions, and after that we had the genocide. People said "Oh those stupid Bosnians, we can kill them with impunity." And our people didn't understand. But it is very logical, we became ignorant. So instead of writing our own history, someone from Serbia did. We didn't have our own normal history, our first history was first published after the genocide. Practically speaking we did have histories but they aren't published. Now we need these books about our arts and culture. To show that we have a high culture.
So for example I have a book here about the destruction of the mosques here in Bosnia. I did a registration with photos and descriptions of all the mosques that had been destroyed after the war. I had hundreds of photos. I couldn't publish this book until now, it is in English and Bosnian. It is an important work. I also know that there are many honest people in the west, they just don't know what happened because of their
governments. So it is our duty to present our history and tragedy to the people of Europe, so they know what has happened. It is not easy though because we have been educated in this system.
Once I contacted the people of the Indonesian embassy in Budapest. They said to me how incredible it was, that the communist period had produced such a deformation in the manner of thinking among the people. It is very difficult to change.
ML-Online: So now you are involved in rebuilding the mosques of Bosnia?
Yes, this institution is the Center for Islamic Architecture, of which I am the manager. Our main target is the reconstruction of the destroyed mosques, but we don't have the money. Now we understand how the great the problem is of the robbery of the waqf. If we had the waqf, it would be very easy to make the repairs needed, but we are without money. So we have a thousand mosques that have been damaged, and it costs on the
average, 150,000 euros to repair one mosque. So you can see what we are up against but we are trying to do something in spite of the difficulties.
ML-Online: Do you have any patrons among the Muslims outside of Bosnia?
Yes we have some help, but it is also complicated. We now have a problem with the Arabs, because they are supposedly terrorists and so on. They were a great help. All you have to do is think and you realize that we have a great need, but between the Americans and even our own government declaring many of the aid organizations to be terrorist, they have simply packed their bags and left.
It is now up to us to do something after one hundred years of slavery. Even the Muslims of Bosnia don't like to clearly state that the last hundred years were years of slavery. After such a long time is difficult to change our thinking and after that to change the thinking of our neighbors.
ML-Online: Do you have any ideas regarding the changes needed and how to bring them
I am trying everything I can. I think we need some national consciousness about the things that have happened to us, a sort of analysis of this period up till now. We don't do it though because it was war and genocide and now we have a lot of political troubles too. So it is well organized that we'll forget the real problems of our existence.
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