“Obama was elected by God” — Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric
The Grand Mufti of Bosnia thinks the election of Barack Obama as American president is a gift from God that could help foster greater international tolerance of Muslims. “I believe that Obama is a divine sign to humanity,” Mustafa Ceric told me in an interview in Sarajevo. Americans “think that they have elected him, but I believe that he was elected by God.”
(Photo: Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, 27 Jan 2009/ Danilo Krstanovic)
“Barack Obama is one of these most noble goods of our time and our civilisation, that is why I think he is a gift of God,” he said. “At the moment we feel a trend to change. Whether this change will be really in practice and life, we need time to see.”
Sometimes called one of the world’s most liberal grand muftis, Ceric is considered a voice of moderation with an international reputation. He is active in dialogue with other faiths and discussions of how Islam can integrate into European societies.
Bosnia may be the European country where this integration is most evident. The call for prayer from Sarajevo’s hundreds of mosques wafts over cafes where alcohol is served in abundance and young couples cuddle in a mix of East and West traditions that has long characterised the capital. Women wearing headscaraves walk in the old quarter alongside others with revealing tank tops and uncovered flowing hair.
Yet the post-Sept. 11, 2001 atmosphere has impacted the image of Muslims everyone, from Bosnia to Indonesia. Ceric blames former U.S. President George W. Bush for fuelling further suspicions by using charged words such as a “crusade” against terrorism. The Republican president “will be remembered for creating a sort of Islamaphonia,” said Ceric, who was educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo before receiving a doctorate at the University of Chicago.
(Photo: Sarajevo women read election posters, 2 Oct 2008/Danilo Krstanovic)
Even with tolerance embraced by Obama, the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are likely still to face stigma, the Grand Mufti said. “We are going to live with Islamaphobia for the rest of our lives, with the same way Jews are living with anti-Semitism from time to time,” he said.
We spoke before we knew the news of Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya satellite TV, so I couldn’t ask his reaction to hearing an American president say things like “My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.”
But Ceric was quite positive about the last time he’d heard Obama speak, in the inaugural address last week that mentioned the variety of religions that make up the United States.“Barack Obama, he said that the United States is a country of Christians and Muslims, and this is for the first time that we have this kind of a phrase from an American president,” said Ceric, 56, who wore an Ottoman-style white turban and pin-striped robe as we spoke in his office. “He has a reason to be happy for being blessed by God to give hope to many people, not only in the United States but around the world, including my people in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
(Photo: President Barack Obama, 27 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)
Bosnia is still struggling politically and economically 13 years after the end of Europe’s bloodiest fighting since World War Two, largely along religious and ethnic lines. Political abuse of religious divisions rather than the underlying faiths was to blame, Ceric said. Many Bosniaks, ethnic Slavs who converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire, emerged from the 1992-95 fighting that killed 100,000 with stronger links to their faith.
“The experience brought many people back to religion,” said Ceric, who speaks fluent English. “When you are faced with death and when you see that humans do not help you and you are left alone for four years in besieged Sarajevo, therefore you cannot live alone, you have to seek some help.”
A leader of “A Common Word,” a group that has fostered meetings betwen the world’s two largest faiths, Muslims and Christians, Ceric participated in several major interfaith conferences last year, including with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in November.
“It was not easy but it was productive because it was open and honest and face to face,” he said.
What do you think of Ceric’s comments? Would other Muslim leaders say Obama is a “gift of God”?