Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Peak of Iranian Cultural Influence in the Balkans

Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Peak of Iranian Cultural Influence in the Balkans
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When reading and researching about the cultural presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Balkan region, you can find almost everywhere the name of Ibn Sina Institute in Sarajevo. The scope and impact of this Institute is evident in every article, interview or conversation with cultural specialists in Bosnia and the Balkan region. The Ibn Sina Institute was established in 1996 in Sarajevo, shortly after Western powers demanded from Bosnian authorities to withdraw Iranian forces from the country. The activities of this Institute are focused on “the study and research in the field of humanities and widening of cooperation in science, research and culture between Iranian and Bosnian scholars, thinkers and cultural-scientific institutes.”1

Within our research, we have not been able to find out which official institution from Iran is behind this Institute, but what is known is that in Tehran there is a non-governmental organization called the Ibn Sina Center (Moaseseye Ebn-e Sina). Nevertheless, the activity of the Ibn Sina Institute in Sarajevo is much larger than that of the center in Tehran. The cultural, scientific and educational activities of this Institute extend to Croatia and Serbia in addition to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Ibn Sina Institute is known for the books of high quality it has published so far in the Bosnian language. Hitherto, this Institute has translated works by Iranian Shiite scholars and leaders of the Iranian regime, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei, from Persian. The publications of this Institute also include the works of Western scholars such as Henry Corbin, William Chittick, etc. As part of the Institute’s publications, we must mention two of its journals. The scientific journal “Signs of the Times” (Znakovi Vremena) is a very powerful and influential component in the scientific and cultural circles of Sarajevo and the region. Founded in 1997, “Signs of the Times” has always had well-known and influential scholars and scientists from Bosnia, the Balkans and Iran. This magazinehas heretofore published 88 issues and is considered as one of the most influential magazines in Bosnia. The authors of this magazine are Bosniaks and Iranians, but there are also translated texts of the Western authors who do not have critical views on Islam, Iran and Shiism. The content of Signs of the Times is more philosophical, mystical, theological, and social science in general. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the magazine is dominated by the official Shiite spirit of Iran and there are no writings and texts of Iranian authors and critical scholars such as Abdulkarim Soroush, Mostafa Malekian, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, and others like them. Therefore, this fact, as well as the absolute dominance of the Shiite narrative in the magazine, lowers its scientific credibility. The Ibn Sina Institute has also recently started publishing another political journal called “PIS Journal - Journal of politics and international studies” in a digital platform (Digitalni časopis-Politika i međunarodne studije). This magazine publishes interviews with local and foreign authors as well as political articles of a political nature. Through this magazine, the Institute makes an effort to spread the official discourse of the Islamic Republic in the Balkan region and at the international level regarding the political developments in the Middle East.

Notwithstanding, the peculiarity of the Ibn Sina Institute is its cooperation with the most famous thinkers and scholars of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of its close collaborators is Rešid Hafizović, professor at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo. Professor Hafizović is an influential authority among the Oriental and Islamic circles in the Balkan region. Hafizović has been criticized several times by Professor Jamaludin Latić for his cooperation with Iranians. Another collaborator of this Institute is Professor Enes Karić, an important thinker from the ranks of BiH Muslims.

What stands out among the publications of this Institute is the study and publication of the mystical, philosophical and theological heritage of the Bosniaks, which was produced in the period of the Ottoman Empire. This Islamic cultural heritage is published under the name of the current cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina and these publications are presented as the services that Iran provides to Bosniaks among the local public opinion. Our research shows that Bosnian intellectuals value this Institute and other Iranian organizations for their contributions to the revival of BiH’s Islamic cultural heritage. Thus, all these make the Ibn Sina Institute a very powerful and influential component not only in BiH but also in the entire Balkan region. Another Bosnian organization operating with the funds of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the Spiritual Heritage Foundation (Fodacije “Baština duhovnosti”) whose director is Amar Imamović, a Bosnian intellectual converted to Shiism. This Foundation operates in the city of Mostar. Among the goals of this Foundation are “to promote spiritual values, to revive the Bosnian Islamic spiritual heritage, to organize conferences and to publish books”2. But the key person on whom the discourse of the “Spiritual Heritage Foundation was built is Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (1903–1981), an Iranian Shi’ite theosophist. The entire activity of the Foundation revolves around the thoughts, deeds and personality of this Shiite scholar. In this way, through the concepts of heritage, spirituality and philosophical thought, the Iranian Shiite narrative of these phenomena is injected into Bosnian society. Considering the need of the modern Bosniak which have lived through the communist period in Yugoslavia and the post-Yugoslav era, this Foundation has exploited a significant gap in Bosnian society and seeks to fill it with Shiite spiritual narratives.

Furthermore, with the funds of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in cooperation with the Iranian organizations in BiH, the Center for Theological Science “Kom” (Centar za religijske nauke "Kom") operates in Belgrade, Serbia. This center, which is also known as “Kom” for promoting the discourse of the madrasas in the Iranian city of Kom, is run by Seid Halilović and his two brothers, Tehran and Muamer Halilović, who together with their parents have lived and studied for years in the town of Kom. The Halilović brothers’ strategy does not differ from that of other Iranian organizations. These, too, have their activities oriented towards Islamic philosophy, and in addition to the books in the Serbian language, they also publish a magazine called the Magazine for Theological Science “Kom”. Despite its considerable activities, this center has not managed to have any serious influence on Serbian society, perhaps the majority of Serbia’s population is Christian.

Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Balkan region is known for its indigenous school of Islamic theology and it was the creator of Islamic theological discourse in the time of the former Yugoslavia, which then spread throughout the region. But it can be concluded from our research that this school of theology, currently on the one hand, is seriously endangered by the Wahhabi narrative of the states of the Arabian Peninsula, which day by day is appropriating the mosques of BiH. On the other hand, the Bosnian theological school is more sophisticatedly jeopardized by the Shiite spirit of the official discourse of the Islamic Republic of Iran.