This is Bosnia and this is what should happen
Naš put je mir (our way is peace)
Traveling north from Sarajevo through Zenica, we traveled three more hours through beautiful country to the town of Sanski Most. Here, MCC partners with the Center for Peacebuilding, a group begun by two Muslim imams, Mevludin Rahmanovic and Vahidin Omanovic, co-founders and co-directors, who are working for inter-religious peace in their community.
The goal of the center is to rebuild trust and to nurture reconciliation among the people of Bosnia – Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks and others – and to support peace wherever people have suffered from violent conflicts.
Both men have horrific stories to tell of many family members who were killed in the war. Mevludin told me how he had to go through a personal jihad (fight) with himself to decide not to hate, but to work for peace.
A memorial in the downtown area of Sanski Most commemorates more than 700 people in the community who died during the war.
Mevludin remembers one man who ordered the killing of Mevludin’s entire family on his grandfather’s side. All Mevludin wanted, he said, was revenge. But years later, he told me, it took only one Serb to say he was sorry for Mevludin to realize the Serbs weren’t all the same.
Vahidin said he and Mevludin first started working with Bosnians to help them forget how to hate, but soon, they also wanted to work with Serbs. Small successes came when they could help people start to talk about their experiences out loud.
In a peace camp, one Serbian soldier talked about trying to save a young Muslim girl. Vahidin said he came to realize that in each one of us there is a piece of good.
When an attack on a mosque happened a year ago, these two leaders worked with their Syrian Orthodox and Croat Catholic counterparts to promote a statement against violence and support forgiveness and reconciliation.
The religious leaders in the town have agreed to continue a long-standing tradition that when the Muslim call to prayer begins at noon, the churches will also ring their church bells. The sound of the bells and the call to prayer intermingling is simply awe-inspiring. What a beautiful, simple way to commit to inter-faith peace building!
With MCC’s support, Mevludin and Vahidin work to break the cycle of a victim mentality with Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks all claiming they suffered the most during the war. In the new culture that has developed since the war, there is no reason for youth of the different cultures to meet. Peace camps help youth come face to face to talk about their stories and to share them with each other.
In addition to the inter-religious council and peace camps, the Center for Peacebuilding sponsors language courses for young children and youth choirs where the Center can help foster a broader world view and teach peace.
“When one of the interfaith choirs first performed in a Catholic church,” Vahidin said, “We were afraid of what Muslims in the community would say, but, thank God, they said this is Bosnia and this is what should happen.”
Their new dream is build a peace embassy just outside of town. “A piece of land for peace,” they say, where peacebuilding events can bring together people of all ages and from all of the ethnic groups.
For their work in the last 10 years, Mevludin and Vahidin and the Center for Peacebuilding have been awarded three international awards, as well as an award from the local community for building peace among neighbors.
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. He is in Sarajevo for two months, visiting MCC's programs there and traveling to Ukraine, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.