Bosnia Imam Thanks God For Virus Cancelling Pride March


By Nedim Dervisbegovic

Bosnia’s official Islamic Community has refused to comment on a homophobic post by a Sarajevo imam who thanked God and the coronovirus outbreak for cancelling this month’s Pride march in the Bosnian capital.

Muhamed ef. Velic, imam of the Ottoman-era Ferhadija mosque in the historic centre of Sarajevo, wrote on Facebook on Thursday, after the organisers cancelled Sarajevo’s second Pride march, scheduled for August 23, that “in every misfortune and tragedy there is a grain of happiness, goodness and beauty”.

“Thanks to Allah for everything. Let dear Allah gift that corona and gay parade never return to our city and the state!” Velic, who is followed by some 73,000 people, wrote in the post, for which he received 36 comments, all but one affirmative.

A spokesman for the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the IZ BiH, said it was not aware of the post, and added the community does not regulate all the work of its imams.

“We don’t have any reaction, you will have to ask for that from his superior,” IZ BiH spokesman Muhamed Jusic said, adding that the position of the community was that homosexuality goes against Islamic beliefs and teaching, but that believers should also refrain from any violence against such sinners.

While the faith community declined to get involved in the row, various well-known figures in Bosnia, such as the lawyer and former journalist Senad Pecanin, condemned the post unreservedly. Pecanin wrote on his Twitter account that the imam was “fascist scum”.

Velic is known for his controversial posts. Last month, he criticized Turkey’s re-conversion of Istanbul’s famed former church and museum, the Hagia Sofia, into a mosque, in contrast to Bosniak and Islamic Community leaders, who mostly stayed silent about the latest act by Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who positions himself as the best friend of Bosnia and the Bosniaks.

The imam said in January that the coronavirus pandemic was God’s punishment to China for its harsh treatment of Muslim Uighurs.  

This year’s Pride march would have been sponsored by the Sarajevo Canton government and, unlike last year, there had been almost no public condemnation of it by conservative politicians and public figures.

Three protests were organised before and during the march last year, which saw several thousand activists, supporters and allies from Bosnia and the region walk through the centre of Sarajevo under heavy security.

Pride organisers said they would mark this year’s march on the same date with other activities. The Sarajevo Film Festival, an important film gathering in Southeast Europe, which was due to open on August 14, will meanwhile be held online, the organisers said on Wednesday, also citing the COVID-19 outbreak as the reason.

Sarajevo has become a regional coronavirus hotspot lately with over almost 2,900 infections and 42 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, with the majority of them confirmed in the last six weeks

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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