Bosniak Refugees: An AmericanSuccess StoryHARIS


Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017


The senseless killing of Muslims by Daesh and the Assad regime in Syria, as well as the refugee crisis that we are witnessing today, are all too familiar in Muslim history. However, Muslims have a long history of perseverance in the face of extremism and in their search for a place to call home.

Today, the rising fear of refugees entering the United States due to the threats cast by Daesh is understandable, yet shortsighted. As a Bosniak Muslim who immigrated to the United States, I can tell you first hand that the vast majority of Muslim refugees are attempting to enter America out of a desire to find a place that they can call home and a safe haven for their families and future generations. The Bosniak American community serves as a recent example of Muslim refugees who have successfully integrated into their communities and developed trusting relationships with their neighbors.

Bosniak Muslims are arguably the greatest victims of extremism in the modern era. During the Bosnian genocide in the early 1990s, Bosnian Serb forces launched a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Bosniak Muslims, forcing hundreds of thousands of families to flee their homeland. Those who were unable to flee in time were subject to unimaginable atrocities and almost complete annihilation. Bosniak Muslims were subjected to unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, and robbery at the hands of the Serbian Army. The most brutal assault came in July 1995 when Serbian forces stormed the town of Srebrenica, a United Nations safe area, where they massacred more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys while women and girls were victims of systematic rape and humiliation.

After the atrocities committed in Srebrenica, the international community could no longer remain indecisive. In response to the near complete eradication of the Bosniak Muslim population, the United States initiated peace talks between the presidents of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina. In November 1995, the United States succeeded in bringing peace to Bosnia by brokering a peace treaty known as the Dayton Accords. In doing so, the United States stopped the genocide in Bosnia and extended an invitation and assistance to Bosniak refugees wishing to resettle in America.

Even though the Bosniaks had experienced unfathomable pain and loss, and were uprooted from their homes, they recognized that, as refugees, they had the opportunity—and responsibility—to raise and educate their children in a more peaceful, accepting world. They began to acclimate to their new environment in various ways, such as building Islamic cultural centers, opening their own businesses, serving in government, running for public office, and joining the military to fight alongside their American countrymen. As former Bosnian foreign minister and United Nations ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey states, they came “to see themselves, heritage and opportunity, in the perspective of the unbounded where Bosnian and American are joined and consistent.”

The Bosniak community has shown immense success in integrating into new communities and building relationships of trust with their neighbors. Rather than being stigmatized and intimidated to live under the heavy pressure of collective guilt for the acts of violent extremists who are constantly labeled as “Islamic,” Bosniaks made sure their message on collective security and global citizenship was clear to all Americans. Initiated by Bosniak-American leadership in 2013, the World Bosniak Congress published the “Declaration on Common Security and Global Citizenship,” which was written in response to the Boston bombings and London killings. In it, the World Bosniak Congress called upon the Bosniak nation “to take a bold stance about their faith and culture and be a good example to others: to condemn violence and promote peace and tolerance wherever they are.”

The 2013 Declaration identifies common security and global citizenship as two essential values of human freedom and equality that must be actively and consistently pursued. In order for us to be genuinely Muslim, the declaration states, we must love and work toward peace and bring about solidarity and cooperation within the communities we call home. The declaration states that we must show our neighbors the peaceful acceptance and practice of Islam and bear witness to the historic affirmation that “there shall be no compulsion in religion.” Furthermore, it teaches that it is essential for the worldwide Muslim community to stand up for the citizens of the countries that gave us shelter and protection when we needed it most, and show our neighbors and communities how Islam can be a force behind improving the social and economic conditions of our communities.

The World Bosniak Congress and its leadership called upon Muslim preachers around the world to recognize their responsibility toward ensuring the common security of the world’s nations by preaching the peace and tolerance of Islam wherever they go. Muslim preachers must lead by example and show all Muslims that we must stand up and speak out about our real concept of life, faith, culture, peace, and security as part and parcel of humanity. Moreover, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia urges us in this declaration to act in such a manner that what we say, believe, preach, and teach, is in practice in our own lives, and that we must speak out against hatred and join in defending the basic principles of humanity. Muslims around the world are told to share with their neighbors and colleagues that Islam belongs to neither East nor West, but to the hearts of those who want to live in peace and security with others.

Due to their difficult history, Bosniaks have taken on a unique responsibility to be the standard bearers of morality and pluralism in all the lands they inhabit and call home, all the way from Australia to the United States and Canada. Just as the early Bosniak immigrants to the United States did before us in the 1900s, American Muslims must follow their example and commit to common security and global citizenship and work to promote and protect God’s gifts of life: religion, nation, freedom, property, and honor as inalienable rights of every person.

We must raise our children and help educate future generations of Muslims of different nations to be an integral part of the societies in which they live and call home, and to know that the ends do not justify violent means, and that acts of killing and/or injuring civilians are in a complete contradiction to the basic principles of Islam and humanity. We must vigorously pursue these aims through constant education of our youth and our communities. It is paramount that we uphold the highest moral values while openly and loudly rejecting violence of any kind and all acts of terror as fundamentally un-Islamic, immoral, and inhumane.

It is incumbent upon us to strongly demonstrate perpetual and proactive responsibility, and it is our duty to systematically engage society on all levels of personal and institutional collaboration, and to solidify the trust and confidence of our fellow citizens in every aspect of human endeavor. We must uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It is important we never forget the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of mankind. All considered, the compassionate character of the Bosniak tradition of Islam lives today in the United States along with many other ethnic traditions, free and proud.

Today, Bosniak-Americans are proud to have established a Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, demonstrating their full integration into the political and social fabric of American society. This body encourages dialogue between policymakers and Bosniak communities across the nation. With over 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, the bi-partisan caucus is the voice for the Bosniak-American community both on domestic and foreign policy issues. It is an active partnership designed to deliver more informed and more effective policy solutions in an increasingly challenging and complex world.