On Saturday 10th May, this famous mosque, designed in the 16th century by the Ottoman architect Sinan, rose like a phoenix from its ashes. It had been totally destroyed by explosives, not by fighting, during the war in Bosnia. Banja Luka is the capital in the north-west of Bosnia of Republica Serbska, one of the two component parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A small English charity, the Soul of Europe, led by the Revd. Donald Reeves MBE, a retired Anglican priest, had accept the challenge to promote the rebuilding of the mosque, despite all the many obstacles. The stone work took quite a few years and was carried out by Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, working together, guided by a distinguished architect from Sarajevo.
The result is stunning – a reproduction of the original, using some of its rescued stones, complete with an elegant minaret, and beautiful interior and ceiling decorations. Local art students helped with the latter, and impressions of the mosque by local children were exhibited. HRH Prince Charles sent a message of congratulations, which was published by the British Embassy. The local Orthodox Metropolitan and the Roman Catholic bishop spoke at the opening ceremony, together with the Muslim Mufti of Banja Luka. Many muftis took part from all over Bosnia and nearby.
The old Ottoman bridge in Mostar had also been a war casualty. Its replacement was another symbol of the re-building of Bosnia. For Banja Luka and its whole region, the Ferhadija mosque brings even greater hope. Not only was the reconstruction an example of interfaith cooperation, but it will provide a place of worship for a living community, whose life had been threatened by eviction and emigration. It is thus a memorial with an active human purpose.
Bosnia-Herzegovina still faces problems and challenges: how to provide work for rising generations of young people; how to make best use of existing skills and assets; how to provide good quality education and health services. These and other urgent needs of a diverse society will be considered at a conference in October, to be facilitated by the Soul of Europe. The aim is to help ordinary citizens to articulate their needs and proposals for change and progress, in a way that gains the attention of all politicians and administrators.
(I should declare my interest as patron of The Soul of Europe)