On our trip to Eastern Europe and its various Muslim communities, we have previously discovered Bosnia Herzegovina’s and Hungary’s Islamic heritages and learned about the situation of Muslims there in the past and in our times. Now, let’s continue our journey with a tiny country on Eastern Europe’s map: Slovenia.
Slovenia’s enchanting tiny and ‘new’ country is situated in Central Europe between Austria, Croatia, Italy and Hungary. Though its Slavic ancestors migrated to the present-day territory in the 6th century, it remained under foreign rule until the 20th century, first by the Habsburg monarchy of Austro-Hungary, then after the Second World War as part of former Yugoslavia. It gained its independence only in 1991.
While doing some research on the internet in English about Muslims in Slovenia, I quickly realised that there is a lack of available info. Alhamdulillah, I came to know of the perfect person who could help me out – someone who we might call the professor of Slovenian Muslims. Ahmed Pasic (PhD in Philosophy) has self-published 5 books related to Islam in Europe (particularly in his country, Slovenia). I took the chance and asked him about the historical and cultural background of Muslims in Slovenia.
Unlike Bosnia Herzegovina, which experienced a prolonged period of general welfare and prosperity under the Ottoman Empire, Slovenia didn’t have a good impression of the Ottomans. According to Mr. Pasic, the first contact of Slovenian territory with Muslims happened in the 15th century when units of the Ottoman army were invading today’s Slovenia for more than 150 years. Usually they came from Bosnia or today’s Hungary and entered Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy with the purpose of looting; they had no intention to stay and spread Islam. That is the reason Slovenians consider this period a black part of their history. With building enough forts and the development of the army’s better strategies, Turkish invasions stopped by the end of the 16th century. Although we wouldn’t have found Muslims settlements or mosques in Slovenia in that period, there are records about Slovenians having Muslim prisoners in the castle of the capital city of Ljubljana, where they tried to convert them to Christianity – unsuccessfully. Some records also mention that when Ottoman units raided Slovenia, they brought civilians with them who were sometimes captured by Slovenians; These civilians, therefore, stayed in the country.
Later on, there was very little contact with Muslims and it was usually a few individuals. A respected example of this is in Skofja Loka – a city in northern Slovenia which has picture of a Black person’s face on the city’s military coat. It is believed that this man was a Muslim who once saved his “master”, who, in return, ordered his face to be placed on the military coats. The next wave of Muslim immigration came in 1915 when Bosnian Muslims were recruited as soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and brought to the Western border of Slovenia where many of them died, fighting till the end of WWI. Their graves are along the front line without names on the gravestones.
There was only one mosque in Slovenia between 1916 and 1920 called Log Pod Mangartom. It was built by Bosnian Muslim troops who left the mosque untended when returning home. Consequently, Italy, which subsequently occupied the area, demolished the decaying building. The only surviving records of its existence are eight photos preserved by local citizens. There was also a military mufti office in Ljubljana during WWI called Krizanke where Muslims prayed the Friday prayer; at another point it was a monastery and today it functions as a summer theatre.
The majority (90%) of Muslims living in Slovenia today originally came from Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo in the 1950s and 1960s as workers with the aim of establishing a better life. They usually worked in minefields, construction, tourism or in the Yugoslavian army as soldiers. Their life under communism was not easy at all; believers, especially those who openly expressed their religion, could face big problems. Women were forced to remove their hijab, many mosques were changed into storages, factories or shops or were simply closed. Only a few Muslims seemed to pray and getting permission to go on Hajj was like a miracle.
Today, there are approximately 50,000 Muslims in Slovenia which represents around 2.4% of the total population of two million inhabitants. The Islamic Community of Slovenia has 18 small communities with mosques around the country, but none of them were styled like those in the Middle East – until recently. Finally, after seeking permission for 44 years, this year construction of a new mosque in the capital city has started which is expected to be opened by 2016, insha Allah. It will be a modern building, not just for prayers but also for lectures and will contain a restaurant, library, large parking area, classrooms and more facilities. Slovenia’s Prime Minister, Alenka Bratušek, even said at the groundbreaking that the building would be a “symbolic victory against all forms of religious intolerance” and that “Europe would not be as culturally rich without Islam.”
SLOVENIAN SISTERS IN FOCUS
Naturally I wanted to know more about the life of Muslims in today’s Slovenia from a local’s perspective and it happened to be that Mr. Pasic’s sister is Slovenia’s first veiled European Parliament nominee, Faila Pašić Bišić, who was so kind as to tell SISTERS about how it is being a Muslim woman in her country.
Timea Csányi: Are you able to practice Islam freely, without discrimination or fear?
Faila Pašić Bišić: Bosniaks and Muslims are not recognised as a minority by the authorities of Slovenia and face problems with exercising their rights including language use, education of their mother tongue or participation in public affairs. They also face economic and social exclusion, partly because of widespread prejudice and hidden discrimination and partly because some remain without residence papers and as such have no access to basic services like healthcare and pensions. There is no mosque in Ljubljana yet and facilities to practice Islam are insufficient and inadequate. My informants point out that most Muslims choose not to expose themselves by bringing attention to their religion. They usually do not ask for the enactment of their religious needs, afraid of being misunderstood and not accepted by their colleagues and their general social environment.
TC:You were nominated to run for the EU parliamentary elections. How are you looked at as a veiled Muslimah in the political field?
FPB: As a woman in Slovenia with Balkan origins and the visible characteristic of the scarf on my head, it naturally invites multiple discriminations. Feeling like a second-class citizen, I had to fight for my rights. Muslim women who dress according to Islamic code stand out as different; their numbers are small, but they are highly visible. The reaction of the majority of the population is usually one of curiosity, since hijab represents a novelty that people are not used to. However, the prevalence of prejudice combined with the lack of knowledge about Islam together contribute to greater exposure to negative attitudes that Muslim women endure if they appear visibly identifiable as Muslims.
TC:What are the biggest problems Muslims face in Slovenia?
FPB: Halal food is almost impossible to get regularly; veiled sisters can expect problems with seeking employment; male circumcision for religious reasons is not allowed; Islamic schools don’t exist and even literature about Islam in the Slovenian language is very sparse.
TC: How do you see the future of Muslims?
FPB: The new mosque of Ljubljana is certainly a victory against Islamophobia and we can also see a growing number of converts in the country. On one hand, it’s because the wars in the collapsing Yugoslavia of the 1990s resulted in a number of refugees settling in Slovenia, a significant portion of them being Muslims from Bosnia and some from Kosovo. On the other hand, we can find the fall of socialism and the consequent change in state-church relations, which contributed to people expressing their religious feelings more openly. So I am quite positive.
Timea Aya Csányi is a reverted sister from Hungary living in Egypt with her husband. She works at Onislam.net as counseling editor of the family section; she is a freelance writer & art journalist in Hungarian and English and an active blogger. You can contact her through her blog: magyarlanykairoban.wordpress.com