Bosnian Salafist Preachers Calibrate Message to Growing Audience

"I think we have a serious problem," said Edina Becirevic, associate professor of security studies at Sarajevo's Faculty of Criminal Justice, Criminology and Security Studies, who has studied the Salafi phenomenon in Bosnia extensively. 

"We, as a society, must deal with the fact that Salafi influencers promote intolerance, exclusion of women and religious superiority."

Refusal to talk

Pezic gives a lecture to youth. Photo: [email protected], screenshot

Salafists in Bosnia have long been viewed as hardliners within a Muslim Bosniak population that on the whole practices a moderate form of Islam.

The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the departure of some 200 Bosnians to join it led many in Bosnia to see the community as a security threat.

The shift in rhetoric from the Salafi Da'is appears to have coincided with a move by the Islamic Community to integrate the Salafists and shut down a network of parallel, unofficial mosques since 2016, under pressure from the West to confront the flow of Bosnian Salafists to ISIS.

Pezic has no official position within the Islamic Community, but where once he spoke strongly against it, the popular Da'i now says he is a part of it. 

Becirevic stressed that the likes of Pezic do not pose a threat in terms of encouraging violent extremism. Pezic himself has preached against ISIS and violence in the name of Islam.

But the Salafi Da'is do question some fundamental human rights and the role of women in modern Bosnian society. And their sophisticated use of social media means they are reaching a growing audience.

They are supported by a network of organisations registered as associations for the promotion of 'positive values' and 'original Islam', youth...

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