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Cultural Anthropology of South-East Europe Book Review November 2010

Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: identity and community in a central Bosnian village
By Tone Bringa

Being Muslim the Bosnian Way is an ethnographic study of a Muslim community in a village where Muslim and Catholic (Croats) lived together. It is a study where the community is seen through the prism of women, not because the author Tone Bringa is a female, but also because she was mainly allowed in the world and the daily lives of women, rather than men. Bringa spends several months in a village she named Dolina prior the war in Bosnia. During her time in Dolina, Bringa explores the daily happenings in every segment of life in the Muslim community: from birth to death, from marriage to divorce. It is inevitable to mention that after the war the homes of all the Muslim villagers were destroyed and most of them were dead or killed. This book through its vivid descriptions, great insights and detailed explanations of daily life, traditions and customs tries to answer the ultimate question: Who are the Bosnian Muslims? It deals with identity on every level: identity being socially constructed, religious, ethnic, gendered. In political terms, Bringas perception reveals that the Muslim identity as it was in the 1980s begins with the Muslim community being recognized as a separate narod1 of Yugoslavia in 1968. The Bosnian Muslims were being encouraged to identify themselves in a national rather than religious sense.2 However, although for the state the Muslim was a nation, for the
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Narod (pl. narodi)- people, nation Francine Friedman, The Bosnian Muslims: Denial of a Nation (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996) p.159.

people being Muslim was associated with religion. The recognition of the Muslims as constituting a national group was an impetus for awakening of Muslim religious identity.3 The interpretation of the Islam as they knew it helped the villagers of Dolina form their own national distinctiveness and individuality. They constructed the Bosnian Muslim against the other that they culturally knew. In Dolina, the Catholics were the Edward Saids orient4 for the Muslim. Daily interactions as simple as coffee visiting had a role in establishing separateness. It was always about we do this, and they do that. However, the villagers of Dolina managed to sustain their we feeling and sense of identification among them. The mutual identification emerged because of the relations of blood and kinship, the importance of proximity (neighbours) and collective action5. At least two more segments are significant in understanding the Muslim identity. First, the male-female relations, and second the dichotomy of life. In rural Bosnia everyone knew their position in society. The status of the woman was clearly determined. She was the one responsible for the honour and the moral of her household. The woman did not entirely define herself through the man, so it is not true to say that women were powerless. To the contrary, woman especially in the role of mother-in-law was particularly powerful6. The woman was a member of a household, a Muslim and a mother: knowledge of her identity gave her moral power and protection.7 The dichotomy of identity put people in opposed categories. It was the cultured and the uncultured, the poor and the rich, the one who lived and in the village and the one who lived in the city. In Dolina, it was the one who lived in the upper part of the village: the uneducated

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Torsten Kolind, Post-war Identification (Aarhus : Aarhus University Press, 2008.) p.199 See Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003) 5 Abram de Swaan , Widening Circle of Identification, Theory, Culture, Society, 12 (1995), 25-39 ( p.28) 6 Zilka Spahi- iljak, ene, Religija i Politika (Sarajevo: IMIC Zajedno, 2007) p.150. The translation of the text is made by the author of this book review 7 Tone Bringa, Being Muslim the Bosnian Way (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press,1995) p.98

and uncultured versus the one who lived in the lower part: the cultured, educated villager. The point that Bringa wants the reader to grasp is that the Bosnian Muslim is much more than a nationality. The identity of the Bosnian Muslim is fluid and changing, but nevertheless always influenced by Islam. A lot has been said about women in this book. At first glance it might seem like a limitation that this book is written from female perspective. On the other hand this limitation means richness, because it let us realize what it meant to be a Muslim woman in a village. Studies such as the Friedmans The Bosnian Muslim: Denial of a Nation and Kolinds Post-war Identification deal with the Muslim identity in different periods. The first looks at the history and the latter at the post-war Bosnia. This makes Bringas work of a particular value. Dealing with the period prior the war she shows how separateness was unconsciously created and manifested. It was the period of the last years of Yugoslavia, where the religious freedom was much more expressed. Therefore, Bringas classic ethnographic work is essential in understanding the Bosnian Muslim as an equation of nation and religion. By providing a comprehensive study of the Bosnian Muslims in a small Bosnian village, Bringa presents their uniqueness, beliefs and traditions. It provides the bases of understanding how that identity might have changed in the post war period. It is mandatory to read about Bringas village not only if we want to understand the Bosnian rural Muslim, but also if we want to understand what identity and multicultural society means in the modern era.

References (i) (ii) Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003) Francine Friedman, The Bosnian Muslims: Denial of a Nation (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996) (iii) Tone Bringa, Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: Identity and community in a central Bosnian village (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995) (iv) (v) (vi) Torsten Kolind, Post-war Identification (Aarhus : Aarhus University Press, 2008.) Zilka Spahi- iljak, ene, Religija i Politika (Sarajevo: IMIC Zajedno, 2007) Abram de Swaan Widening Circles of Identification: Emotional Concerns in Sociogenetic Perspective, Theory, Culture, Society, 12(1995), 25-39