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Letter and Response

Džemaluddin Čaušević
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Letter and Response

Džemaluddin Čaušević


Džemaluddin Čaušević (Bosnia, 1870–1938) was a controversial religious reformer and educationalist. Son of a local religious leader in northwestern Bosnia, Čaušević received his early education from his father and thereafter at a Bosnian seminary school in Bihać. At the age of seventeen, he continued his studies in Istanbul, receiving both a traditional education and enrolling at the School of Law. Around 1900, Čaušević visited Cairo, where he met Muhammad ‘Abduh (chapter 3) and attended his lectures for several months. ‘Abduh left a lasting impression on Čaušević, who always referred to the Egyptian scholar as “Respected Teacher.” Upon his return to Bosnia in 1903, Čaušević began his career as an Arabic language teacher and a member of the supreme council of the Bosnian Islamic community. Between 1914 and 1930, he served as Reis al-Ulema, the highest-ranking Islamic dignitary in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. For Čaušević, the key reason for the malaise of Muslim society was poor education, rooted in the pitiful state of its educational institutions. He dedicated himself to the cause of educational reform with a missionary zeal typical of modernist Islam. He sought to promote literacy by introducing a simpler type of Arabic script for the Bosnian language. In 1937, he co-authored a Bosnian translation of the Qur'an, along with a commentary. Čaušević ran into opposition from conservative Muslims. As the following piece shows, the conflict spilled into a newspaper polemic with a respected community leader from Sarajevo, who accused him of contravening Islamic ordinances regarding veiling.1 Enes Karić, Twentieth Century Islamic Thought in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: El- Kalem, 2001), pp. 107–224; Hfz. Mahmud Traljić, Istaknuti Bošnjaci (Prominent Bosniaks), 2d ed. (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Rijaset, 1998), pp. 51–58; Muharem Dautović, Bibliografija Radova Džemaludina Čauševića (Bibliography of Works by Džemaluddin Čaušević) (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Takvim, 1998); Smail Balić, Das unbekannte Bosnien (The Unknown Bosnia) (Köln, Germany: Böhlau, 1992), pp. 339–344.

[Letter from Hadži Mujaga Merhemić (Bosnia, 1877– 1959) to Čaušević:]

Most enlightened sir!

The Majlis al-Jama‘at [Community Council] has received your response of December 22 [1927] to our letter of the 20th of the same month, via the regional District Waqf-Ma‘arif [Endowments-Education] Board, and has studied it with care.

First, the Majlis al-Jama‘at notes with regret that you have failed to answer the main point of our letter, that is, concerning your statements to our press associates, which you also confirmed by your later statements.

The Majlis al-Jama‘at expressed its concern that the manner in which the debate about these purely religious issues is being relayed to the press and the public could have very harmful consequences. Unfortunately, this concern has proven to be wellfounded, and we can now see that this issue is discussed more by the unqualified than by the qualified, and in a way that hardly serves the interests of the Islamic community, and is detrimental to the issue itself. It is with regret that the Majlis al-Jama‘at must state that you are responsible for this issue's having taken a direction it should never have followed.

Furthermore, the Majlis al-Jama‘at has concluded from your response that your statements to the press, and the remarks you now quote in your response, are inconsistent for the following reasons:

1) The statements you made to the press, without explanation or qualification, show that you favor unveiling women, and are in favor of a step that cannot be harmonized with the shari‘a [Islamic law] injunctions that Muslims of all madhhabs [schools of Islamic law] have upheld to this day, and to which we also strictly adhere, and which we by no means abandon.

2) It is stated in your response that you were instructed by your “Respected Teacher” [Muhammad ‘Abduh, Egypt, 1849–1905; chapter 3] how to deduce legal rulings from the Qur'an, and to express your opinion accordingly, and so you say that a woman may go outside her home with her face unveiled, even though this judgment of yours contradicts other shari‘a proofs, which Sunnis can in no way renounce, and without which they cannot survive. This is known from the whole literature bequeathed to us by the early Muslims, and upon which all of us Muslims have acted, with the exception of some heretics.

Enlightened sir! We surmise from your explanation, as you say yourself, that you wish to interpret Islam and its rules according to your own ability only, and to impose this upon others, whereas this contravenes the understanding of all mujtahids [religious scholars], who do not accept the isolated ijtihad [interpretation] of even much greater authorities [preferring to rely on ijma‘, the consensus of authorities].

‘Ulama’ [religious scholars] throughout the Islamic world agree that all those who engage in ijtihad— which is restricted solely to those questions for which there is no manifest meaning from the reigning madhhabs—must be endowed with all the conditions for ijtihad, which your Respected Teacher surely did not possess, and only then may they become involved in the interpretation of such questions as call for great responsibility. The ‘ulama’ of Islam count these people among the third category of jurisprudents, and call them mujtahid fi’l-mas’ala [scholars permitted to engage in ijtihad only on specific issues].

Let us take a glance at the history of legislation and see who these people are, and what kind of ‘ulama’ belong to this category. The ‘ulama’ of Islam do not find the preconditions for belonging to this category even in the case of the famous [Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-]Jassas [917–982], in whose shadow all the ‘ulama’ of our century, including Respected Teacher, pale into insignificance.

Acting upon the clear meaning of the Qur'an involves great responsibility, since it requires a degree of education that the ‘ulama’ do not find even in much greater authorities than those of the ‘ulama’ of our century.

Enlightened sir! You say you deduce that it is permissible to unveil the face of women from Sura 24, Verses 30 and 31 [of the Qur'an]. In this you cite Jassas, taking only what suits you, and do not mention all that is in Jassas's Ahkam al-Qur'an [Judgments of the Qur'an]. Jassas deduces from the entirety [of sources] a ruling that a woman must be veiled, except in most exceptional cases, from which it by no means follows that—as you interpret it—she can go out in the street with her face unveiled.

You say in your statements that a woman may even go outside her home with her face unveiled without violating the injunctions of the Qur'an. We do not know how you have come to this conclusion.

You are aware of the fact that the five daily prayers were obligatory in Mecca, and that the way a woman should cover during prayer was determined at that time. It is said here [in the Qur'anic verse just cited] that a woman must cover everything except for her face, hands and feet. Later on a verse to which you refer was revealed, and which clearly states “and put their veils” [over their bosoms] and so on. [Sura 24, Verse 31]

If a woman is to cover everything except her face, hands and feet according to the very first injunction, what could be the legal force of the second verse?

Later on, yet another verse was revealed in which it says: “draw their outer garment over them” and so on, [Sura 33, Verse 59] from which it also follows that something else is to be covered apart from what has already been prescribed, so in what way do you derive a ruling that one should remain with what was prescribed for daily prayer?

The Noble Qur'an further says: “and do not display your adornments, as in the days of paganism,” [Sura 33, Verse 33] which the ‘ulama’ interpret to mean that a woman must not show her adornments, and if a woman's face is not her adornment, what else could it be? It also says in the noble verse, “and as for elderly women” and so on to the end [of the verse], [Sura 24, Verse 60] from which it indubitably follows that even in the case of old women who have no prospect of marriage and cannnot awaken a man's desire, it is better for them to be veiled.

In view of all the above-quoted verses, Jassas also finally states in his Ahkam al-Qur'an that a woman ought to be veiled, except during daily prayer.

Since the revelation of the verse concerning veiling, during the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Companions [of the Prophet], the Successors [to the Companions], and to this day, women have been veiled, which is the best proof of your interpretation being wrong, since they surely knew the Noble Qur'an better than you do.

Enlightened sir! On this occasion we shall mention the interpretation and understanding of this matter by a great contemporary Islamic scholar, the late [Mehmet] Zihni Efendi [Turkey, 1845–1913], respected by all the ‘ulama’ of our time, as testified by his good word and reports mentioned in it by a great pure one, the famous [Hoca Eminefendizade] ‘Ali Haydar [Turkey, 1852–1918], and others.

This renowned Arabist, whose abilities even you cannot deny, has a different understanding and interpretation of the Qur'an from yours. On page 113 of his work of jurisprudence, Mufarakat ve Münakehat [Separations and Marriages], he says: “To say that the face is non-intimate (na-mahrem), outside the daily prayer, amounts to unpardonable error.”

This work of his was approved by the religious officials [of the Ottoman Empire] and served as a handbook for all higher schools until the government of [Mustafa] Kemal Pasha [Atatürk, leader of Turkey, 1922–1938]; no one ever raised a voice against this ruling of his, nor did anyone call him a conservative or obscurantist on account of this; rather, he was respected and acknowledged by all, with litterateurs calling him the Noble One of the Age, while jurists call him the imam [religious leader] of our time.

3) It seems from your response that you take no account of these depraved times, but in an age when the whole civilized world is seeking ways to restrict female immorality, and when all the elders of other faiths are shouting, “Cover yourself,” with your statements you unfortunately give our women, who are at present veiled, a justification for unveiling.

Concerned about Islamic morals, the Majlis al- Jama‘at was the first to raise its voice a few years ago and take the initative in the establishment of a committee for the protection of morals. Although this was your duty [as Reis al-Ulema], the Majlis al-Jama‘at took it upon itself to found this committee with the aim of uplifting those females who have faltered morally. In an attempt to check the spread of immorality, the Majlis al-Jama‘at asked the Mufti [leading religious official] of Sarajevo whether it would be permissible to unveil women who cannot be dissuaded from the immoral life in any other way, and thus stigmatize their actions, while protecting others who are veiled and chaste from temptation. The fatwa [ruling] from the Mufti was that even such women must not unveil.

4) It is said in your response that you would rather see one unveiled Muslim woman who makes an honest living, than one who is called veiled, and who parades herself flirtatiously in public places. We understand from this that you attach greater importance to the poor material conditions of Muslims than to religious injunctions. To this day we have not had the good fortune to see you taking any action that would enable our poverty-stricken women to earn an honest living without being exposed to all the temptations that threaten them in these depraved times, even when they are veiled, let alone if we were to throw her into the streets unveiled and lacking a proper upbringing.

If, by good fortune and by virtue of your duty, you had initiated this kind of action, we are convinced that all the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina would have followed you on this path by now and be grateful to you, and we are firmly convinced that you would have achieved greater success in this than by allowing these purely religious issues to be discussed and dealt with in the newspapers, and by permitting unqualified people to meddle in these matters.

For no reason whatsoever, you made a statement in the premises of the Gajret [Effort Association], beginning with the words: “One cannot blaze a trail without being provocative” (Gajret newspaper, December 16, 1927, number 24), but we do not know whom you wish to provoke, and with whom you wish to engage in dispute, and against whom you wish to draw battlelines.

Taking into account the stir which your statements have caused among the citizens, on account of which there were calls for your action to be condemned in open meeting, the Majlis al-Jama‘at, with the intention of protecting your standing and forestalling public debate about these purely religious matters, made representations to you through official channels, which you have treated with irony; instead of treating the matter as an official secret, you have given both our letter and your response to the daily press, from which it clearly follows that you wish and intend these purely religious issues be debated publicly, thus substantiating your statement given to the Gajret: “One cannot blaze a trail without being provocative.”

Unfortunately, this challenge of yours has met with a response, since we have recently read in the Belgrade [newspaper] Politika [Politics] some observations by a so-called defender of your ideas, who does not shy away from calling a hadith [tradition of the Prophet] from the Kutub al-sitta [The Six Books, that is, the six most highly respected hadith collections] false and untrue.

When we read this, we rightly expected you to raise your voice against this unseemly scandal, but unfortunately that too failed to take place, since you did not react to this outrage.

As for the issue of religious endowments, the Majlis al-Jama‘at has to state with regret that you have also raised these issues in a place where they do not belong at all. Endowment issues fall within the jurisdiction of a forum of ours, which is the only authority qualified and competent to discuss these issues. Making statements outside this forum could only have as its purpose to open the way for pressure on the Waqf-Ma‘arif Board to stray from the path regulated by the endowments law.

The Majlis al-Jama‘at is of the view that respect for endowment letters and the principles of the institution of the endowments have preserved the autonomous endowments, because we all witness how the central endowments foundation ended up, by buying bank shares, and that destiny could befall them too, through unification of the endowment property.

As for the question of wearing hats, on this issue the ‘ulama’ have already taken a stand, and with reference to your fatwa, have expressed their view, which went contrary to your fatwa, and which was made public through special pronouncements. It is also known to the Majlis al-Jama‘at that the ‘ulama’ of Egypt have issued fatwas concerning the wearing of hats, in accordance with all four madhhabs. These fatwas were officially confirmed by the Shaykh al-Islam, the Shaykh al-Azhar and the Mufti of Egypt [leading religious officials], and are totally opposed to your decision on the matter and your recent statements.

Copies of the representations sent you by the Majlis al-Jama‘at on the 20th of last month were also sent to the members of the Majlis al-‘Ulama’; in the response it received to these representations, the members do not share your view either, just as they do not approve of individual declarations in these important matters, which justifies the Majlis al- Jama‘at's reasons for warning you of the conclusions of the clergy with regard to your views.

The best proof that the view of Majlis al-Jama‘at is wholly valid on all the issues mentioned in our representations is the statement from the Supreme Mufti of Belgrade, the enlightened Zeki Efendi, published in the Belgrade Politika of December 31, 1927, in which he gave a statement quite appropriate to his post, as befits the office he occupies, and referring to shari‘a regulations, as well as the statement given through Mufti [Ibrahim] Maglajlić [Bosnia, 1861– 1936].

In accordance with all of the above-mentioned, the Majlis al-Jama‘at considers it its duty to state that your letter contains no real response to the questions asked that could satisfy this Majlis al-Jama‘at.

Finally, the Majlis al-Jama‘at must especially note also that its representations are an official document, and according to our education and the mores of the profession, greetings are not included in official communications, while you have treated this with irony in a manner unbecoming to a person who takes himself seriously, such as yourself.

Sarajevo, January 12, 1928

President H. M. Merhemić

To the Sarajevo Waqf-Ma‘arif [Board of the] Majlis al-Jama‘at, via the regional District Waqf-Ma‘arif Board in Sarajevo

I have received your letter of January 12, and here is my response:

My responses are in accordance with what God prescribes in the Qur'an, and although I am familiar with what shari‘a jurists and commentators have said, I prefer to abide by the prescriptions of the Qur'an, because it is eternal and for all times. This is what the Qur'an itself prescribes for me, since it prescribes reflection, study and research. In this regard I do not need your authorization, and therefore it is needless to gainsay me what God Almighty has called upon me to do. It was particularly excessive to criticize my former and present professors. The hierarchy of shari‘a jurists is well known to me. This hierarchy is man-made, and was not prescribed in the Qur'an. If you refer to that hierarchy so that you can say, “This person is better than that,” this is wrong, because only He who sees all, hears all, and knows all can know who is better than whom. No religious scholar has ever spoken to me in such terms as you have. It is well-known that all four great imams [the founders of the four main Sunni madhhabs] always used to say, “We do not compel anyone to accept what we consider to be right; everyone is free to use a source, if he can; we ask no one to follow us blindly.” Apart from this, you know that the faith of Islam recognizes no forum that could prohibit what the Qur'an has made permissible. In Islam, you cannot call someone kufr [unbelief] unless he himself so wishes.

You say that all Muslims to this day have adhered to the shari‘a ordinances concerning the veiling of women, which does not accord with the truth. First of all, there are places in our homeland where Muslim women go out with their faces unveiled, yet conduct themselves very properly and decently. Furthermore, our courtship customs show that we have never followed that jurisprudential ruling. Moreover, our girls of twenty or more have not even covered those parts that Sura 24, Verse 31 requires be covered. The ‘ulama’ have observed all this for centuries, but have not claimed that it did not exist. And now, the Majlis al-Jama‘at wishes to turn a blind eye to this, so it claims that everything is covered. Quite apart from this, I know of areas in Turkey where Muslim women went out with faces unveiled even during the time of the caliphate and the religious officials [that is, during the Ottoman Empire]. During my studies at the time of the late Sultan Abdülhamid [II, reigned 1876–1909], and at the very time when the late Zihni Efendi was publishing his works, institutes of higher education for women were being opened in Istanbul, attended by thousands of students, all of them mature girls, taught by female Muslim teachers and professors with faces uncovered. All this was known both to the caliph himself and the Shaykh al-Islam as well as to muftis, judges, and military judges, and yet, by God, not one so much as paid a glance to Zihni Efendi's mistake. I am familiar with a good part of Arabia and all three parts of Egypt. There too things are not the way you imagine them. In Egypt, Muslim women who work in fields and factories go about with faces and hands uncovered. It is the same in Upper Egypt, while in the Nubian desert, near Lake Chad, live the Tuareg Muslims whose men veil their faces and whose women go unveiled. In Egypt, Muslim girls who study wear special garments, and their faces are unveiled. All the women teachers in girls’ schools are Muslims, and they go about with their faces unveiled. The situation is similar in Yemen, from Kawkaban to Taghz and Lahj. Moreover, there they carry on their heads a large basket like an umbrella, which they call “muzilla.” And I have been informed by a reliable source that even in Persia, where the veiling of women has been most strictly enforced, there are places where Muslim women go unveiled. The same goes for Afghanistan, while in Russia, Muslim women too have been unveiled for a long time now, and play a prominent role in the field of science, while some are doctors, and many are teachers and book-keepers.

I did not use citations from Jassas to interpret my responses to you. I mentioned them to someone else and quoted his interpretation as an example. Kindly, therefore, take a closer look at my first letter. What I quoted from Jassas also corresponds to the Qur'an, because I do not invoke al-Hidaya [Guidance, by Burhanuddin Marghinani, died circa 1197], nor many other shari‘a jurists who share similar views, but only the Qur'an. I affirm, and both my former and present professors also affirm, that the Qur'an demands purity of heart and soul, and decent conduct, from both men and women.

You refer to Sura 24, Verse 31, emphasizing certain words. . . . God alone knows what you meant, because you did not even wish to explain them. In this passage it is said that Muslim women should place a “khimar” over their bosoms. It was the custom in Arabia for women to wear a type of dress through which one could see the bosom, and this was not appropriate for modesty, so there came the order to cover those parts. All of this verse, from “And put” to the end, refers to those secret adornments that cannot be displayed to anyone without necessity, other than to one's husband and close relatives. There is not a word in it about covering the face. “Khimar” is similar to our shawl, which the women in Yemen, who wear a basket on their heads, put over their shoulders and fasten at the neck and bosom. In San‘a’ they draw the khimar over their heads and tie it at the neck so that the two ends cover the bosom, as understood from the words “over their bosoms.”

You refer to some first command concerning veiling, and you have concluded from this verse that everything must be veiled, even the face. This interpretation is entirely false, since the verse is very clear. The verse says that Muslim women should cast down their eyes, guard their private parts for this is purer for them, and not reveal their adornments, save such as are outward; these are the hands and the face, because these are a woman's outward adornment. In Sura 24, Verse 30, Muslim men, too, are required to cast down their eyes and guard their private parts, from which it clearly follows that the main thing— both for men and women—is a good upbringing and moral conduct, without which even veiling serves no purpose.

You also refer to Sura 33, Verse 59, and emphasize certain words, saying that something should be covered in addition to what was prescribed earlier. This is not at all what is to be understood here. It says that [women] should put on a jilbab [outer garment] and draw it close to themselves, and that women should not go about bare-chested. What is demanded here is modest dress, and there is not a word about veiling the face, except that some commentators interpret it to mean that the jilbab should be held in the hands in such a way so that only one eye can see, and this interpretation is taken as a difficult way [of performing a religious duty].

You refer to Sura 33, Verse 33, again considering certain words only, and so you conclude what absolutely cannot be understood from the verse. This verse is a special injunction concerning the noble wives of our Prophet. The verse calls upon the wives of the Prophet not to leave their houses without necessity, and not to behave in the street in the manner of women in the age of ignorance . . . and to remember what is recited in their homes, so as to learn the great signs of God and the Wisdom. . . . There is not a word in that verse about veiling women's faces. I said in my first letter (bearing in mind these injunctions): whoever is able to do so, let him conform to the injunctions concerning the most noble wives of our Prophet, and let him spread learning at home and teach his womenfolk skills, but I assure you that there are very few able to do so these days.

You also refer to Sura 24, Verse 60, and again deduce something that is not in the verse. The verse says that women who are past child-bearing and have no hope of marriage may—without committing a sin—put off their clothes, that is, the jilbab and khimar, but that it is better for them to guard their chastity and not to flaunt their adornments. Again, there is nothing here about veiling the face.

You hold it against me that I take no account of these depraved times, from which it follows that you did not understand me. For twenty-four years you have not understood me, so it seems that you will never understand me. I have always stood for what I affirm and answer for. During the war [World War I], when a workshop for sewing and mending military uniforms was set up, I recommended to many Muslim women that they work there to earn a living. Every time I went to the camp where the workshop was housed, I would always say to the Muslim women: “Behave nicely and decently, do not tarnish the name of Islam, and it is better for you to earn a living honorably than to be a burden on someone else.” On that occasion, when they asked me, I said that they could have their faces and hands uncovered. When a delegation came to me asking to take these Muslim ladies away from the workshop, I explained everything to them, saying, “Each one who joins the workshop earns six crowns a day, and there are some who make as much as 12 crowns, or even 18. If you can secure a hundred crowns a month for every one of them (and there are now 140 of them) until the end of the war, I shall take them away immediately, but their places will be filled by others who can barely wait to be taken on.” At this remark of mine the gentlemen asked for the workshop to be moved to the Kolobara and for a Muslim to supervise it, to which I replied that this was impossible for technical reasons. They left, and the women continued to work until the end of war.

Six years ago, when speaking in the Begova Mosque of the verse “a mother should not be made to suffer on account of her child,” [Sura 2, Verse 233] I gave it a rather broad interpretation. I well remember what I said on that occasion: A mother must not harm her child in bringing it up, nor must a father in supporting it, but the ignorance of parents is the greatest harm to children. Then, adhering to the interpretation of my former and present teachers, I elaborated how, according to shari‘a rules, it is the major duty of every girl to learn the prescriptions on bringing up children and to know the basic rules for protecting a child's health, and how this is something every girl must learn before marriage. I said that it is a duty of all Muslims to disseminate knowledge, both men and women. I explained the difficulties associated with [male doctors performing] the medical examinations needed by Muslim women, and so I emphasized the need to train Muslim women as doctors, and said that this was an individual duty [incumbent upon each Muslim]. I said at that time that Muslim women can pursue their studies with their faces unveiled.

I have criticized some members of the Gajret [Association], even in the Gajret premises. I said that they were a Muslim association, and that as such they were duty-bound to take care of the religious upbringing of the Muslim children entrusted to them, since they [through their association] have taken upon themselves a parental duty. I reproached them for not maintaining religious teachers in their boarding schools, so that the children could become more knowledgeable about religious prescriptions and the proper recitation of certain Qur'anic verses. I criticized them because they took Muslim girls who were unfamiliar with religious prescriptions to an exhibition in Novi Sad and beyond, and during Ramadan at that, and I said that this was inappropriate. Furthermore, I also criticized those who wore hats, both within the Gajret and outside it, and I said to them that it was not proper of them to fail in performing their religious duty, not to come to the mosque for prayer and listen to my lecture, not to come into contact with Muslims and help them with their knowledge. I called upon them to hold lectures, each on his profession, and gave the example of the intelligentsia of our fellow citizens of other religions; I stressed that they too should contribute wholeheartedly to the welfare of the Islamic community.

Therefore, your reproach that I have not done my duty is out of place. I have performed my duty as has no other Reis before me. For almost eight years I have been interpreting religious truths in the Begova Mosque, and I elaborate and recommend what is beneficial for the Islamic community. Having pointed a finger at the shortcomings of our religious upbringing, I have also recommended some remedies. I well remember saying on many occasions, while interpreting God's commands on mutual help, that all Majlis al-Jama‘ats and regional boards should have a list of all the Muslims in their area. They should have a list from which it could be seen who has a guardian and tutor and who has not, how many children go to school and how many do not, who has a job and what kind, as the basis for determining what is best for every sector of the Islamic community. I said then that it is not right to expect of the Reis that he take care of every matter himself. I emphasized that we should all be together, and I would be there too. Despite legal regulations which tie my hands, I have also done more in the field of education than any other Reis. I do not want to lay too much emphasis on all that I have done for the Islamic community, but I must tell you that I am very sorry that the very Majlis al-Jama‘at which should best appreciate my work should reproach me for not performing my duty. If all the Majlis al-Jama‘ats were to say the same, then I would have to affirm that the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina is ungrateful and does not know how to appreciate its people.

The words “one cannot move ahead without being provocative” were not used in the sense you attribute to them. While I was speaking on the Gajret premises about ways of making use of endowment buildings and property, particularly graveyards, someone shouted, “That would provoke the people,” to which I replied, “One cannot move forward without being provocative,” and I mentioned the example of building shops in front of the Ferhadija Mosque. I said that there had been complaints while the shops were being built outside the Ferhadija, and that a friend of mine had come to me angry that the mortal remains of his aunt had been exhumed and buried outside the Ferhadija mihrab [prayer niche facing Mecca]. There is no irony in my letter whatsoever. I am completely sincere and I sincerely express my thoughts, and therefore it was needless to ascribe to me any kind of irony. I am very far from that.

I hardly read our newspapers here, and even the Belgrade press; moreover, I had no time to read this letter of yours until three days ago. I do not know, therefore, who said what. Furthermore, until recently I did not even know that my responses had been characterized as a kind of statement, and you have probably also accepted that. Anyway, many things have been said about the Qur'an too, yet a gem remains a gem, and the hot sun keeps on shining. When you read that attack, you could have responded, since every Muslim is bound to speak and defend the truth.

There is not a word in my letters and responses about coercion, and in this regard you are completely wrong. I respect everyone's opinion, even if it does not agree with mine. Anyone who knows me well can confirm that. At the same time, I have quite a different understanding of the endowments and endowment letters from yours. In any case, those who come after us will be able to see who was right.

I do not know what makes you bring up the issue of wearing hats now. I gave a response regarding hats as long ago as early 1914. And what I said is true. I know what the ‘ulama’ have said, but I also know that this does not correspond to the true source of Islam. As a matter of fact, the ‘ulama’ of Egypt have said nothing new. They have said [quotation in Arabic], “In wearing a hat for the sake of kufr, kufr there will be. . . .” If someone intends kufr in putting on a hat, it will constitute kufr. And I say too, if someone means to become a kafir [unbeliever] by wearing a particular type of dress, he will become a kafir. Thus intention and will are crucial. If someone does not desire kufr, nothing can drive him into kufr.

I know that you have addressed a letter to my friends, because they told me so. I respect everyone's opinion, just as I respect the opinion of my friends and of Hajji Mufti Maglajlić, and even that of the supreme mufti, although I may not know what they said, but I value my own opinion the most, because that is how I was brought up. I impose nothing upon anybody, not even among my own circle. The Majlis al-Jama‘at may take my response any way it wishes. A time will come after us when what Džemaluddin said and intended will be better understood.

The main Islamic centers of Afghanistan, Iran, and Egypt and their decision-making factors have already taken account of the serious upbringing of their womenfolk. The Muslims of these countries have been saying for a long time now that we must shake off our lethargy and disseminate knowledge in all sectors of the Islamic community, as the Qur'an demands, and they demonstrate this by their actions in Afghanistan and Iran, where special professional schools for womenfolk have been opened in which women study various sciences and are introduced to various skills and crafts. In addition, workshops have been opened for the employment of needy and able women. Egypt takes pride in these establishments, and in the hundreds of its educated ladies, who make a great contribution to their homeland in various fields. These Muslims feel the need for Muslim women to be educated in all the professions required by the Islamic community. They say that we must have Muslim women doctors, women teachers, women able to work in the sanitation departments, and women versed in various arts and crafts, as did our forefathers in previous centuries. We cannot, they say, get the better of Europe if we do not make the other half of our strength equal to the struggle and jihad [religious struggle]. . . . These decision makers, who represent millions of Muslims, know the Qur'anic injunctions and the life of the pious early Muslims better than all of us.

Necessity is a very powerful motive force. Necessity compels one to relinquish difficult ways of performing religious duties and to move to easier ways. It was on this basis that the shari‘a jurists set out their arguments. Time achieves wonders. Time changed the feredža [full black mantle, worn with face-covering] into the peca [a gauzy veil over the face] with vala and zar [light outer wraps]. Time is changing both the zar and the vala into the jilbab known as mantija [mantle] and the semi-vala. There is a firm desire to draw a line of upbringing and pure education, so as not to go too far, so as to preserve what is most important—purity of heart and soul, while also meeting one's needs.

At the beginning of your letter, you pronounce me guilty of giving responses, from which I can see that you have not read my letter carefully, or perhaps you doubt my exposition. Am I guilty if someone is desirous of confusing terminology? Three days ago a meeting on municipal elections was held in the reading room; after discussions on the subject, a friend of mine, for whom I had done all I could and even what I should not have, stood up and said, no more no less, “Forget the elections and all that. Do you know that our religion is in danger? The Reis wants to put hats on our heads and to unveil our women.” And he went on to say, agitatedly, “Let him wear a hat and unveil his own wife.” Nobody among the Muslims present wanted to put him right or tell him that the religion is in danger from another quarter, which the Reis fears too—from ignorance. Not even the person who later read the letter from the Majlis al-Jama‘at without my answer did so. If this was not incitement to rebellion, I don’t know what is. I do not know of any reason for discussing this at meetings devoted to municipal elections. I have two unsigned letters sent from here to some districts, in which Muslims are called to rise up against Reis Čaušević's heresy. These letters were brought to my attention and for my use by Muslims, and time is already revealing both their authors and those who sent them. I am not the one, therefore, who is opening up a line of attack, but my best friends who are doing so against me.

I have not told anyone to wear a hat, I have not told anyone to unveil his wife. I merely interpret the truth and the easy paths of religious duty, and the needs that time has brought and continues to bring upon us. The Majlis al-Jama‘at may take my answer however it wishes. There is nothing to prevent it, and I am only glad that the Majlis al-Jama‘at will uphold the rules of the shari‘a and has no intention of giving them up. You would have received this response more quickly and clearly had you come to me, and you would have received an answer concerning the Mufti of Sarajevo's fatwa, but—well—you do not accept even my greeting, proving thereby that your letters are official, and so I withdraw my previous “Salaam aleykum” [Peace be upon you]!

Sarajevo, January 27, 1928


Bibliography references:

Mehmed Džemaluddin Čaušević, “Pismo i Odgovor” (Letter and Response), Novi Behar (New Bloom), Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, number 19, 1928, pp. 290–295. Translation from Bosnian and introduction by Asim Zubčević. Find it in your Library


1. Enes Karić, Twentieth Century Islamic Thought in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: El- Kalem, 2001), pp. 107–224; Find it in your Library Hfz. Mahmud Traljić, Istaknuti Bošnjaci (Prominent Bosniaks), 2d ed. (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Rijaset, 1998), pp. 51–58; Find it in your Library Muharem Dautović, Bibliografija Radova Džemaludina Čauševića (Bibliography of Works by Džemaluddin Čaušević) (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Takvim, 1998); Find it in your Library Smail Balić, Das unbekannte Bosnien (The Unknown Bosnia) (Köln, Germany: Böhlau, 1992), pp. 339–344. Find it in your Library

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