Day 3: Through the mountains to the mystical city of Mostar

Saturday 20th August 2022, Sarajevo

We set off for the two-and-a-half-hour journey just after 10am. It had rained the night before, so the temperature in Sarajevo was moderate. The 5th largest city in the country, Mostar would take us towards the south. This meant the weather would be much warmer in Mostar, our driver told us.

Magnificent mountains graced the scenery on either side of us. The alpine scenes were breathtaking. It is no wonder that the grand Mufti of Pakistan, Mufti Taqi Uthmani had described Bosnia as the ‘Paradise of Europe’. The aqua-blue water of the lakes and rivers surrounding the mountains shimmered in the summer sun. Small white houses seemed to cling on to the mountains, like little dolls’ houses glued on to a scenic background as part of a child’s play.

A brief history of Mostar and the Stari Most Bridge

It is hard to find a non-biased version of the historic events that took place in Mostar and what became of the famous bridge. Many accounts seem to ignore the fact that there was a genocide in which Muslims were targeted specifically. What is more, very little is known about the efforts that went into reconstructing the bridge and the city.

Stari Most Bridge

The iconic Stari Most bridge is a monument from the Ottoman Empire’s Golden Age. Described as “unparalleled” by the Ottoman traveller Evliya Celebi, the bridge was completed in the final year of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It was deemed an architectural masterpiece. However, 427 years later, the bridge was bombed to oblivion by Croat soldiers. It took more than 60 missiles and 3 days of targeted bombing to destroy Mostar’s most important symbol of its heritage. Once the bridge was no more, the Croat soldiers were seen celebrating, by shooting bullets into the sky.

The dreadful footage can be seen below.

Reconstruction of the Old Bridge and city

His name is Amir Pašić . A Bosnian architect, Pašić was a visiting scholar at Harvard University in the USA when he first heard about the bridge’s destruction. He wasted no time in campaigning for the bridge to be rebuilt. His efforts caught the attention of UNESCO and other trusts and organisations. 11 years later, with the collective contributions of scientists, heritage experts and Ottoman experts, the Old Bridge was recreated exactly as it was before. The bridge took 4 years to build, and was completed on the 23rd of July 2004. As part of this project, the old city was rebuilt aswell. It must be mentioned that Professor Pašić’s defiance was highly admirable; he refused to let the Croats take his heritage away.

Below is some footage from my phone. There is a tradition where daredevils jump off the bridge to entertain tourists in exchange for money. The video shows the divers preparing themselves.

I just about caught it on camera!

Famous misinterpretations of the Mostar Bridge

The famous English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans wrongly attributed the Mostar Bridge to Emperor Trajan in his 1897 book Through Bosnia and Herzegovina. He claimed the Bridge simply had to be Roman, that it was too grand to have been built by the Ottomans. A similar Islamophobic attitude is also summed up in the Bridge’s description by the 19th-century painter Charlotte de Lazen. Having fallen in love with the bridge, she remarked that the Stari Most bridge was a ‘marvellous remnant of Latin civilisation in the midst of “Turkish barbarity.”‘ This was all despite the original date of the bridge attributing its construction to the reign of Sultan Suleiman. Such was the strength of their prejudice that they were blind to the obvious facts.

In Mostar

Upon arriving in Mostar, we were welcomed by the call to Dhur prayer that could be heard from the 16th-century Hadži-Kurtova džamija mosque. A praiseworthy feature of the Ottoman mosques was that they had an outdoor prayer area for both men and women, known as the traveller’s mihrab. This area was used when the mosque was locked outside of scheduled prayer times.

A fun day out

In stark contrast to its heartbreaking history, Mostar is now a tourist hotspot, with Gulf Arabs in particular flocking here for the lush greenery. Burka-clad women can be seen perched together on benches near the springs and waterfalls, taking in the beauty of nature.

I delightfully splashed water on my face from the water flowing towards the waterfalls.

The Spring of Buna and the Blagaj Tekke

We stopped at a restaurant by the River Buna. One of the strongest springs in Europe, the River Buna springs icy and pure water from the mouth of a cave.

Another famous tourist attraction by the River Buna is the Blagaj Tekke, also known as the ‘Dervish Monastery’. Nearly 600 years old, it is situated under the cliff near the Buna River. The Tekke was built by Ottomans who had arrived in the area in 1520, and wanted to create a space for peaceful worship. They picked a most perfect location!

We headed back to our hotel in Sarajevo just after 6pm. Our visit to Mostar would be a day to remember and recount.

Please note that my account of the history of the bridge has been summarised from Tharik Hussain’s book called Minarets in the Mountains. I have previously written a review on his book for British Muslim Magazine. To read the review, click here:

Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey into Muslim Europe 

To buy Hussain’s book, click on the following link:

You might also like to read his 2018 article below. If you scroll down, you will find some information on Mostar and its iconic bridge, the Stari Most.

Day 2: A day of remembrance

For the Friday Jumu’ah prayers, we decided to go to the Katarski Islamski Centar again, since it was close by.

Inspired by the Turkish Islamic practice, Quran is recited before the prayer takes place.

Visiting the graveyard

Across the road from the mosque, a pathway leads to a mass graveyard where those who were killed in the Bosnian genocide are laid to rest. Some 10, 000 people were killed in Sarajevo alone. The mountains surrounding Sarajevo made the city an easy target. On one bloody day in October 1995, over 3700 snipers were fired into the city.

It was just as the bitter conflict was starting to come to an end that I remember seeing the grainy footage of war on the news. I didn’t understand much, but I felt a deep sadness. Ever since, I have wanted to make peace, and pay my respects.

As late afternoon approached, we took a short car ride to the old quarter, Bascarsija. Once there, we went to pray in the Ottoman-era Sultan Muhammad Fatih mosque, better known as the Emperor’s mosque. This is the oldest mosque in the city. The mosque was built soon after the city was founded in 1462.

Final stop – the renowned Ghazi Husrev-Beg mosque

We stopped here after ‘Asr Salah, and left after Maghrib Salah.

Built in 1531, the mosque was built by Ghazi Husrev-Beg, a Bosnian Ottoman emperor from 500 years ago. The mosque was built during the Golden age of the Ottoman Empire, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent sat on the throne. Ghazi Husrev-Beg funded the mosque through charitable endowment (waqf). It was part of a huge complex of buildings. As well as the mosque, the waqf also payed for the construction of schools, libraries, travel inns and much more. Some of the buildings still survive, but it is the mosque that remains the main attraction.

We had some time left to explore the Old Town.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo

Day One in Pictures

Today’s Dhuhr Adhan can be heard from the Katarski Islamski Centre by clicking the following link:

It so happened that Thursday was the day that families gathered at the Katarski Islamski Centar (after the ‘Asr prayer) to get together, share food and let the children play. So, we were fortunate to have been a part of this. Speaking to a local Bosnian was the highlight for me, and a long-awaited wish I had. I was only able to speak with one Bosnian lady, who could speak English.

The sight of children having fun and playing was delightful. Eventually, we heard the Adhan for Maghrib, and entered the mosque to pray.

Layers of loss and grief: how life changed its course in recent months

Sunday 27th September 2021

It was 6am, and I was lying awake on that Sunday morning. Suddenly, my husband’s phone rang. It had only been two weeks since my father-in-law passed away, and we were still in the early stages of mourning. This was the first major loss our family would experience, but it wouldn’t be the last.

“Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi Raji’oon.” I heard my husband solemnly say on the phone. He sounded shocked, and kept repeating one name in disbelief: “Uthman?”

I felt paralysed before I could feel any pain. Uthman, my 10-year-old nephew (my sister’s son) had died the night before . My daughter, who is the same age, had lost her best friend and cousin. I had to muster up some courage to let the children know, before we headed to my sister’s house. When we eventually reached, I saw my sister laying in bed, eyes closed, unable to move. I raised my head to see that Uthman’s white thobe was hanging from the wardrobe door, and remembered the conversation I had with him on the Wednesday before:

“I am starting Hifdh on Monday Khala Amma!” he had told me with great excitement. Monday never came for him, not in this world. May he rejoice in the gardens of Paradise with all the other children taken so young. The loss of Uthman shook our family, but we will try our utmost to keep his memory alive, and to continue his legacy of love, laughter and kindness. Uthman leaves behind two younger brothers. This March the 7th, Uthman would have been 11. I imagined him walking down the stairs, rushing to his mother with excitement. There is so much pain inside for all of us I can never fully articulate. I pray for his parents, most of all, that they are granted some degree of peace and reassurance that Uthman is now safe and dwelling in gardens of bliss.

Tuesday 4th January 2022

After a gruelling battle with liver cancer, my beloved maternal grandmother had finally breathed her last. It was news we had been expecting, yet it did not make it easier to bear. Once a woman of great beauty and stature, she now lay lifeless in her white shroud, ready to continue her journey into another realm. The backbone of our family had now left us. I was her eldest grandchild, and she had taken care of me after birth.

By this stage, I was already taking time off university. In September 2021, I had started the final year of my undergraduate degree, but any hope of completion was shattered by what was to come. I wasted no time in taking a year out of study. In retrospect, it was the best thing I ever did.

In a few days, it will be Ramadhan, the blessed month of fasting. Less than a year ago, we would never have known that we would lose three members of our family, and that in three households, there will be one empty seat at our tables. Ramadhan reminds us of the constants amidst the variables of this fleeting life: mercy and forgiveness. I know just how much I and other family members will depend on these constants in the coming weeks.

My final message to my family, friends and associates: I wish you all a very blessed Ramadhan. Keep me in your pious duas, and I will do the same.

With love


Amidst linguistic scholars: my first contribution to academia

During the first month of my second year at university in 2020, my lecturer, Dr Isabela Fairclough, set us a homework task as part of a formative assessment. Isabela specialises in linguistic subjects such as discourse analysis and media framing. She lectures in argumentation theory, media framing and semantics at the University of Central Lancashire. As part of this homework task, we had to choose to write about one of eight topics which we were already investigating on the basis of media coverage. Some of these topics included: freedom of speech, social media and mass surveillance. Once we had chosen the topic, we were to write an imaginary letter to the Vice-Chancellor, framing our own experience as students in terms of what we felt was the most significant value. I chose to write about freedom of speech.

My lecturer showed great appreciation for the letters we wrote, and took the time to send an email to our class to tell us how pleased she was. In this email, she listed some names of students whose work stood out to her – one of those names were mine, and another one of those names was Ben, my fellow classmate. I was immensely grateful to my lecturer for showing such appreciation for my work.

A few weeks later, my lecturer sent me and Ben another email. Isabela was editing a collection of essays in honour of her husband’s 80th birthday, and was asking us both whether we would give permission for our letters to be included in this contribution. “What a beautiful tribute to her husband!” I thought. Not only did I feel honoured, but was extremely moved by my lecturer’s admiring acknowledgement of her students’ work. During my time at university, I have witnessed how thoughtful my lecturers have been when it came to giving me feedback, and it has truly helped me to progress. They were more than tutors: they were mentors. But to have my work featured in one of my lecturers’ publications was an unparalleled achievement, and a testimony to Isabela’s dedication to her field of expertise.

In 2021, Isabela’s edited collection of essays was published, and the book is called Language and Power: Essays in honour of Norman Fairclough. There are also two other editors for the publication. The book brings together the work of scholars from around the world to celebrate the contribution made to the field of discourse studies by Norman Fairclough. Dr Norman Fairclough is now the Emeritus Professor of Language in Social Life at the University of Lancaster.

The texts and tributes describe the development of a discipline, and of the University of Lancaster over time. It traces commonalities, differences and changes in the work of some major names in the field of Critical Discourse Analysis. What is also discernible just by looking at the description of the book and the pages of endearing pictures, is my lecturer’s love and loyalty towards her dear husband. The book is not simply a collection of academic composition, but also a glimpse into a lifetime of happy memories that husband and wife have shared alongside their academic ventures. Indeed, this is what makes this publication so special. To have my name recorded amongst these scholarly giants in this heartwarming tribute is a dream come true for a student like me.

The book is available to purchase on Amazon, or you can click on the link below:

Dr Isabela also has another publication – co-authored with her husband called Political Discourse Analysis.

Minarets in the Mountains: a book review

Minarets in the Mountains is a fascinating account of Tharik Hussain’s journey around Muslim Europe, accompanied by his wife and children. A former teacher and journalist, Hussain guides his reader with focus and precision as he treads across several countries in the Balkans to explore the remnants of a once Ottoman Europe. The author delights readers with descriptions of idyllic mountainous regions and makes note of the Islamic-themed architecture he finds during his visits to each mosque and its minarets. The author is a Fellow at the University of Groningen’s Centre for Religion and Heritage, and is the creator of Britain’s first Muslim Heritage trails, known as The Woking Trails and The Muslim Cemetery Trails.

The book gives detailed historic accounts of an indigenous Muslim Europe, and it is evident that the author has thoroughly researched each of the countries he visited. In line with his teaching persona, Hussain never strays from the purpose of his journey, which is to follow in the footsteps of the great Ottoman explorer Evliya Celebi. Hussain is a brilliant storyteller, who masterfully engages his reader by showing rather than telling. The reader is accompanied by Hussain on a round trip starting from Sarajevo – dubbed as the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’ – to Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro, before once again returning to Sarajevo for a final remembrance. Accounts from each of these countries include the origins of an indigenous Muslim Europe, with enchanting illustrations of the tombs of Sufis and mystics who once graced these regions with their blissful presence.

Hussain’s book portrays a pleasing picture of harmonious communities, where people of all and no religions live side by side, socialising, engaging in mutual business and even going on to marry one another. The Ottoman Europe modelled the ideal society by taking care of its own people as well as protecting the oppressed and downtrodden. The book highlights that the Balkans served as a haven for Jews when Nazi power was in full force. One realisation kept manifesting itself in my mind while I was reading this book: it is that no nation can be truly wiped out, ever; no identity can ever be erased. In some way, like a determined flower that germinates and blossoms from the cracks of concrete, civilisations too, will inevitably return to continue their forefathers’ legacies. Even if bullets are fired, bridges are burned, and masses are murdered, the force of their undying love and loyalty will restore life, revive lush terrains, and rebuild bridges stronger than ever before.

A discernible feature of Hussain’s book is that he casts his family as memorable characters in the narrative. With the author portraying himself as the protagonist and his family as the dramatis personae, adventure is summoned at every turn of the journey. The thoughts and musings of his wife Tamara, and his daughters Amani and Anaiya bring the book to life, giving the reader a firm sense of presence in the narrative. It would have been interesting to hear more of Tamara’s thoughts and insights about the places she visited, and of what the children thought more. However, I understand this may not have fit into the scope of the book and its intended purpose. There is no doubt that this book will entertain even the most sceptical of minds, allowing their eyes to see beyond dreadful rumours and distorted headlines at the true beauty and brotherhood of a Muslim Europe. As I approached the end of this book, I silently celebrated the enriched concepts of Komsiluk and La Convivencia and wondered whether our little Island may ever experience anything like it.

Facing Darkness Together – how a Muslim Bosnian Scholar and his friend, an Imam, saved the Sarajevo Haggadah

Over the last few weeks, communities have gathered to remember the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including 1.5 million children. Yesterday, I too, found myself reflecting silently at a Holocaust Memorial Service. I had attended alongside my husband, who had been invited to say a prayer, having served the locality as an Imam for over a decade. There was a unified solemnity during the service, as we listened to the harrowing accounts from the Holocaust, and remembered the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. All of these victims were targeted for one reason only: their identity.

The theme for 2022 was “One Day”, and a Holocaust Fellow of the Imperial War Museum shared some poignant reflections. Soon, it was my husband’s turn to say a prayer. He read a special prayer, written collaboratively by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and Senior Imam Qari Asim. A few verses of the prayer are as follows:

Loving God, we come to you with heavy hearts, remembering the six million Jewish souls murdered during the Holocaust.

In the horrors of that history, when so many groups were targeted because of their identity, and in genocides which followed, we recognise destructive prejudices that drive people apart.

Forgive us when we give space to fear, negativity and hatred of others, simply because they are different from us.

In the light of God, we see everyone as equally precious manifestations of the Divine, and can know the courage to face the darkness.

The words of the prayer spread warm positivity, and filled us with hope. Although history has proven that evil exists, it also proves that good equally exists, and that good will prevail. My trail of thoughts took me to a very special story, of another imam, who had played an important part in protecting the heritage of the Jews during the Nazi terror. This imam was the friend of Bosnian Muslim scholar Dervis Korkut, who famously saved Sarajevo’s Haggadah. In the early hours of one morning in 1942, German Military Authorities were coming for the National Museum in Sarajevo, with the intent of eradicating the Jews’ heritage. The Museum director informed Dervis (he was a translator for visitors), who then acted upon his intuition. Dervis and the Museum Director hurried to the basement of the museum and opened a safe. Inside, was the treasured Sarajevo Haggadah. Dervis hid the sacred manuscript under the waistband of his trousers, and went to meet the Nazi General with a smile. Dervis was careful not to disclose the whereabouts of the Haggadah, all the while, it was hidden beneath his garments while the Nazi General was oblivious!

The General soon left, but Dervis could not rest. With no time to waste, he then hastened towards a village in the Treskavica mountain range, where his friend was the local imam. The imam hid the Haggadah amongst the mosque’s Qurans, where it stayed safely until the war was over. Once the Nazis had left Sarajevo, the imam brought the Haggadah back to Dervis.

More details of this story, and Dervis’ other heroic acts to save Jews can be found here:

The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the world’s oldest Haggadahs: a magnificent manuscript with gold and silver leaf illuminations. It tells the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah was bought by the National museum towards the end of the 19th century, and still remains till this day.

Leaving the service, I reiterated a verse from the prayer which was read by my husband, and added my own verse:

In the light of God, we see everyone as equally precious manifestations of the Divine, and can know the courage to face the darkness.

May we live amongst each other with love, harmony and in the safety that all our identities will be celebrated.


FREE Proofreading Workshops for UCLan students: a Linguistics Project

‘At its best, writing has helped to transform the world.  Revolutions have been started by it.  Oppression has been toppled by it.  And it has enlightened the human condition.’

(The National Commission on Writing 2003)

As inspiring as the above quote might be, the reality is that writing is a laborious task. No one will relate to this statement more than university students. They are the ones who will understand the struggle and effort needed to produce an intellectual masterpiece, from typing the first word of the assignment till clicking that Submit button. So, what if English is not your first language (EAL)? In this case, academic writing will be double the effort. Speaking, reading and writing in a second language are activities that require courage. What is more, research suggests that second-language learners acquire their new language differently to native speakers, and so any type of intervention to help them understand English must be tailored to suit their needs as second-language learners. How can we find out more about this? This is what my dissertation research project sets out to answer.

In answering this question, I am specifically interested in EAL students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, because these subjects demand a particular style of writing that is very technical, and students find it challenging to adapt their writing to this style on a discourse level. Students are required to decode their numerical findings and data into flowing academic prose – this is certainly no mean feat! Therefore, I want to explore how some of these hurdles can be overcome, by designing a programme for EAL STEM students. In this programme, I will introduce students to that final stage of writing: proofreading.

As part of my project, I am investigating whether proofreading workshops for EAL (English as an additional language) students who are studying STEM subjects at UCLan can improve their academic performance. I am offering students the opportunity to attend a FREE six-week proofreading workshops, where they will learn the skills to proofread their own academic work. Students have the opportunity to receive feedback on how to improve their written composition.

Book Review: Myth and Madness by Daniel Hryhorczuk

As I commenced the reading of this book, I found myself placed amidst the cacophony of a political turmoil amongst earnest protesters in a country’s capital city. The focus is on three university students who are passionate about getting their voices heard loud and clear, while also recording events as they unfold. The protagonist is the student recording the protests. He has an unusually deep imagination, because of which he is often dismissed by his companions. As the reader, I found myself unable to make sense of the situation until chapter 3, where the plot eventually starts to come together in a spectacular way. From there on, I was drawn in.  

Myth and Madness is about the healing effect of the mind’s imagination, shown through the eyes of Nick, a university student, whose storytelling abilities often blur the line between fantasy and reality, but this is not always a bad thing for him. He eventually crosses his path with a young and beautiful therapist called Natalka, who, in her own efforts to help Nick during therapy sessions, finds herself coming face to face with her own dark past. 

I appreciated the way in which the writer brought together each of the characters flawlessly in scenes as part of the plot. I experienced moments of surprise, shock, thrill and even trepidation, but I never felt a dull moment while reading this book. It was clear why the book was called “Myth and Madness” instead of, let’s say, “Malice and Murder”: creativity will always outshine cruelty. The most memorable part of the book was the ending, as it symbolised hope and happiness. I always love an ending on a joyous note, where the protagonist is successful in his quest to find his beloved: a true fairy tale ending.

What I enjoyed most while reading this book was that it connected me to a community and culture that is worlds apart from my own. It was my curiosity that led me to find this book: while doing some research on a midwifery internship in the summer of 2021, I came across an interesting birth cohort study and decided to contacted the researcher. I received a prompt and satisfactory reply to my question, and continued to gather information on the study. In doing so, I stumbled across a interesting detail in the bio of the researcher whom I had contacted. His name was Daniel Hryhorczuk, a Professor of Medicine, but there was more. He was also the author of Myth and Madness, and had a BA Honours degree in Creative Writing! That was when I decided to buy the book and read it.

The extraordinary effect of a good story of fiction and fantasy cannot be disregarded. The world needs storytellers, mostly because many of us tend to learn more deeply from an imaginary character’s idiosyncratic experiences than from sweeping philosophies and expansive research.

Reading this book made me realise that regardless of our differing outward identities, we are all united in our desire to live together harmoniously, and with dignity.

To find out more about the author and his published novels, click here:

A serendipitous reminder: Tafseer of Surah Nasr

September arrived rather hastily this year, as though in a hurry to resume normality. It brought with it an autumnal breeze that carried the currents of renewed hope; another chance at becoming better. I took this opportunity to enrol onto a Tafseer class to understand the deeper meaning of the Quran: the word of God.

Pen and paper were at the ready, but my notebook was not the only canvas to absorb the words describing the divine. The heart too, was feeling a shift. The rust of the heart began to make way for the Light of His wisdom, as the words were recited….

“In the name of Allah, the most Merciful, the Most Kind

When the divine help of God has come and the victory. And you see the people entering the Way of God in huge crowds. Then, glorify the praise of your Lord and seek repentance from Him. Indeed, he is the Acceptor of Repentance.”

The heart embraced these verses and felt a renewed vigour and vitality to serve the One. It recognised that the Lord is more Merciful than can ever be imagined, and that His help is ever-lasting. The heart understood that every loss occurs to bring a greater gain; all we must do is trust Him. Going further, the intellectual faculties were exposed to the beauty of the classical Arabic of the Quran: each and every noun, verb, preposition and grammatical concept encoded divine wisdom. Reaching into the depths, the soul felt a shift towards the spiritual realm, and in that moment, all worldly pursuits seemed futile, when compared to the pursuit of seeking Him.