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Rusmir Mahmutćehajić is a Bosnian academic, author, and former statesman. Considered one of Bosnia’s leading intellectuals and public figures, he is the foremost advocate of the idea of Bosnia as a community constituted out of diversity and founded on mutual respect between individuals and between ethnic and confessional groups. A profound scholar of the muslim intellectual tradition, considered as a branch of religio and philosophia perennis, he is widely recognized as a major contributor to contemporary muslim thought and the liberal interpretation of islam as the divine injunction of peaceful co-existence in love.

As an academic, Mahmutćehajić has been professor of both Electrical Engineering and Islamic Phenomenology and was Dean of the Electrical Engineering Faculty of Osijek University. As a statesman, he served his country as Deputy Prime Minister and as Energy minister through the process of independence and four of the five years of war (1991-5).  For the past 12 years, he has been President of International Forum Bosnia, a prominent civil society organization dedicated to the development of critical intelligence and a plural society in Bosnia. He is the author of more than 20 books in Bosnian, some 12 of which have been published in English, French, Italian, and Turkish translations. He is also the author of several hundred academic articles and essays, both in his original field of electrical engineering and on the social and political issues affecting his country, on political philosophy more generally, on religious phenomenology, the critique of ideology, the religious traditions and the potential for interfaith dialogue viewed from a muslim perspective, literary criticism, and the history of his country.

Biographical Details

Professor Mahmutćehajić was born in the southern Bosnian town of Stolac on 29 June, 1948 to a notable local family with a strong tradition of participation in public life. Over the generations his ancestors have served as public officials for the Ottoman, the Royal Yugoslav, and the Socialist Yugoslav regimes, as he did the newly independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1994.

Academic Career

Mahmutćehajić attended Stolac Gymnasium or Secondary School. He continued his studies at Sarajevo University, graduating as an electrical engineer in 1973. He pursued postgraduate studies in the field of electromagnetic wave propagation in multiconductor systems, attaining a Masters degree in 1975 and a Doctorate in 1979, both from the University of Zagreb.  From 1985 to 1991, Mahmutćehajić was a professor and then Dean of the Electrical Engineering Faculty of Osijek University in Croatia. In 1988, he spent a year as a visiting professor at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). During this period, Mahmutćehajić published a number of technical books and papers, establishing himself as a leading expert in his specialist field of electromagnetic wave propagation in multiconductor systems.

Since 1995, Mahmutćehajić has taught postgraduate courses and supervised doctoral candidates at the Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Islamic Theology faculties of the University of Sarajevo, the former concentrating on applied physics and mathematics, with special reference to the digitalisation of complex wave phenomena, the latter on the phenomenology of Islam. His bibliography in both fields is extensive. Prior to his academic engagement, Mahmutćehajić served as the Director of the Sarajevo University Institute for Ergonomics.  He has served as a member of the European Electromagnetic Transients Committee and as President of the CIGRE BH committee.

Engagement in Politics and as a Public Intellectual

In parallel to his academic career, Mahmutćehajić pursued literary and philosophical interests, publishing collections of essays and literary fragments in the early to mid 1980s.  As the situation in which his country found itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s became clear, however, he was increasingly drawn into public life, taking an active role in the creation of an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina and the development of a pluralist civil society capable of leading the country through the multiple transitions facing it (social, economic, and political) and the subsequent war.

Although not a member of any political party, he served his country as the Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1992, in which capacity he was a member of the official delegations sent to various constitutional and peace negotiations sponsored by the European Union in Brussels, Lisbon, and Sarajevo. He also served as the President of the Social Affairs Committee and the Vice President of the Committee for the Referendum on National Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  From 1992 to 1994, he served as the Energy Minister and played a key role in organizing the successful defence of besieged Sarajevo and in keeping alive the sacred goal of a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Bosnia.

In 1994, Mahmutćehajić withdrew from active political life in protest at and opposition to the increasing and essentially defeatist ethno-nationalist vision of his former colleagues in government. He remained in Sarajevo, where he continues to live to this day, making it his mission to articulate an alternative vision of life in his country, its history, and its significance as a crossroads of civilizations and cultures within Europe. For Mahmutćehajić, Bosnia represents a vital opportunity for cultural and social renewal not just in the Balkans, but for Europe more generally. In contrast to what he has termed “the denial of Bosnia,” which had dismissed the country as a quagmire of irreconcilable interests and ethnic groups and his people as foreign intruders within the space and soul of a Europe defined by its exclusive Christian heritage, Mahmutćehajić sees Bosnia as an enduring historical subject, an oasis of tolerance under siege, and a place whose history is one of peaceful diversity and of “Difference in Unity.” Of particular importance for his view is the fact that Bosnia has been the focal point for an indigenous European Muslim tradition for the best part of a millennium, a fact he relates to the even longer history of peaceful coexistence between different Christian and non-Christian religious traditions going back to early Christian times. In Mahmutćehajić’s Bosnia, cultural and religious plurality is a source of strength, not weakness, of understanding, not conflict, and of creative coexistence rather than intolerance.

This vision, shared with many of the most important intellectuals of contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as of the neighbouring former Yugoslav republics, found a home at the International Forum Bosnia, a civil society organisation which Mahmutćehajić has served in the role of President since its foundation in 1997. In this role, Mahmutćehajić has participated in and organised literally hundreds of public discussions and debates on the many urgent social, economic, and political issues affecting Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider western Balkan region. He is also a member of the editorial committee of the International Forum Bosnia's Journal and has edited many of the individual volumes.

Reconstruction of the muslim intellectual tradition

In recent years, Mahmutćehajić has increasingly turned to the exposition of his personal and highly philosophical understanding of the muslim intellectual tradition and how the authentic islam of peace, love, and coexistence can be restored, in the face of the distorted reification common to fundamentalist islamists and their ideological counterparts in the West. Mahmutćehajić’s work of intellectual and religious reconstruction has received the recognition and support of many leading contemporary Muslim intellectuals, as well as Christian and Jewish thinkers and religious leaders interested in furthering interfaith dialogue and understanding. He is a regular participant at international conferences, symposia, and summer schools on interfaith issues. For the past four years, he and International Forum Bosnia have organised a series of annual International Conferences on Unity and Plurality in Europe in Mostar, attended by academics, political leaders, and leading members of human rights-oriented civil society groups from the Western Balkan region and around the world (particularly the US, the UK, and Israel), as well as annual International Youth and Heritage Summer Camps in Stolac, in cooperation with the Luxembourg Scouts and Girl Guides and a number of other local and international organizations, bringing together young adults from all over the world to work and learn together with academics and religious leaders of all faiths.

During the period since 1994, Professor Mahmutćehajić has participated in or led more than 60 research projects connected to questions on the development of pluralism in society, school curricula, religion and tolerance, textual and liturgical reasoning, the reception of Mary the Mother of Jesus in the Christian and Islamic traditions, the question of justice, tradition and memory, etc. He has published a dozen books and more than 100 articles and essays dealing with social and political issues, political philosophy, religious phenomenology, the religious traditions and the potential for interfaith dialogue viewed from an Muslim intellectual perspective, as well as a number of translations of classic works of philosophia perennis from English and of the muslim tradition from Arabic. This activity reflects his fundamental reorientation from the exact to the social sciences, political issues, and their philosophical basis, in response to the crisis that began to unfold in his country and Central and Eastern Europe more generally during the late 1980s.  He is widely recognised as having developed a unique and mature interpretation of the muslim intellectual tradition as based on peace, love, and the recognition of difference and otherness as expressive of Divine Unity. In so doing, he has provided a contemporary understanding of islam that avoids the pitfalls of both reactionary fundamentalism and deracinating modernisation in favour of respect for difference and the many ways of approaching truth. A list of his books translated into English and other languages and some of his articles and essays which also appeared in international journals is appended.

 
ON LOVE |  In The Muslim Tradition

ON LOVE | In The Muslim Tradition

Rusmir Mahmutćehajić

Foreword by David B. Burell, C.S.C Translated by Celia Hawkesworth Forham University Press New York 2007

THE MOSQUE

THE MOSQUE

Rusmir Mahmutćehajić

The Heart of Submission, with a foreword by William C. Chittick, Fordham University Press, 2006

LEARNING FROM BOSNIA

LEARNING FROM BOSNIA

Rusmir Mahmutćehajić

Approaching Tradition, with a foreword by Adam B. Seligman, Fordham University Press, 2005