I went to Serbia in June 2009 – Below are some thoughts on it.
I felt home (Pakistani style) as soon as I came out of the airplane, same diesel rich air, hot weather (temp 30c), rest of the hoo ha, and on top of it a driver waiting outside. Wah wah mazaa aa giya. I am in Belgrade, capital of Serbia (which used to be Yugoslavia).
The old Yugoslavia has been broken into many small countries during last 20 years (see names below). Current day Serbia tried to unite/occupy many of these through military force (for example Bosnia & Kosvo) but failed (or forced to fail). Nato allies (US, UK, etc) attacked it in 1999, some damaged buildings are still visible in the city.
Now Serbia is a small country (77,000 Sq KM) in south-eastern Europe with 9 bordering neighbors (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, & Romania). Population is about 8 million, 92% Christians (85% orthodox) and 3% Muslims concentrated in area adjacent to Bosina. Currency is called Dinar, so for sure area was ruled by Muslims for long.
Belgrade is a beautiful old city dating back up to 7000 years, a bit polluted now. Two famous rivers pass through Belgrade, namely Sava and Danube & become one here. There is a huge fortress ‘Kalemegdan’ that has been built, modeled and remodeled many times by Romans, Serbs, Austrians and Turks over a time period of more than 2,000 years. There are many beautiful churches in the city. City’s strategic location made it everybody’s darling. Greeks, Romans, Turks (Usmani khilafat), Austrian, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Serbs all fought for it, so much so that it has seen 114 wars and been razed to ground 44 times.
It was the HQ city for that region under Usmani’s khilfat. It had 273 mosques; none exists now except one. The 400 years old Bajrakli Mosque is still in use for prayers. I went to the mosque and met few Muslims there. An Islamic books & related items shop is also functional alongside.
There are only two halal restaurants in Belgrade, I had the honor of visiting both. One is in the basement next to the only functional mosque. The owner is Anatolian (Turkish) Muslim. I asked him to bring some traditional dish, guess what he brought? A Hungarian dish Golash (see photo).
It is very difficult to distinguish a Muslim by appearance in Serbia because Christians and Muslims look a like. Some Christians keep beard too. Most Muslims have left the place after Bosnian war. The tall person in the photo is a Serb Muslim. He was born and bread there. He lives with his Christian mother. His mother made sure he becomes a good Muslim; dad didn’t care (he was Muslim – how strange!). Are you a Serb, I enquired? No I am a Muslim, he replied spontaneously without hesitation. See, how he does not recognize himself as Serb even though born to a Serb Christian mother. We the Muslims are not nationalists, we belong to an ideology and hence to an ideological nation. Ethnicity is irrelevant.
Serbs look like a mix of Greeks, Russians & eastern Europeans. I did not find them attractive (other than white skin has its charm). They appear peaceful and friendly. I guess it was the evil of Serb nationalism that made them behave like animals in Bosnia & also few mistakes made by Muslims living there. Color, race, language & geographical area based nationalism is an evil, it makes people fight. I did not dare to ask their feelings about Muslims & the war. It was clearly a sensitive issue.