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Dr Fikret Karčić: the loss of a prominent Bosniak Muslim scholar

29th Apr 2022
Dr Fikret Karčić: the loss of a prominent Bosniak Muslim scholar

(Photo courtesy of Hikmet Karčić)

Prominent Bosniak scholar and author, Professor Fikret Karčić passed away on March 16, due to COVID-19 complications at 67. His funeral, which was held at Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque the following day, was attended by hundreds of mourners wanting to pay their respect to the man regarded by his peers among the “greatest scholars Bosnia ever had”.

Dr Karčić was Professor of Comparative Legal History at the University of Sarajevo. He is considered one of the most prominent Muslim scholars in Europe.

Karčić was born in the eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad in 1955. He received his secondary education at the Gazi Husrev-Beg Madrasa in Sarajevo. In 1978, he graduated from the Faculty of Law in Sarajevo. At the Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade, he defended his master’s degree titled “Shariʻa Courts in Yugoslavia 1918-1941” in 1985 and 1989, and his doctoral degree titled “The Sharia Law Reform Movement and Its Echoes in Yugoslavia in the first half of the 20th century”.

He has lectured at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo, Marmara University in Istanbul, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, the University of Oslo, and Boise State University (US).
His main academic interests were the history of Islamic law and institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the post-Ottoman period, reformist movements in Islam, Balkan Muslims, and comparative legal cultures and Muslims in secular states.

He is the author of numerous books, including The Sharia Courts in Yugoslavia 1918-1941 (1985), Socio-legal Aspect of Islamic Reformism (1990), The Bosniaks and the Challenges of Modernity: Late Ottoman and Hapsbury Times (1999), Studies in Sharia Law and Institutions (2011), Research Methods in Islamic Sciences (2013), Balkan Muslims: The “Eastern Question” in the 20th Century (2014), and The Other European Muslims: A Bosnian Experience (2015).

Zuhdija Hasanović, Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Sciences at the University of Sarajevo, paid tribute to Karčić, writing, ‘As a scientist, he pushed the boundaries with his published books and works.

For appearances at international conferences, he spoke most beautifully about our experiences and our understanding of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When it comes to Professor Karčić as a public figure, he was extremely engaged, and we know that best within the Islamic community. All important projects, if we wanted them to succeed, then they were entrusted to Professor Karčić.’

Riada Asimovic Akyol is the strategic initiatives’ Editor at New Lines and a Bosnian journalist based in Washington, D.C., tweeted: ‘With many of his essays and books in our libraries, the responsibility remains – to keep quoting, learning from the late Professor Fikret Karčić. and to keep advancing the intellectual arguments of this great, prolific Bosniak scholar. Sincere condolences.’

Throughout his four decades of academic work, he will be remembered for laying the foundations and reforming Islamic legal education at the International Islamic University in Malaysia and the University of Sarajevo, BiH.

He coined and defined the term “Islamic tradition of Bosniaks” as a unique experience of Islam in BiH and introduced innovative practices and teaching methods within the “demands of time” principle. Among Muslim scholars, he was a pioneer in reconciling the adherence of Islamic religious norms in a secular state. He argued that in the absence of an Islamic state, Shariah law retains its validity while Islamic legal norms become religious ethics.

He served as the President of the Constitutional Court of the Muslim community of BiH. In 2018, together with Dr Enes Karić was the winner of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (UK).

As an avid translator, he served as a gateway for emerging global ideas and their application in the Islamic context. Over the decades, he has translated and presented novel research in the West to the Balkan Muslim public.

In addition, he has presented the Balkan Muslim experience to the Western intellectual audience. He was one of the first Muslim scholars to reject the “Clash of Civilisation” theory, arguing instead, “I do not think that what we are seeing today is indeed a clash of civilisations—Western and Islamic—but rather a clash of divergent interests, which are being disguised as cultural or religious and then presented as such. But I am afraid that if we keep endlessly addressing this notion of the clash of civilisation, we might well end up in just such a clash.”

Although his absence will be deeply felt, the large corpus of work he left behind will surely be used by generations of researchers to come.

Hikmet Karčić

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