Sehija Dedovic is a founder and director of the Centre for Education and Research, Nahla. It was established 12 years ago as an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life, promoting positive values in the society, and providing education and support for women and family. Today Nahla is one of the biggest and very well organized NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sehija has a degree in Islamic theology from the University of Jordan and a masters degree in International Relations from the International University of Sarajevo. She also holds a Strategic management diploma from Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP) and diploma in NLP from Sarajevo. She is the Secretary General of EMN (European Muslim Network), a think tank organization based in Brussels. She attended and participated in a number of seminars, sessions, discussion on economy, management, human rights, media, women’s role in society, communications, and inter-religious dialogue. She used to hold seminars and trainings in Strategic planning, project management, women activism, religion and state and other topics. She has published articles in different local magazines, newspapers, and web sites.
|1. Tell us about Nahla.
Nahla is Bosnian NGO established in 2001 by group of young women who were committed to providing a space for Bosnian woman in which they could feel safe and accepted and get a chance to learn, socialize, broaden and enrich their knowledge and acquire different skills needed to efficiently perform a job and actively participate in social life.
Our vision is to be recognized in the society for our professional, innovative approach and high level of social responsibility, to become the initiators of positive social change and establish dialogue and cooperation between different social groups in order to make our country a better place to live.
“Nahla” is in its work especially inspired by the values of faith and we want to promote them in a way to be of benefit to the whole community. As such faith-based organization we believe that we can be a link between people who identify themselves with these values and others who together with them make up our (civil) society. Through our activities at the local and international level we emphasize the importance of active participation of women in social life and strive to contribute to identifying and solving problems that Muslim women face in European societies.
|2. What type of programs do you offer women at Nahla?
Nahla realize its activities in three main segments: EDUCATION, RESEARCH and SERVICES. Through our educational programs we strive to address actual needs of women in our community and help them to gain skills necessary for life in the modern world. We focus on skills that open up new opportunities for them and give them perspectives that they might never have encountered otherwise. In Nahla women can attend various kinds of educational programs in areas of Personal development (Psychology seminars and workshops, School of parenting, Marriage seminars, Health, nutrition and beauty seminars etc), Professional development (Foreign language courses, Computer courses, Business skills seminars, Media and communication…), Education about faith, Creative workshops (Sewing, Jewelry making, Painting, Calligraphy, Handicrafts).
After years of working with women we realized that in order to shape our programs in a useful and professional manner it is necessary to have theoretical and empirical analysis of issues of importance to the wider community, women in general, and Muslim women specifically. We consider important to take into account their life, religion, social engagement, human rights, social justice…
Systematic work in this field began in September 2010 as a continuation of several previous individual research projects. The activities are aimed, in addition to research projects, to create space for rethinking and consideration of various social issues through round tables, lectures, organization of conferences and participation in them, and publication and translation of collection of papers and publications dealing with these topics.
In order to be at service to women in all aspects of their lives and ease their daily obstacles, we offer a number of services for them within the Centre. In our psychological counseling office women can get adequate advice and assistance of professionals – pedagogues and psychologists, the Employment mediation agency “Mediana” helps them find adequate job or employees in accordance with their requirements, in the Fitness center they can enjoy various sports activities, and during that time leave their children in Nahla’s playroom without having to worry. They can also spend free moments in the cozy ambience of our cafeteria, while meeting old or getting new friends; they can borrow books from our library, prepare exams in the reading room or read useful articles on our web site.
|3. How did the idea for this Center come about?
The idea of this center has started very spontaneously and out of pure need, in the postwar society for more open space for the woman and her opportunities for education. This idea later on led to all the other steps. The official registration as an NGO, applying and seeking funds that support a similar concept ttill securing strategic partners who helped us to make a nice, representative center for woman in the city of Sarajevo, and now we are working on the idea to establish such centers in two large cities in Bosnia, Tuzla and Bihac.
This center now represents a completely different picture of women in Bosnia, especially Muslim women. It was able to prove that Muslim woman works and serves community and that she can do it professionally and responsibly and that the values inspiring and motivating her which she derives from the religion they are just an incentive for more and better to service to the whole community, regardless whether all share its values. This organization today represents a special contribution to the promotion and opportunities of women in Bosnia but also breaks many of the stereotypes about Muslim woman created in the previous years.
|4. How were you able to start it?
These initial steps are still remembered for two things:difficulty which was reflected by the uncertainty and the outcome of the whole idea and tremendous enthusiasm and strength in our every attempt.
I must admit that it was not easy to realize this idea, because this was a new concept and we did not have any role models or the way that we would, at least partially, be able to follow. Principle of FBO (faith-based organization) in Bosnia was almost completely unknown and especially to be not only a specific women’s organization that promotes women’s rights but also fighting for their achievement and fighting for recognition of women’s potential that is often unutilised.
At first you do not have results standing behind you, so it is difficult to make the first steps to prove to the community and potential donors that you are serious and responsible. So you have to do much more, apply to a lot of places and get used to the fact that not all will support your work.
This whole fight, though even today it has its challenges, certainly is easier when besides ideas and the energy we have a lot of results behind us, twelwe years of work, over 5000 women that use our services each year, media that often present our work, trust and support of local administration
|5. How many women on average attend the center?
Today, different activities within Center attend between 300 and 400 women daily. On yearly basis we have approximately 5000 women who used our different programs.
|6. In what way do you feel Islam plays a role in the rebuilding of Bosnia?
Well, in this regard I can say that during the war people among other things started questioning their identities. After living for almost 50 years in a Socialist, antireligious regime, and being faced with the loss of lives and horrible devastation during the war of 1992-1995, people started rediscovering religion and their religious identities. This has been the situation with Islam as well. It has been giving people the strength to survive and continue to work hard for the benefit of the whole community. It has given people inner satisfaction and justice which otherwise can hardly be ever achieved. Therefore spiritual development helps the process of healing and fruitful reconciliation. Also the Islamic and Muslim community of B&H has been very active in the area of interreligious dialogue, which is a very important puzzle in our mosaic and further peace building process.
|7. What role do you feel women play in the rebuilding of Bosnia?
Women and women’s formal and informal groups have been very active during and after the war. They are covering for a whole spectrum of activities and services which otherwise would never been tackled this seriously. Psychological treatments for women and families, seminars and educational workshops helping people (mostly women) to gain new skills and knowledge in order to be competitive at the labor market, fighting domestic violence and gender based violence – all these things would not have been possible if it was not for the women of Bosnia. The process of reconciliation was also first initiated by women and women are the ones persisting on peace and peace building in the country.
|8. Tell us about the Islamic community in Bosnia.
Bosnian Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunnis who follow the Hanafi school of Islamic law and Maturidi school of Islamic doctrine. During and after the 1992–95 Bosnian war, the first Salafis, locally known as ‘Wahhabis’, emerged. Their exact number is not known and, contrary to general belief, they control no mosques and their initial public presence has been steadily weakening. There are very few Shi’a Muslims and no Shi’a mosques, although there are several pro-Shi’a associations.
For many Bosniaks, however, their Muslim identity has much more to do with cultural roots than with religious beliefs. There are no reliable data on active religious practice.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a secular state with no state religion. The state has defined its relations with churches and religious organizations in the Law on Freedom of Religion and Legal Status of Churches and Religious Organizations in BH passed in 2004.
The main Muslim organisation in Bosnia and Herzogivina is the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (ICBH—Islamska zajednica u Bosni i Hercegovini.
The ICBH is recognised by the state as the institution that has traditionally represented Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovinia. It is independent in regulating its activities (rituals, Islamic education, management of Islamic endowments,publishing, charity, etc.) and the management of its property, and is financed mainly through waqfs, membership fees, zakah, sadaqat al-fitr, qurban, the revenue of its profit-generating agencies, donations and legacies.
Several Sufi orders, mainly Qadiris and Naqshibandis, are active in the country. In addition to the ICBH, there are other relatively small faith-based Muslim and Islamic associations with a variety of aims and orientations.
Some are missionary, others cultural, scientific, charitable, student or exclusively female.
|9. How has Islam helped you personally as you were growing up during the war period?
I have grown up in a family where the traditional and Islamic values have always been respected and Islam has been practiced even during the communist regime. I finished a high school that was the only school for women with religious programs and subjects in the former Yugoslavia. When the war began in the town where I was living had been constantly shelled and attacked and was besieged throughout the war. My sister and I have managed to get out of town and go as refugees in neighboring Croatia. There we involved in humanitarian and educational work with refugees from Bosnia who, then, numbered over a million in Croatia. After more than a year I went to Jordan, where I continued studies at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences.
Religion is certainly an important factor in our lives, especially in a period of growing up and getting new knowledge about the world and life. The connection to God inspires us, gives meaning, hope and strength when we are tempted. To me it meant a lot and helped in this difficult time when your neighbors and former friends disappoint you and when the international community disappoint you and all definitions of freedom and rights and when even the Muslim community dissapoints you. However this faith in a certain and achievable justice gives you the power to build a life and trust again and to go on in your life.
|10. Where do you hope to see Nahla in the future?
It was important to show that this concept can succeed and be an example to other groups or organizations of women and judging by the many initiatives in Bosnia and Herzigovinia and the region, we hope we’ve been able to do so. We want to continue to be a professional and responsible and take some responsibility for society and life as we hope to build here.
This year our focus is on strengthening women’s groups and organizations in other cities, Bosnia and Herzegovinia and somewhere else.
In the distant future I see Nahla as the Institute for women and women’s issues or a faculty which will produce socially conscious and responsible Muslim women, and in that way in the most direct way speak about their mission and make BH society and life in it better and happier.
Check out the website for Nahla here.
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