Imam tries to ban beer and bacon

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The Independent Online
PORK and alcohol are under fire in Sarajevo from Islamic clerics hoping to persuade the city's secular Muslims to obey religious laws honoured only in the breach. Bacon mysteriously disappeared from city shops days after the Reis-u- Ulema, who heads the Islamic community in Bosnia, launched an attack on 'European trash'.

'Alcohol is destroying and weakening our army, we know that,' the Reis, Mustafa Ceric, said. 'The same applies to pork.' He accused the UN and other aid agencies of attempting to corrupt Muslims by distributing pork.

'We are now suffering an attempt to convert us to Christianity by force through food, water, electricity, from the top of the UN to the European Union,' he said. 'They are trying to force us to change our religion.' He urged Bosnians to 'throw out European trash: alcohol, drugs and prostitution'.

The Reis, who has been gaining in influence over the past few months, said: 'When we say that pork is forbidden by Islam, this is our belief. We don't force anyone to follow this. Those who eat pork can have a place to buy pork.'

But a few days later, pork had almost disappeared from the Sarajevo market-place, although restaurateurs in the know were able to serve ham this week. No official edict has been issued, but everyone seems to know that pork is now problematic.

'Nobody has officially told us yet that we can't import pork,' said Saida Salcinovic, whose family runs a shop in the city. 'We sold bacon on to other small shops and they were banned from selling it without any explanation.'

She blames the Reis. 'I feel really bad and really angry about this. If we want a federation and a state in which three nations live - and by the way, many Muslims eat pork - we can't forbid this.' Mrs Salcinovic, a Muslim, does not eat pork herself, 'but my husband does, and I think anyone can eat what they want.' Her sister, Kadrija Bukvic, who works in the shop, agrees. 'I had a government official begging me to keep some bacon for her because her child is sick,' she said. 'If the Reis doesn't want to eat it he doesn't have to.'

Pigs are not the biggest problem. The Islamic community in Tuzla, northern Bosnia, has demanded a ban on the sale of alcohol, a move that would cut Bosnians to the quick, while the Mufti of Zenica recently condemned mixed marriages. Mrs Bukvic was outraged. 'There have been a lot of mixed marriages throughout this war,' she said. 'Love knows no borders.'

War has driven many towards the mosque - at times of tragedy and hardship people need to believe in something - but drinking remains a popular pastime, and most believe Sarajevans would riot rather than lose the right to rakija and beer. 'It won't happen,' said Mrs Salcinovic. If the government bans alcohol, 'we'll have war for another 50 years'.