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Religion and Prejudice: Do You Believe in Black and White?

Emina says of herself: "I am very proud to be able to call myself a Bosniakin, but I do not judge anyone who belongs to any other religion, nation or ethnic group."

Emina Babić is 17 years old and is involved in the junior team in Munich.

© Emina Babić

“Are you a Muslim? You don't even wear a headscarf! "

Isn't that a ridiculous statement? I am not surprised if someone says that he is a Christian, believes in Jesus story and enjoys going to church, and yet does not keep the ten commandments. Everyone is a free person, can shape their own life and walk down the street free from the prejudices of others based on religion. Shouldn't that be true for every person of every religious affiliation? The answer is "yes". We are - in theory at least - free.

But something we've been trying to break free of for ages is black and white thinking. No matter how hard we try to free ourselves from stereotyped thinking, there is always a stereotype of a person of a certain religion, nationality or worldview in our minds.

"Džamija" means mosque in Bosnian. Here you can see the high minaret of the mosque in my home village.

© Emina Babić

When we get to know a person, we ask for information about their way of life, preferences and all other peculiarities. With this we try to infer the character. Often the belief of the person plays a big role. Which religion she belongs to says a lot about what she believes in, how she lives or makes certain decisions. This gives rise to expectations with regard to action that the other party has. An attempt is made to form an image of the character, to frame it, so to speak.

... because every person is his own category

We forget that no one should be reduced to their beliefs. Every character has thousands upon thousands of facets that cannot always be named. If one were to categorize every individual, it would take billions of categories - because every person is his own category.

It is remarkable how people mostly perceive other religions only through narratives of the social environment and stories from the media. I was no different. I grew up in a Muslim village in my home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A look at the Bosnian village where I grew up.

© Emina Babić

Hearing the call to prayer five times a day was the most normal thing in the world for me

And what else was normal for me? To get to know other religions only passively. For a long time I didn't know that a Christmas tree was put up for Christmas. We decorated a plastic Christmas tree in December to say goodbye to the old year. I didn't know that Christianity celebrates the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

In December, as children, we always got gift bags from “Djed Mraz” (that means something like “Father Frost”).

© Emina Babić

We never ate pork either. I just grew up not eating the animal. It is considered unclean. When I came to Germany at the age of eight, everything was different for me and at the same time not. There were no more mosques around me and the call to prayer became a rarity. Because before it was the most normal thing in the world for me to hear the call to prayer five times a day. Now I always have to read the list of ingredients for meat products so that I don't accidentally eat pork.

Religion does not define people

When I tell my friends and relatives from Bosnia which people I have met here in Germany, I get the feeling that they are burning to know what nationality they are, what they look like and, above all, what religion they belong to. Sure, you could imagine people much better if you could get a picture of them. But isn't that all black and white thinking? What about the character of the person? What about the behavior? Is that important?

It's easy to pigeonhole someone. But getting him out of there is not easy.

When you see a woman with a headscarf, do you immediately know what makes her tick? Do you know what music she listens to, what films she watches or what she spends her free time with? Could she be a feminist and advocate women's equality while just showing her face?

In addition, most of my friends in Bosnia are Muslims. But neither is like the other. Some love to go out to party, others live for their sport, many love books, some love art, and all of them look different. Of course, they are all individuals. But they all have the same belief. They believe in Allah, go to the mosque and celebrate the so-called sugar or sacrifice festival. And none of the women is asked where the headscarf has gone.

My mother grew up in the small, idyllic village in Bosnia.

© Emina Babić

A person cannot be judged by his religion. But only through the language in society and through the connotations that arise accordingly, we shape the perception of different people. Especially when it comes to religion. Like many others, I use the word “God” very often in my mouth. Most of the time it's a simple “Oh my God!”, Which I use to express my emotional state depending on my tone of voice. I do not spontaneously create any religious meaning. It's just become an ordinary exclamation.

When God is spoken of, who or what do you actually mean?

According to the Duden, God is referred to as the highest thought and revered supernatural being. It is above us and we surrender to it. How we imagine it is purely subjective. I cannot say whether my God has a shape or a face - but I believe in him.

Review: Back to my childhood

I have often seen in Bosnia that elderly people warned me about other religions - especially Orthodox beliefs. I shouldn't make friends with the others.

The Serbian Orthodox Christians make up about a third of the Bosnian population. For historical reasons, conflicts arise again and again between the Serbian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. At that time I did not have the opportunity to get to know the supposedly unfriendly Orthodox because I was still a child and had no contacts outside of my village.

Image 1 of 2

A few impressions from my home country.

© Emina Babić
Image 2 of 2 © Emina Babić

But I heard something from my cousin that made me believe the statements of the older generation. She had worked in a hospital in a part of Bosnia that was mostly inhabited by Orthodox Serbs. Most of her work colleagues were Orthodox and very few understood that she was a Muslim. She was bullied by her colleagues. Just because of their religion. When I heard that, as a child I actually simply accepted that there are good and bad people. But the older I got, the more absurd this theory became to me.

Nobody is born to hate

Nobody rejects others because of their religion. It's our experience. It is the same with my ancestors. A terrible war raged in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Every state wanted its independence and there was - as unfortunately often - a struggle for power relations. Among other things, the Bosnian War was also part of the Yugoslav Wars. Mainly the Bosnian Serbs fought for the areas of Bosnia, which were inhabited among others by Bosniaks.

Many Muslims were cruelly murdered, women raped and others driven from their homeland. Sure, there is always two to a conflict, but the numbers show that the victims of the war were and still are largely Bosniaks of Muslim faith. Everyone can understand that the hatred and anger towards the other nation, towards the other ethnic group, grew during the war. But it still stops. I can feel it even more than 20 years after the war.

My mother's parents' house was destroyed, few belongings are intact. My grandfather had to flee his village, which was occupied by Serbs. His children have not heard from him for a long time, they have no certainty whether he is okay or whether he is still alive at all. I never got to know some of my relatives. Such a time leaves scars. Not only the long-term physical damage that many have suffered, but also the emotional one. How can you trust a group of people who were responsible for the suffering back then? Are you still allowed to hate? Despise? Can we think of reconciliation? To forgive?

A look into the village where my mother grew up and which was largely destroyed in the war in Yugoslavia.

© Emina Babić

I can understand the concern and the well-intentioned advice from my relatives. Your scars are still fresh. But how should I deal with it? I haven't seen these ethnic conflicts on my own skin. Would I be affected if I had stayed in Bosnia?

I have learned how important it is for us young people - in a way the post-war generation - to communicate with one another, to exchange ideas and thus to prevent conflicts that arise from prejudice, from our black-and-white thinking.

We have to break these thinking habits. It's time to bring color to life. People are all different. No one is like the other. If you perceive me, then please also all the facets that make me up!

Regardless of whether you are a Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, confessional, or whatever you state as your denomination. Your religion doesn't say anything about your character. There is no one who is worth more or less just because he or she believes in something or not. And no belief should dwarf actual personality. Do not perceive the person as part of a group, but as an individual.

Let us all create, piece by piece, a world in which everyone is allowed to live in their own color spectrum and nobody sees anyone in black and white, because this is the only way we can all coexist in peace.