Recep Tayyip Erdogan.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Denis CERIĆ /dc

Croatia is a praiseworthy example of co-existence of different faiths, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Zagreb on Wednesday, adding that in modern societies one should nurture cooperation and not a conflict of civilisations.

"Today, Muslims in Croatia freely practice their faith and aren't exposed to any form of discrimination or marginalisation," he said at a ceremony marking the centenary of Islam in Croatia, adding that Turkish-Croatian cooperation had significantly contributed to that.

Erdogan recalled that in 2005 he and Spain's then prime minister proposed the Alliance of Civilisations initiative, which now has 145 member states.

"If you advocate dialogue, the co-existence of different faiths, rest assured that those who are trying to turn us against each other will collapse in their own darkness," he said, adding that it was wrong to interpret differences in faith based on painful historical events and that one should turn to "great examples of co-existence... Croatia has given us a praiseworthy example today."

The Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Husein Kavazovic, said Muslims saw Croatia as their country in which they could express their Muslim European identity.

He said the rights and position of Muslims in Croatia could set an example to other European countries. "They provide a reliable foundation for us to, responsibly and with mutual trust, contemplate the relationship between Muslims and other religious communities as well as the challenges which Muslims and plural Europe are faced with."

Kavazovic recalled the 1992-95 war in BiH, when Croatia received hundreds of thousands of refugees. "Muslims in BiH will never forget that and will always gratefully remember that unhappy time."

He said the opening of a new mosque in Zagreb in 1987 was an especially important event in the history of Muslims in Croatia, adding that it was "almost a watershed, giving Muslims self-confidence and hope after the trials during communism."

BiH Presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic also said Croatia was an example that it was possible in modern Europe to establish a relationship between the state and the Muslim community on principles of real integration.

"The way Croatia regulated the position of Muslims should be a signpost and inspiration to others in Europe." He said Bosniaks in Croatia were increasingly taken as an example of successful integration of Muslims who sought in Europe a haven from war and violence.

He went on to say that Europe has 20 million Muslims. "Islam isn't foreign to Europe or its spirit. What we recognise as the spirit of Europe today wouldn't have been possible without Islam... If Europe tried to remove Muslims elements from its cultural legacy, it would shake its foundations," he said, adding, "The diversity of faith and religion inhibits no one. This must be the vision of our future together."

The ceremony was also attended by representatives of Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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