A 16th-century grand mosque in the north-western Bosnian city of Banja Luka was reopened on Saturday, 23 years to the day after it was levelled by Bosnian Serb forces.
The opening ceremony was attended by thousands of Muslim believers, top Bosnia and Herzegovina state officials, representatives of other religious communities and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu whose country donated over two million euros for the reconstruction of the mosque.
The reconstruction of Ferhadija mosque, named after Ferhad Pasha, the Ottoman governor who had it built, took 15 years. The reconstruction utilised many of the stones from the original building, which were dug up from rubbish dumps and lifted from riverbeds.
Speaking at today's ceremony, the head of the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Husein Kavazovic, described the mosque as "a true beauty" which will testify about goodness and noble intentions.
"Rampant hatred destroyed Ferhadija," Kavazovic said, warning that this kind of hatred still existed. The restoration of Ferhardija represents the restoration of faith in universal good, an attempt to strengthen trust and reconciliation, Kavazovic stressed.
The Chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina collective Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said that during the war, hardly anyone believed that Ferhadija would be rebuilt.
Banja Luka Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica said he shared the joy with the Muslim believers about the reconstruction of Ferhadija.
Serb Orthodox Church official from Banja Luka Jefrem and the head of the Jewish Community in Bosnia Jakob Finci congratulated the Muslim on the reconstruction of of Ferhadija.
Turkish Prime Minister Davotoglu said that all 78 million Turks were true friends of Bosnia and the Bosniak people. He said that seeing the Ferhadija mosque razed to the ground 23 years ago was a very emotional moment for him, but that now he shared the joy with those present because the mosque's reconstruction.
The Ferhat Pasha Mosque, built in 1579, was one of the most significant Ottoman architectural achievements in Bosnia and Herzegovina but was razed to the ground by Bosnian Serb forces in 1993 despite being protected by UNESCO.
Although Banja Luka was not exposed to armed conflicts during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, all 16 mosques in the city under the Serb control were destroyed.
The first attempts to reconstruct the Ferhadija mosque were met with fierce opposition from local Serbs. The ceremony at which the cornerstone for the reconstructed mosque was laid took place on the eighth anniversary of its destruction, on May 7, 2001, but was followed by riots by Serb nationalists. By the end of the riots, one Bosniak had been killed and more than 30 people injured.
Fifteen years later, the mosque has been reconstructed on authentic foundations and debris of the original building have been included in the reconstructed mosque.
Ferhadija was listed as a Bosnia and Herzegovina cultural heritage site in 1950. It was subsequently protected by UNESCO until its destruction in 1993.
As many as 614 places of worship for Muslims were destroyed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.