The International Interfaith Research Lab, led by Dr. Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, hosted a special event on March 20 showcasing the Sarajevo Haggadah. The Haggadah is read around the table at Passover seders across the world, and the Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the oldest extant copies. The event featured a panel discussion, a display of a rare facsimile of the Sarajevo Haggadah, and a conversation about its journey and how it was kept safe through the courageous efforts of people from different faiths who demonstrated acts of respect, compassion, and collaboration.
The Sarajevo Haggadah originated in Barcelona around 1350. The Sephardic Haggadah was produced by the Jewish population from modern-day Spain and Portugal and survived their expulsion in 1492. In 1894, it reappeared in Sarajevo when it was sold by a Jewish man to the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is not a surprise that the Haggadah arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia). During and after the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were offered refuge by the Ottoman Empire, which at that time included Bosnia, where they were fully integrated, with all protection and full religious freedom.
In 1941, as the Nazis were occupying Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) leaders — administrators, professors and Shariya justices — signed and published a series of what they called “Muslim Resolutions,” openly condemning the Nazi policy of exterminating Jews, Serbs, and Romani. At that time, no other community in Europe issued comparable statements. That same year, the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina was visited by the Nazi general Johan Fortner demanding the Haggadah. But the museum’s Bosniak curator, Dervis Korkut, hid the Haggadah under his coat while meeting with Fortner and telling him that another Nazi officer had already taken it. For the duration of the war, Korkut ensured the Haggadah remained hidden in a small mosque near Sarajevo.
During the genocide and attempt to eradicate Bosniaks in 1990s, when Sarajevo was under the siege by the Bosnian Serb army, several Bosniaks courageously rescued this remarkable book from a flooded basement of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until the end of the war, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina kept the Sarajevo Haggadah in a bank vault to ensure the safety from bombing of this important story of resilience and survival. The survival of all Bosnians, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background, living in besieged Sarajevo was possible because of the city’s Jewish community who led a humanitarian effort to provide medicines and other supplies to all. The representatives of both Jewish and Muslim communities from Bosnia attended the special event.
It was only recently that the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah and the history of kinship between Muslims and Jews in Bosnia became known. Today, the International Interfaith Research Lab engages in sharing this and other remarkable stories of resilience to hate to uplift our common human values of peace, justice, mutual respect, coexistence, and empathy.
The event highlighted how this story could be applied to prevent hate by promoting understanding and recognition of these shared human values. They reflect the mission of the Interfaith Research Lab, which focuses on developing evidence-based approaches to prevent, and mitigate the pathways to radicalization and hate using four pillars: research, innovation, education, and community building.
Under the leadership of Professor Dr. Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, the Lab is creating evidence-based professional training programs and classroom tools so teachers, leaders, and other societal stakeholders have the capacities and resources to uplift stories of collaboration and coexistence. The Lab’s mission is to build resilience to narratives of hate in workplaces, schools, and classrooms — starting with stories such as the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah. Learn more here: tc.columbia.edu/interfaithlab.