Throughout the month of Ramadan, leaders at the Bosnian Islamic Center have been raising funds for a youth center. The donation drive started in 2021, and even though progress has been delayed by the pandemic, a concrete foundation has been poured, and the construction of walls is under way.
“Pricing for material has gone up, as you know,” said Denis Nasufovic, who is on the board of the youth center. Donations though have been generous, Nasufovic says, “Bosnians take pride in building any buildings for their heritage.” The GoFundMe is mostly used by the youngsters; the majority visit the Bosnian Islamic Center on Lemay Ferry Road to donate physically. The mosque and adjoining parking lot are used for big community events like the celebration of Laylat al-Qadr or Eid al Fitr, important nights during Ramadan, and the youth center will be added to the southeast, off the parking lot.
Just as Catholic churches have names like the Church of Mary or the Church of Christ the King, the youth center’s proposed name has a significant meaning.
“Everyone back home had their avliya,” Nasufovic said. “It brings up so many memories from our homeland.” Avliya means yard, or house yard. “With trees, and grass, yards would have grapevines for shade, and under that, there would be a wooden table for socializing.” At the avliya, neighbors stop by and have a cup of Turkish coffee, elders lounge in the shade, and kids play. “It brings that tradition back.”
The project aims to be a center for all Bosnian Muslims in the area, and the wider community. Avliya will include a mini restaurant, and a place for retirees to come and have coffee. The gymnasium will be used for sports activities and weddings. “In addition to soccer,” Nasufovic said, “there will be basketball, volleyball, any kind [of sport].”
The building will also include a library-memorial room that will serve as a space for educational tours. Nasufovic says that it could serve as a resource for nearby Francis Howell and Lindbergh schools, but any school district or organization will be invited to come and visit.
“I came [to St. Louis] in February 1994,” Nasufovic says. “This was back when there were around 15 Bosnian families” in the entire region. Today St. Louis is still home to the largest Bosnian population in the U.S. making up an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 of the 2.8 million metro-area population. However, since the 2010s, many of Little Bosnia’s flagship businesses and families, which were around Bevo Mill, have moved further west into the county, citing the usual living issues in St. Louis — crime and struggling schools.
A New York Times article from 2019 says the shift started when Bosna Gold, “a large restaurant and event space whose cevapi sausages were said to rival those in Sarajevo, shut its doors in 2016. Salons, tailors, butchers and a host of other Bosnian establishments all joined the move out of the city, along with the Bosnians who frequented them.”
Now, many Bosnian families have moved to Mehlville, which was the first school district in St. Louis County to add Eid al Fitr as a holiday to its school calendar. Eid al Fitr is the Muslim holiday to mark the end of Ramadan.
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