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Muslims in southwest Serbia say schools in their region should not feel pressured to celebrate the day of St Sava, the patron saint of Serbian schoolchildren and a heroic figure to Serbs.
Mustafa Fetic, head of the educational board of the Bosniak National Council, which represents the country's Muslim minority, says schools in the mainly Bosniak southwest Sandzak region should be exempted from marking the festival of St Sava.
"We expect our requirements to be met because that is the only way we can feel this country is a multicultural and multinational community in which Bosniaks also have a place," Fetic said in a letter sent to officials on Tuesday.
St Sava's Day, or Savindan in Serbian, falls every January 27. Traditionally it is celebrated in schools across Serbia, as Sava is remembered as a national educator and bringer of laws, as well as being the first head of an autocephalous (independent) Serbian Orthodox Church.
This year, the Education Ministry in Serbia said the day would be celebrated in schools on Friday, January 25.
Later on Tuesday, the Ministry replied to the Bosniak Council request, noting that the school calendar respected all the important religious dates in Serbia, including Catholic Christmas and Muslim Eid, regardless of the students' religion.
"As the host of St Sava's Day, according to Serbian tradition, schools do not force anyone to participate in the celebration," the Ministry said in a statement.
The medieval saint has long been honoured in Serbia. But St Sava’s Day was first mentioned as a school celebration in 1735. An official decree to celebrate St Sava was issued under the Serbian ruler Milos Obrenovic in 1823 and the day was celebrated every year from then on until the Communist takeover of Yugoslavia in 1945.
The festival has re-emerged in Serbia since the 1990s. But some Muslim clerics remain hostile, worried by what they see as an overtly Christian message.
Last year on St Sava's Day, the Mufti of Sandzak, Muamer Zukorlic, urged children, parents and teachers in the region to boycott the day. The celebration of Serbia's medieval educator was little more than a disguised attempt at "forced conversion," he said.
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