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Bosnian Muslims

Bosnian Muslims

ETHNONYMS: Bošnjaci Muslimani

The Bosnian Muslims of the former Yugoslavia, living in the independent state of Bosnia-Hercegovina, number about 1.8 million, or roughly 8 percent of the total previous Yugoslavian population. They constitute the majority ethnoreligious group in the state (44 percent of its population with Serbs making up 31 percent and Croats 17 percent [1991 census]). Since all three groups share in the same Serbian or Croatian linguistic tradition, the distinctiveness of the Bosnian Muslims is primarily based on religious affiliation (the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians and the Croats are Catholic). There is a further, demographic distinction to be made as well. Although there is strong Muslim representation in the countryside, their presence is markedly high in the cities. There has been some dispersal of Bosnian Muslims to territory beyond the state. This emigration has largely been in response to politicomilitary movements such as the occupation and later annexation of the territory by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the incorporation of the region into the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, and the installation of a Communist regime in the years following

World War II. Many of these émigrés went to Turkey, although others settled in the United States, particularly in the last emigration wave.

Beginning in the mid-to late fifteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire ruled the region, Islam came to Bosnia. Mass conversions took place, although there is no evidence to support a charge that coercion was involved. However, these conversions were centered within the landowning classes and among the free peasantry, whereas the serfs of the region remained by and large Christian.

Bosnia-Hercegovina is predominantly rural and agricultural, and the Bosnian Muslim population is largely involved in agrarian pursuits. Cereal farming and livestock keeping are the centerpieces of the rural economy. Of those animals raised, sheep are the most important. In this Respect, they differ little from their non-Muslim neighbors. Their traditional, patrilocal, extended farm households (zadruga ) also are of a type common to ethnic groups throughout the Balkans. All household members contribute to their collective economic well-being, with the bulk of the heavy agricultural labor and livestock care falling to the males. In the cities, Bosnian Muslims are heavily represented in craft production and tend to dominate the professions and civil-service posts.

Kinship is reckoned patrilineally, but in daily life this emphasis has few applications. Traditionally, the tie among brothers, and perhaps first cousins as well, was more Important, as from this pool of kin the cooperative group of the zadruga was formed. The establishment of fictive kin ties through sponsorship roles is also limited; the only occasion for which a sponsor is recruited is the "first haircut" rite of passage for male children. The family generally chooses the sponsor from outside of the Muslim community, so that this ritual provides the occasion for forming alliances with non-Muslim neighbors.

Ideally, marriage among Bosnian Muslims is endogamous. When a marriage does occur between a Bosnian Muslim and an "outsider," that outsider is generally a Muslim of some other ethnic group. In rural areas, marriage to a non-Muslim is extremely uncommon, although it has increased in frequency in the urban areas. Polygyny, though practiced prior to its prohibition by state law, was rare.

In religious matters, Bosnian Muslim practice is similar in most particulars to that of Turkish Muslims. Even after the establishment of the Communist government in the years after World War II, authorities tolerated Bosnian Muslim Religious observance and institutions. This toleration extended to Islamic schools, which were allowed to continue to operate, but only in addition to, rather than as a replacement for, the compulsory state educational system.


Cole, John W., and Sam Beck (1981). Ethnicity and Nationality in Eastern Europe. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.

Lockwood, William G. (1975). European Moslems: Economy and Ethnicity in Western Bosnia. New York: Academic Press.

Smajlovic, Ahmed (1980). "Muslims in Yugoslavia." Journal of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 2:132-144.


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