Bosnian Muslims, Bosniaks

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Bosnian Muslims, Bosniaks

ETHNONYMS: Bošnjak / Bošnjakinja (pl. Bošnjaci), Musliman/Muslimanka (pl. Muslimani)


Identification and Location. The Bosnian Muslim homeland is Bosnia and Herzegovina in the western Balkans. One of six republics in the former Yugoslavia, it was internationally recognized as an independent state in 1992. Bosnian Muslims share the country with the Bosnian Serbs and Croats, whose identification and political orientation are largely synonymous with those of the neighboring countries of Serbia and Croatia. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been claimed by both these neighboring peoples, but the Muslims have contested their claims. The Bosnian Muslims identify themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group or nation and, contrary to the Bosnian Serbs and Croats, consider Bosnia and Herzegovina their only homeland. In the constitution for Bosnia and Herzegovina outlined by the Dayton Accord (21 November 1995) the official name for Bosnian Muslim is Bosniak (or Bosniacboth spellings are used in English), an English translation of the ethnonym Bošnjak that is preferred by the Bosnian Muslim political leadership to avoid confusion with the religious term "Muslim." All natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina may also be referred to by the term Bosanac; Bosanka (fern.), Bosanci (pl. of Bosnian).

The Bosnian Muslims were the largest ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina before the 1992-1995 war. They lived among Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and other Bosnians in cities, towns, and villages throughout the country. The largest concentrations of Muslims were in the central and eastern parts and in the northwestern area of the country. During the war Muslims were expelled from or killed in the territories controlled by the Croat or the Serb armies. Others fled from cities under siege and bombardment. The Muslims have traditionally dominated the cities as evident in the cultural expression of the capital city of Sarajevo. Since 1995 the Bosniak population has been concentrated in the major cities that were under Bosnian Muslim control during the war: Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla, along with other municipalities within the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The federation with the Bosnian Serb-controlled "Republika Srpska" forms the two state entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina established by the 1995 Dayton Accord.

As a consequence of the past war (1992-1995), communities of Bosniaks can be found throughout Europe, with the largest number in Germany. Outside of Europe groups of refugees from Bosnia, with the assistance of the United Nations, have been sent to the United States, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Demography. According to the 1991 national census for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Muslims accounted for 43.5 percent, or almost two million (1,902,956) people, of a total population of 4,337,033. However, as a consequence of the 1992-1995 war this number has been reduced and it is difficult to ascertain the exact post-war population because of the dislocation caused by military action, forced expulsions and massacres (ethnic cleansing), and political manipulation. (In July 2000, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was estimated at 3,835,777.) During the war hundreds of thousands of Muslims either fled or were systematically expelled from their homes. In addition, thousands were killed in massacres. For instance, when the city of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia was taken by Serb forces in July 1995, it is believed that more than seven thousand Muslim men were massacred (7,141 were missing, and approximately four thousand bodies were found in mass graves). The war, and particularly the strategy of so-called ethnic cleansing, had left over two million Bosnians (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs and others) displaced within the country or living as refugees abroad. An estimated 250,000 people were killed during the war.

One of the provisions of the Dayton Accord was the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their prewar homes. Six years after the accord was signed an estimated 700,000 people have returned to the municipalities they lived in before the war (almost 600,000 of these people returned to the Federation entity), but a majority were not able to go back to their prewar homes.

Linguistic Affiliation. Bosniaks share a language with their Serb and Croat neighbors within Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the neighboring states of Serbia and Croatia. It is a Slavonic language whose official name before the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was Serbo-Croat. Since the dissolution of this state and its division into ethnically based nation-states this common language has taken on three different designations: Serbian (the eastern Ekavski variant using the Cyrillic alphabet), the official language of the Serbian population; Croatian (the western Ijekavaski variant using the Latin alphabet), the official language of the Croatian population; and Bosnian (which is of the Ijekavaski variant and uses the Latin alphabet), the official language of the Bosniak population. The last variant is distinguished from the Croatian mainly by a variation in vocabulary.

History and Cultural Relations

The independent kingdom of Bosnia arose in the Middle Ages. In 1463 Bosnia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire after a century and a half of fighting. In the following centuries a large number of the local people (Christians belonging to the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches and, some scholars argue, the Bosnian Churchthe "heretical" church of the Bosnian king whose members were persecuted by Rome and Catholic Hungary) converted to Islam, the religion of the conquering state. Those who converted came from a broad cross section of society. The Bosnian gentry were probably among the first to embrace Islamand the securing of property and privileges may have been a motivating factorbut peasants and members of other socioeconomic categories followed suit.

The Ottoman administration favored those who shared their faith. They had access to education and could hold office in the administration. A Bosnian Muslim elite grew up that obtained the right to own land. The peasants who worked on their land were usually Christians. Although a majority of Muslims were peasants, significant socioeconomic differences developed between Bosnia's different religious communities. In the Ottoman Empire various groups had been identified and administered on the basis of religion. During Ottoman rule Bosnia was multireligious and the three major faiths were Islamic, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic. The Christian churches were a significant force in the national movements in Croatia and Serbia in the nineteenth century. Gradually, these movements expanded into neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina and over time Catholic and Orthodox Bosnians came to see themselves as Croats and Serbs with an allegiance to the "national centers" of Zagreb and Belgrade, respectively. A Bosnian Muslim national movement developed much later, and had a smaller popular base. It was mainly a response to a Serb and Croat nationalist denial of the existence of a separate Bosnian Muslim identity and claims that Bosnian Muslims were ethnically Serbs or Croats. Along with these claims went Serbia's and Croatia's nationalist aspirations to incorporate Bosnia and Herzegovina, or those territories with a substantial ethnic Serbian or Croatian population, into their respective nation-states. However, the Bosnian Muslims refused to become either Serbianized or Croatianized.

Since its independent status in the Middle Ages, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been under the political control of different state powers. The Ottoman empire, the Habsburg empire, and the Yugoslav kingdom all discriminated against one community or segment of the population while favoring another. In postwar Yugoslavia, the communist partisans led by Marshal Tito developed a complex system for the balance of power between the largest ethnic groups to make sure that no ethnic group or nation within the multinational Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was favored or became dominant. The main competition for power had historically been between Serbia and Croatia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the two met in their hegemonic aspirations for territory expressed through their coreligionists and ethnic brethren. Bosnia and Herzegovina was thus a potential source of instability in the new socialist Yugoslavia. Tito may have calculated that the Muslims could be used as a stabilizing factor. Under Tito's rule the Muslims obtained the constitutional nationality status of narod (people or nation). This gave them the equal status with Serbs and Croats that Muslim activists had long demanded. None of the three constituent nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina had carried an ethnonym that directly identified it with the country. In the case of the Muslims their religious rather than ethnic affiliation and territorial identity was stressed, while for the Bosnian Catholics and Orthodox Christians it was their affiliation with a political and territorial entity outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With the rise of separatist nationalism and the dissolution of Tito's Yugoslavia at the end of the 1980s the Serb and Croat populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina were mobilized for Serbia's and Croatia's state-building projects. Explicitly or implicitly they sought a division of Bosnia and Herzegovina along ethnic lines. The Muslims were caught in between (together with Bosnians of ethnically mixed parentage), as they neither identified with a political unit outside of Bosnia or had military or political support from a neighboring patron state. The Muslim political leadership and population favored a united multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Muslims became the victims of genocide perpetrated by the Serbian side and were the hardest hit by "ethnic cleansing." Before war broke out in 1992 people of different ethno-religious backgrounds coexisted as neighbors, friends, and colleagues throughout the country. The degree to which people coexisted and interacted varied locally. Some traditions, customs, and rituals were regionally based and shared by people of all three backgrounds. However, during World War II Bosnia and Herzegovina had been the scene of a ferocious civil war and a war against the German and Italian occupying forces. Issues and historical memories from that war inspired nationalist rhetoric and became a motivating force for the 1992-1995 war.


Before 1992 Muslims lived throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina but there were sharp regional variations in ethnic composition. For instance, in Cazin in the northwest and Janja in the northeast, Muslims made up 95 percent of the population. In some areas, such as that surrounding Banja Luka, Muslims lived among a Serb majority, while in western Herzegovina Muslims lived among a Croat majority. In other regions Muslims and Croats or Muslims and Serbs were found in almost equal numbers.

The major cities are often divided into an old city center and a new part characterized by high rise tower blocks. The city centers were divided into mahalas or neighborhoods that traditionally had been inhabited by one ethnic group. In Sarajevo certain mahalas in the old city had been inhabited by urban Muslim families for generations. In rural areas Muslims lived in separate villages or hamlets or in ethnically mixed ones. In ethnically mixed villages the different groups lived in separate or clearly defined areas or families with different ethno-religious backgrounds lived as next door neighbors. Settlements typically consisted of brothers with their families. The ideal for a young married man was to set up his own household in a new house. However, it was not uncommon for a young family to share a household with the husband's parents until it could establish its own house. This house was often built on the man's father's land nearby. As a result of industrial development in Yugoslavia after World War II wage labor became widely available, and in the 1960s migrant labor opportunities abroad made sons independent of their fathers. The traditional communal patrigroup household called zajednica ("community") became less common as brothers left the household at a much earlier age and established their own households. During the past war most ethnically mixed villages were socially and physically destroyed. After 1998, in Federation territory of central Bosnia, Bosniacs and Croats began to return to life in mixed villages.


Subsistence. The 1992-1995 war destroyed most prewar economic activities. During the war people lived off small plots of land, by receiving food aid and remittances from abroad, and by engaging in black market activities. The unemployment rate was an estimated 80 percent and remains at 40 percent. There are no distinct subsistence or economic activities in which Bosniaks engage. Although there are full-time farmers, agriculture is typically of the subsistence variety: Rural households derive income mainly from industry and labor migration and supply the household economy from small agricultural holdings. Agricultural products such as milk, butter, and eggs are sold at the local market mainly by women.

Commercial Activities. From the 1960s until the dissolution of Yugoslavia many Bosnians engaged in labor migration, primarily to Germany and Austria. When the labor market in Europe became more restricted in the 1980s, men left for Canada and Australia. Yugoslav companies were involved in construction work in the Middle East, and Bosnian men worked in that region. The money they earned often was invested in projects in their home country such as the building of a new house or invested in a private business.

Industrial Arts. In larger cities and market towns Bosniaks engage in traditional handicrafts: Coppersmiths make traditional plates, coffee grinders, coffee sets, and tables. Silversmiths and goldsmiths make traditional filigree jewelry. Shoemakers make traditional slippers and leather shoes. Bosnian Muslim artisans also make traditional pottery, and some women weave traditional kilims or knit colorful and richly patterned woolen socks that they sell in the marketplace.

Division of Labor. Both men and women are involved in wage labor in industry, education, the health services, and public administration. Household work is primarily the domain of women, and particularly in rural areas there is a clear distinction between women's and men's work. During the second half of the twentieth century when men left rural areas to work in industry in nearby cities and abroad, agriculture and sheep herding became female centered. This trend is changing as there are few opportunities for wage labor in postwar Bosnia.

Land Tenure. During Ottoman rule (1463-1878), Bosnia had a feudal system with Muslim begs, or landlords, at the top. The Muslim landlords made up 2 percent of the Muslim population, but most of the sharecroppers (kmets) who worked on their land were Christians. There were some Muslim kmets, but most Muslim peasants were freeholders and did not have to make obligatory payments to a landlord. The kmets had to give over a third of the annual crop to a Muslim landlord and another tenth in levies to the state. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a series of peasant revolts that were directed against the feudal system with its Muslim landlords. The Austro-Hungarian dual kingdom that governed Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1878 to 1918 made only a few cosmetic changes. During royal Yugoslavia, 1918-1941, radical agrarian reforms were introduced and 150,000 peasant families received over one million hectares of land. The previous, mostly Muslim, owners of the land received some cash compensation from the Yugoslav government. During the socialist period another set of agrarian reforms was introduced. Over one and a half million hectares were confiscated and allotted to partisans and landless peasants; Muslim landlord privilege was totally eradicated. The peasant working collectives introduced in 1945 proved to be an economic disaster and by 1965 had ceased to exist. The 1945 agrarian reform had allowed a maximum of twenty five to thirty five hectares for private ownership. In 1953 the maximum was decreased to ten hectares; it was again increased slightly for mountainous regions in the 1980s.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic social and political units in rural communities are agnatically-based kin groups. This is reflected in the settlement pattern in which brothers with their wives and children live next door to each other on land inherited from the father. This agnatic structure is modified by the important role of maternal kin and affines in a person's kinship network. The relationship between inlaws called prijatelji, or "friends,"is characterized by ritual gift exchanges in connection with marriage. Affines may be called on in times of crisis for economic and other forms of assistance. Affines and kin constitute a kinship network with a political and economic mobilizing potential. Descent is reckoned patrilineally, but in practice kinship networks are bilateral. In rural areas Bosniaks are usually endogamous within the ethnic group. Kinship is thus the main organizational principle for the ethnic community and ethnic loyalties are primarily kinship loyalties.

Kinship Terminology. The Bosnian Muslim terminology system is parallel to that of the Bosnian Serbs and Croats, but the words used to denote certain relatives often differ. All three groups distinguish between uncles and cousins on the father's and the mother's sides. The terms used by men and women for their respective parents-in-law also differ. The same term is used for a brother's wife, a son's wife, and a man's brother's son's wife. This lumping together of close male relatives' wives reflects the old patrilocal and patrigroup-based household organization.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Bosniaks are exogamous and disapprove of marriage between relatives reckoned collaterally up to "the ninth generation." "Generations" are counted from ego or alter up to an apical ancestor. Since genealogies are rarely known farther back than the third or fourth generation, the prohibition usually is applied to known cousins or traceable genealogicalties. In rural areas and among urban religiously oriented families marriage with non-Muslim Bosnians is disapproved of. Bosniaks are thus exogamous within the kin group and endogamous within the ethno-religious group, although there are numerous exceptions. During the socialist era any marriage had to be registered by the secular authorities before a religious ceremony could be conducted. Only a few religiously devout Muslims married according to Shari'a or Islamic law. Such a wedding had a symbolic value but could not supersede secular laws on marriage. Polygyny is not permitted and was rare even until 1945 when Islamic family law was accepted by the authorities. Divorce is socially acceptable, religiously permissible, and not uncommon. Children may remain with either parent. The legal age for marriage is eighteen but may take place at an earlier age in the form of an elopement. Socially a couple is married if the woman is brought to the man's parent's home as a bride and spends the night there. This is followed by a series of visits and gift-exchanges between the groom's and the bride's parents and close relatives. Marriage is essential to obtain the status of a fully adult and responsible individual.

Domestic Unit. The basic socioeconomic unit is the household based on the core family, which is generally virilocal in rural areas and neolocal in urban areas. In some rural areas the traditional viri-patrilocal extended family unit is found. In both rural and urban regions a young couple often shared a house with the man's parents, as a separate house was not always practical or economically possible. The war radically altered domestic arrangements. Houses and apartments are in short supply, and many people have been displaced from their homes; a large number of families have been forced from rural areas into the large cities; families and households have been split up; and households have become large extended family units. The domestic unit, however, is still the primary socializing unit. A household gains considerable social worth and status by offering hospitality to guests. A guest should be treated to the best a household can offer in the way of food and comfort.

Inheritance. Secular inheritance laws are followed and inheritance is equal for male and female heirs. Farm property is divided equally among all the heirs, but inheriting daughters often relinquish their share to a brother since they usually marry out of the village.

Socialization. The kind of socialization a child receives is often dependent on the socioeconomic status of its family. Generally, socialization is more gender-specific than is the case in northern Europe. Boys are brought up to be the center of attention and take precedence over their female siblings. Certain tasks and skills are gender-specific. Parental use of corporal punishment (such as caning) is not uncommon. Education is seen as important and is encouraged. In rural areas, sons are encouraged to receive an education, while girls frequently leave school earlier and marry earlier than boys. Children grow up with many adults around and are rarely excluded from adult social gatherings. Depending on the religious attitude of the parents, both boys and girls may be sent to Quranic schools (Mekteb) at the age of six or seven.

Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. After the 1992-1995 war the country was divided into a Serb entity (Republika Srpska) that more or less covers the territory that the Bosnian Serb nationalist forces took control of and "ethnically cleansed" during the war and the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federacija Bosna i Hercegovina) that covers territory that the Bosnian Army or the Croatian Defense Forces controlled during the war. Under the terms of the Dayton Peace Accord the "Srpska" entity has 49 percent of the territory and the "Federation" has 51 percent. The Bosniaks are the most numerous group in the Federation. As of the 1996 elections the Bosniak nationalist party (the SDA) had an absolute majority in the Federation parliament and was in a position to elect the prime minister and most of the other ministers. In the general election in November 2000, the Bosniak (SDA), Croat (HDZ), and Serb (SDS) nationalist parties that politically and militarily controlled Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1992 lost their absolute majority in the State (central) and Federation parliaments to nonnationalist parties. In the Republika Srpska the Serb nationalist party still has a solid majority. There is considerable power sharing between Bosniaks and Croats within the Federation. Substantial powers have devolved to cantons and municipalities. Certain cantons are predominantly Bosniak, some are predominantly Croat, and two are mixed. Within the mixed cantons there are elaborate procedures for power sharing. A substantial part of the Bosniak population has legal and voting rights in the Republika Srpska. However, with few exceptions they do not live in the Republika Srpska and have not been able to return. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a very weak central government that controls a limited number of functions, such as foreign relations, foreign trade, and fiscal policy. The national government is based on a principle of ethnically based proportional representation There is a national parliament with two-thirds of the representatives from the Federation and one-third from the Republika Srpska. The head of state is the chairman (president) of the three-member presidency, which consists of one Bosniak, one Croat, and one Serb. The joint presidency is elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The office of chairman rotates among the three members every eight months.

Social Control. In the secularized society of the Bosnian Muslims, Islamic law has not functioned as the social control mechanism. Instead, shared values such as egalitarianism accompanied by the controlling mechanism of jealousy, hospitality, and loyalty to the household as a unit and to kin have been important. In modern times Muslims have experienced discrimination from the Christian sections of the population. The long experience of authoritarian governments combined with experiences of harassment and violence have imbued Bosnians with a weariness and distrust of government, and in some cases of strangers, that is expressed through guardedness in speech. Friendship toward loyal friends and allies is correspondingly strong.

Conflict. In 1995 the Bosnian Muslims emerged from the civil war as the victims of genocide and "ethnic cleansing." The primary source of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina is politicized ethnicity and the extreme brand of Serbian and Croatian nationalist ideologies. Not only did tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims perish in the 1992-1995 period, they were completely driven out of eastern and northern Bosnia. More than half the Muslim population was displaced or became refugees, and mosques and other Muslim cultural monuments were deliberately destroyed. This experience has led to a deeply held sense of injustice and anger. The Dayton agreement remains fragile, and only the presence of a large international peace-keeping force prevents large-scale fighting. The situation is particularly fragile in areas where nationalist separatists are still in power and people who were expelled are attempting to return to their homes. The war left many Bosnians destitute and homeless and without opportunities for employment. This has created tension within families and among Bosnians as they compete for employment and housing. The brutality of the war traumatized many people, particularly young soldiers, women subjected to systematic rape, and children who witnessed the loss of their homes and families. Posttraumatic stress is likely to strain families and be a source of long term tension, health problems, and domestic conflict.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Bosniaks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school of law. Religion is the main distinguishing factor between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Islam thus defines and sets apart Bosniaks from Serbs and Croats. Since religion and ethnic identity are intimately interconnected, public displays of religious beliefs were discouraged in socialist Yugoslavia (1945-1990). Membership in the Communist Party, which was a prerequisite for a successful career or for being hired as a state employee, excluded the possibility of practicing one's religion openly. The limitations put on the expression of Muslim religious beliefs was at times particularly vigorous. During this period only a small number of Muslims followed the five pillars of Islam. Toward the end of the 1980s the regime relaxed its attitude towards religion, and many new mosques were built, often with economic sponsorship from Islamic countries in the Middle East. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s and early 1990s there developed increased popular interest in religion and Islamic practices. The war and the losses inflicted on Muslims have increased awareness of Islamic religious practices. In the nationalist climate of the 1990s Islamic rituals became central to the expression of a Bosniak national identity. Islamic symbols are core elements in the emblems and political rhetoric of the main Muslim party, the SDA, which was elected to power in 1990. In rural areas the Islamic religion was always practiced as part of a body of traditions. This rural form of Islam was less scriptural than that practiced by the devout elite in the cities. Rural religious practices are a blend of orthodox Islam, popular Islam (such as the visiting of saints' graves for good health and fortune), and non-Islamic customs, some of which Bosniaks share with their Christian neighbors. In some regions the influence of rituals and customs characteristic of the Naqshibandi sufi order and religious customs is reflected in local religious practices.

Religious Practitioners. There are both male and female religious instructors. The male instructor is called a hodza and the female instructor is called a bula. Both are educated at the Medressa (a Quaranic school) in Sarajevo. The men and women receive the same education but have different duties once employed by a mosque council. Women cannot lead prayers in the mosque or perform the ritual washing of a male corpse. Bulas engage in leading tevhids (social gatherings with collective prayers for the souls of the dead) ; preparing a female corpse for burial; reciting and reading at mevluds (a festive gathering where Islamic recitations, songs and poems are performed to honor the birth of the Prophet Mohammad) ; and in some cases they are instructors at children's Quranic schools. On ritual occasions other devout Muslims who are known as good reciters may give a recital. Islamic scholars who know the Quran by heart (hafiz), demand particular respect. Hodžas who are members of a sufí order, are sought by people in times of personal crisis.

Ceremonies. In Islam, religious ceremonies accompany life-cycle rituals such as male circumcision, marriage, and death. Among Bosnian Muslims circumcision is rarely an elaborate ritual, although some devout families may organize a mevlud in connection with a son's circumcision. A religious wedding ceremony was rare before 1990 but may be on the increase. Death is the life crisis that receives the most ritual elaboration through various forms of congregational prayers. Here the tevhid and particularly the women's tevhid occupy a central place. Ceremonial holidays follow the Islamic calendar, but some are observed only by the devout, while others have a more popular appeal. Bajram is a three day feast that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Only a small number of devout Muslims (primarily women) fasted during the socialist period, but since 1990 the numbers have been increasing. Bosnian Muslims also observe Kurban Bajram, the sacrifice of the ram. In addition, throughout the calendar year, individual Muslim households may host a mevlud, often in connection with happy events such as the birth of a child. Tevhid, or prayers for the dead, is the most popularly held noncalendric ceremony. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and (for men) attend the mosque on Fridays. Devout Muslims do this, but most Bosniaks do not.

Arts. Bosniak architecture is reflected in the style of mosques and houses in the old neighborhoods in cities such as Sarajevo, Travnik, and Mostar. During the 1992-1995 war more than a thousand Muslim religious sites were destroyed, including some of the oldest and finest examples of Bosnian Muslim architecture: The Ferhad Pasha mosque in Banja Luka and the Alada mosque in Foća were among those razed by Serbian nationalist forces. The old Ottoman bridge in Mostar was blown up by Croatian nationalist forces.

In folk music Bosnian Muslims are associated with a particular kind of melancholic love song called sevdalinka and a traditional string instrument called saz. Islamic calligraphy has been produced by Bosniak artists.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rich literary tradition. Internationally acclaimed writers who draw on motives from their Bosniak cultural background include Meša Selimović (1910-1982) and the poet Mak Dizdar (1917-1971). The work of the painter Mersad Berber (b. 1940) is inspired by Bosnian scenery, history and folklore.

Medicine. Before the war Bosnia and Herzegovina had an extensive public medical and health care system with highly educated medical practitioners. Some members of this profession remain, but the public health care system is in disarray and treatment is very costly to the individual patient. During the war, medical personnel left the country or were killed, and those who were educated during the war received incomplete training. A statewide health insurance system was not in place at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and some health personnel expect bribes to treat patients. Bosnians of all three ethno-religious backgrounds seek the assistance of alternative healers as a supplement to conventional medicine. Some Muslims visit hodžas known to posses extraordinary powers that enable them to divine and cure physical and mental afflictions. Certain hodžas write small charms with a Quranic verse that a person carries for healing or protection. The holy text is believed to have healing powers, and the recital of specific verses from the Quran may be used for healing. Many Bosnians have knowledge of the use of herbs and herbal teas and other natural remedies.

Death and Afterlife. At death certain obligatory rituals prescribed by Islamic law are performed by men, such as the ritual washing of a male corpse and the Dženaza prayers and burial. Women are not allowed to attend the burial ceremony and instead participate in tevhid, collective prayers that help the deceased secure a good afterlife. This ritual is not prescribed by Islam and is therefore considered voluntary. The tevhid used to be performed mainly by women, usually in the house of the deceased, but now is increasingly performed by men in the mosque. It is held five times at determined intervals during the first year after a person's death. The prayers are said on behalf of the deceased and are believed to assist him or her by earning him or her religious merit. Those who say the prayers increase their chances of well-being in after-life. It is also an occasion for remembering and honoring other dead relatives and neighbors. In times of special need people may pray at the shrines of a Muslim martyr (šehit) or saint (evlija). Because of their piety during their lifetime and/or their heroic deaths and martyrdom these pious dead are believed to be closer to God and in a position to mediate on behalf of the living.

For the original article on Bosnian Muslims, see Volume 4, Europe.


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