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Yugoslavia: Muslim Slavs
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Yugoslavia's People > The Yugoslav Nations > Muslim Slavs


Beginning in the late 1960s, the Yugoslav government recognized the Muslim Slavs of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a particular "nation" and not merely as a religious group. Belgrade granted this recognition in an effort to resolve the centuries-old struggle in which Serbs and Croats claimed ethnic ties with the Muslim Slavs to gain a political majority in the disputed republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Muslim Slavs lived in every Yugoslav republic and province, but by far the largest concentration was in Bosnia and Herzegovina (39.5 percent of the population). In the 1980s, Montenegro was 13.4 percent Muslim Slavs, Serbia 2.3 percent, and Kosovo 3.7 percent.

Controversy surrounds the geographic and ethnic origins of the Muslim Slavs. The best-known theory holds that during the Middle Ages Slavs in Bosnia and Herzegovina embraced a heretical form of Christianity known as Bogomilism, then converted in large numbers to Islam when the Ottoman Turks conquered them. A second theory says that the Muslim Slavs were Serbs who embraced Islam and settled in Bosnia. A third is that the Muslims were Turkish settlers from Anatolia who adopted the Serbo-Croatian language. In any case, Islamization brought tangible economic and social benefits to those who converted while the Turks ruled their territory; by 1918 Muslim Slavs accounted for 91 percent of Bosnia's landowners and a large portion of its merchants. Many emigrated to Turkey, however, after the end of Ottoman rule, and the Yugoslav land reforms of 1918 impoverished previously prosperous Muslim Slav landowners.

Islamic culture dominated Bosnia for centuries, and the region now boasts a wealth of mosques, medreseler (Islamic schools), tekkeler (dervish monasteries), Turkish inns and baths, graceful stone bridges, covered bazaars, cemeteries, and ornate Turkish-style homes. Modern Western culture penetrated Bosnia and Herzegovina only after Austria occupied the region in 1878, but most Muslims saw its influence as alien and a portent of a Roman Catholic resurgence. Gradually, Latin and Cyrillic scripts replaced the Arabic that was used for centuries to write Turkish, Arabic, and Persian literature. After 1918 secular education began supplanting Islamic schools, and education became available to women. Many Muslim Slav landowners became urban tradesmen and craftsmen after losing their properties in the interwar land reform. Long after World War II, the Muslim Slavs engaged predominantly in traditional crafts and modern services such as auto and electronics repair.

In need of inexpensive oil supplies in the 1970s, the Tito government encouraged relations between Yugoslavia's Muslim Slavs and their coreligionists in the oil-rich Arab countries, especially Libya. But by raising the status and visibility of its Muslim Slavs, Yugoslavia created another potential nationalist issue within its borders. In 1983 a dozen persons were convicted of fomenting religious and national hatred and planning to turn Bosnia into a religiously pure Islamic state. The likelihood of major upheaval sponsored by Muslim fundamentalists abroad was considered small, however, because most of Yugoslavia's Muslim population belonged to the Sunni branch of Islam not in sympathy with the main fundamentalist groups of the Middle East..

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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