Islam is the most widespread religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was introduced to the local population in the 15th and 16th centuries as a result of the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Muslims comprise the single largest religious community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (51%) (the other two large groups being Eastern Orthodox Christians (31%), almost all of whom identify as Bosnian Serbs, and Roman Catholics (15%), almost all of whom identify as Bosnian Croats).[1]

Almost all of Bosnian Muslims identify as Bosniaks; until 1993, Bosnians of Muslim culture or origin (regardless of religious practice) were defined by Yugoslav authorities as Muslimani (Muslims) in an ethno-national sense (hence the capital M). A small minority of non-Bosniak Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina include Albanians, Roma and Turks.

Albeit traditionally adherent to Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, a 2012 survey found 54% of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Muslims to consider themselves non-denominational Muslims, while 38% declared to follow Sunnism.[2] There is also a small Sufi community, located primarily in Central Bosnia.[3] Almost all Muslim congregations in Bosnia and Herzegovina refer to the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina as their religious organisation.

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina guarantees freedom of religion,[4]which is generally upheld throughout the country.


The Ottoman era

Islam was first introduced to the Balkans on a large scale by the Ottomans in the mid-to-late 15th century who gained control of most of Bosnia in 1463, and seized Herzegovina in the 1480s. Over the next century, the Bosnians - composed of dualists and Slavic tribes living in the Bosnian kingdom under the name of Bošnjani[5] - embraced Islam in great numbers under Ottoman rule. During the Ottoman era the name Bošnjanin was definitely transformed into the current Bošnjak ('Bosniak'), with the suffix "-ak" replacing the traditional "-anin". By the early 1600s, approximately two thirds of the population of Bosnia were Muslim.[6] Bosnia and Herzegovina remained a province in the Ottoman Empire and gained autonomy after the Bosnian uprising in 1831.

The Austro-Hungarian era

After the 1878 Congress of Berlin it came under the control of Austria-Hungary. In 1908, Austria-Hungary formally annexed the region.

Bosnia, along with Albania and Kosovo were the only parts of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans where large numbers of people were converted to Islam, and remained there after independence. In other areas of the former Ottoman Empire where Muslims formed the majority or started to form the majority, those Muslims were either expelled, assimilated/Christianized, massacred, or fled elsewhere (Muhajirs).[citation needed]

a man wearing Muslim mufti clothing holding his hand up in salute as he and a group of SS officers inspect a line of soldiers
Amin al-Husayni, alongside SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen SS Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, greeting Bosnian SS volunteers in November 1943.

The Yugoslav period and World War Two

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Constructed in 1579, the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka was razed to the ground by Serb extremists during the war. It was rebuilt and opened on 7 May 2016.

The ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian war caused a profound internal displacement of their population within Bosnia-Herzegovina, resulting in the almost complete segregation of the country's religious communities into separate ethno-religious areas. The rate of returning refugees was markedly slowed down by 2003-2004, leaving the majority of Serbian Orthodox adherents living in the Republika Srpska and the majority of Muslims and Catholics still living in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within the Federation, distinct Muslim and Catholic majority areas remain. However, the return of Serbian Orthodox adherents and Muslims to their prewar homes in Western Bosnia Canton and Muslims to their prewar homes in eastern Bosnia near Srebrenica have shifted the ethno-religious composition in both areas.

Throughout Bosnia, mosques were systematically destroyed by Serb and Croat armed forces. Among the most important losses were two mosques in Banja Luka, Arnaudija and Ferhadija mosque, that were on the UNESCO register of world cultural monuments.

Destruction of Islamic religious buildings in Bosnia (1992-1995)[7]
Building Destroyed Damaged Total
by Serb extremists by Croat extremists by Serb extremists by Croat extremists Total destroyed during the war Total damaged during the war Total Total no. before the war Percentage of pre-war damaged or destroyed
congregational mosque (Džamija) 249 58 540 80 307 620 927 1.149 81%
small neighbourhood mosque (Mesdžid) 21 20 175 43 41 218 259 557 47%
Quran schools (Mekteb) 14 4 55 14 18 69 87 954 9%
Dervish lodges (Tekija) 4 1 3 1 5 4 9 15 60%
Mausolea, shrines (Turbe) 6 1 34 3 7 37 44 90 49%
Buildings of religious endowments (Vakuf) 125 24 345 60 149 405 554 1.425 39%
Total 419 108 1,152 201 527 1,353 1,880 4,190 45%

The post-war period

Many religious buildings were destroyed in the war during the 90s and mosques were rebuilt with the aid of funds from Saudi Arabia and other countries from the Middle and far East, leading to a growing influence of the wahhabist movement in Bosnia in the late 1990s.[8]

Historically, Bosnian Muslims have always practiced Islam which is entirely influenced by Sufism. Since the Bosnian War, however, some remnants of groups of foreign fighters from Middle-east, fighting on the side of Bosnian Army, remained for some time and attempted to spread Wahhabism among locals. This created frictions between local Muslim population, steeped in their own traditional practice of the faith, and without any previous contact with this strain in Islam, and these newly formed communities. Although these communities were relatively small and restricted on just certain number of villages around central and northern Bosnia, the issue was highly politicized and also caused conflict within the Bosniak society itself.[9][10]

Between secularism and religious revival

Tekija of Pehare, Zenica

For a majority of Bosniaks that identify themselves as Muslims, religion often serves as a community linkage, and religious practice is confined to occasional visits to the mosque (especially during Ramadan and the two Eids) and significant rites of passage such as 'aqiqah, marriage, and death.[citation needed] Headscarves for women, or the hijab is worn only by a minority of Bosniak women, and otherwise mostly for religious purpose (such as the çarşaf for prayer and going to the mosque).[citation needed] Bosnians who participate in or are children of ethnically mixed marriages between the Bosniak, Serbian and Croatian populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina are usually atheist, although in some cases one of the two spouses convert to the confession of the other.[citation needed]

Religious leaders from the three major faiths claim that observance is increasing among younger persons as an expression of increased identification with their ethnic heritage, in large part due to the national religious revival that occurred as a result of the Bosnian war.[11] Leaders from the three main religious communities observed that they enjoy greater support from their believers in rural areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina rather than urban centres such as the capital Sarajevo or Banja Luka.[11] On the other hand, however, the violence and misery caused by religious conflict has led other Bosnians to reject religion altogether. This atheist community faces discrimination, and is frequently verbally attacked by religious leaders as "corrupt people without morals".[12]

In a 1998 public opinion poll, 78.3% of Bosniaks in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared themselves to be religious.[13]

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are eight Muftis located in major municipalities across the country: Sarajevo, Bihać, Travnik, Tuzla, Goražde, Zenica, Mostar, and Banja Luka. The head of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Husein Kavazović.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "CIA – The World Factbook – Bosnia and Herzegovina". Cia.gov. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  2. ^ "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 2012. p. 30. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  3. ^ "EKSKLUZIVNO- N1 sa dervišima: Pogledajte rijetko viđene snimke mističnih obreda". Ba.n1info.com. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  4. ^ "Freedom of religion Law..., Official Gazette of B&H 5/04" (PDF). Mpr.gov.ba. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  5. ^ Bašić, Denis (2009). The roots of the religious, ethnic, and national identity of the Bosnian-Herzegovinan [sic] Muslims. University of Washington. ISBN 9781109124637. 
  6. ^ Malcolm 1995, p. 71.
  7. ^ Maya Shatzmiller (2002). Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States. Queens University School of Policy. p. 100. 
  8. ^ "Kaliber 5 juni 2005: Saudiarabisk mission i Sverige". Sveriges Television. 20 November 2005. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  9. ^ "Radical Islamists Seek To Exploit Frustration In Bosnia". Rferl.mobi. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  10. ^ "Bosnia's Wartime Legacy Fuels Radical Islam :: Balkan Insight". Balkaninsight.com. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  11. ^ a b "Bosnia and Herzegovina: International Religious Freedom Report 2006". U.S Department of State—Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2006-09-15. 
  12. ^ Dubensky, Joyce S. (2016). Peacemakers in Action: Profiles in Religious Peacebuilding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 391. ISBN 9781107152960. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  13. ^ Velikonja, Mitja (2003). Religious separation and political intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Texas A&M University Press. p. 261. ISBN 1585442267. Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  14. ^ "Islamska zajednica u Bosni i Hercegovini - Početna". Rijaset.ba. Retrieved 14 June 2016.