Introduction / History Bosniaks are an ethnic group living in the Southeastern part of Europe, mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is proposed that their 'genetic roots' are reflective of numerous pre-historic components, especially signatures thought to be 'autochthonous' to the Dinaric region, where the historical Illyrians later appeared.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area now known as Bosnia and Herzegovina were the Illyrians, who spoke a language related to modern Albanian. The Romans conquered Illyria after a series of wars, and Latin-speaking settlers from all over the empire settled among the Illyrians.
In the Seventh Century, Slavs settled in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the surrounding lands. In 1463 the Turkish Ottoman Empire conquest at that time the independent Bosnian kingdom and it was the beginning of the influence of Islamic Civilization in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Considering the fact that the religious situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina before the Turkish conquest was complex and unclear, the large number of Slav population in Bosnia- Herzegovina converted to Islam. Prior to 1463, Eastern Orthodoxy was probably limited to the upper Drina River valley, which was predominantly Orthodox. The rest of Bosnia was nominally Roman Catholic, with a large segment of the population belonging to an indigenous Bosnian Church (Krstjani). The Krstjani were considered heretics by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Modern historians have debated whether the Krstjani were a branch of the Bogomils, a Manichean sect which originated in Bulgaria, or whether they were members of the Roman Catholic church who had acquired some heretical beliefs and influences from Eastern Orthodoxy and fell into Schism. Part of the resistance of the Bosnian Church was political; during the fourteenth century, the Roman Church placed Bosnia was placed under a Hungarian bishop, and the schism may have been motivated by a desire for independence from Hungarian domination. Because of Bosnia's mountainous and inaccessible terrain and its remote location on the borderland between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, control by church authorities was weak. Historically it was thought that the Krstjani, who were persecuted by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, accounted for many of the converts to Islam.
Although the Ottomans did not, as a rule, actively seek to convert their Christian subjects to Islam, it is thought that the greater rights afforded to Muslims in the Ottoman Empire motivated Christians to convert to Islam.
As the Ottoman Empire began to contract after the defeat at Vienna in 1683, many Muslim refugees from the lost Ottoman territories in Croatia, Slavonia, Hungary, and many centuries later Serbia found refuge in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and were assimilated into the local Bosniak population.
When Bosnia and Herzegovina was occupied and administered by Austria-Hungary in 1878, and a number of Bosniaks left Bosnia and Herzegovina. Official Austro-Hungarian records show that 56,000 people emigrated between 1883 and 1920, but the number of emigrants is probably larger, as they don't reflect emigration before 1883, and don't include those who left without permits.
Another wave of Bosniaks emigration occurred after the end of the First World War, when Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, known after 1929 as Yugoslavia.
After the Second World War, Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the six republics of Socialistic Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, unlike the preceding Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosniaks were not allowed to declare themselves as Bosniaks. As a compromise, the Constitution of Yugoslavia was amended in 1968 to list Muslims by nationality recognizing a nation, but not the Bosniak name. The Yugoslav "Muslim by nationality" policy was considered by Bosniaks to be neglecting and opposing their Bosnian identity because the term tried to describe Bosniaks as a religious group not an ethnic one. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, most people who used to declare as Muslims began to declare themselves as Bosniaks.
Where are they located? Most Bosniaks identify themselves with Bosnia and Herzegovina as their ethnic state and are part of such a common nation.
There are around two million Bosniaks living in the Balkans today. The largest number of Bosniaks outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina is found in the Sandzak region of Montenegro and Serbia. The city of Novi Pazar is home to the largest Bosniak population outside of the motherland. There is also a smaller autochthonous population present in Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia and Macedonia.
Once spread throughout the regions they inhabited, various instances of ethnic cleansing and genocide have had a tremendous effect on the territorial distribution of their population. Partially due to this, a notable Bosniak diaspora exists in a number of countries, including Austria, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Turkey and the United States. Both within the region and the outside world, Bosniaks are often noted for their unique culture, which has been influenced by both eastern and western civilizations and schools of thought over the course of their history.
What are their lives like? Being part of Europe and influenced not only by the oriental but also by western culture, Bosniaks are considered to be some of the most advanced Islamic peoples of the world. The nation takes pride in the melancholic folk songs "sevdalinke", the precious medieval filigree manufactured by old Sarajevo craftsmen, and a wide array of traditional wisdoms that are carried down to newer generations by word of mouth, and in recent years written down in numerous books.
National heroes are typically historical figures, whose life and skill in battle are emphasized. These include figures such as Gazi Husrev-beg, the second Ottoman governor of Bosnia or Alija Djerzelez, an almost mythic character who even the Ottoman Sultan was said to have called "A Hero". Old Slavic influences can also be seen, such as Kulin Ban who has acquired legendary status. Even today, the people regard him as a favorite of the fairies, and his reign as a golden age.
What are their beliefs? Most Bosniaks are Sunni Muslim, although historically Sufism has also played a significant role among them.
For many Bosniaks, Islamic identity has more to do with cultural roots than with religious beliefs. Even among most religious Bosniaks, there is a disdain for religious leaders exercising any influence over day-to-day life. Bosniaks are no different than other Muslims in that they view Islam from the foundation that is their culture.
What are their needs? The tragedy of the Bosniaks has been vividly portrayed to the world by the media. The destruction of towns and villages, expulsion of their inhabitants, systematic looting, and raping of women have left deep scars and an abiding hatred between communities that once lived together and even intermarried.
A particularly disturbing occurrence happened in July 1995, when Serb troops under general and war criminal Ratko Mladic occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, after which around 7,000 Bosniak males went missing.
Today many of the Bosniaks are war refugees in the Western countries. They still speak Bosnian, and maintain a cultural and religious community and visit their mother country regularly.
The Bosnians are one of Europe's least evangelized peoples. Although there are missions agencies currently working among the Bosnians of Bosnia-Herzegovina, very few have accepted Christ. Prayer is the key to reaching them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Bosnians toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are currently working among Bosnians.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Bosnia-Herzegovina and share Christ.
* Ask God to encourage the few known Bosnian believers in this region.
* Pray that God will meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of Bosnians.
* Ask the Lord to raise strong local churches among Bosnians.
* Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.