Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Yugoslavia's Islamic community, the largest in any European country west of Turkey, included about 4 million people concentrated among three ethnic groups: Muslim Slavs, located in Bosnia and Hercegovina and Kosovo; ethnic Albanians, primarily in Kosovo, the town of Novi Pazar in Serbia, and Macedonia; and Turks inhabiting the same regions as the Albanians. Most of the Muslim Slavs and Albanians converted to Islam in the early stages of Ottoman occupation to gain the higher social status that Ottoman policy afforded to converts. They were the only groups in the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire to convert in large numbers.
In 1930 Yugoslavia's separate Muslim groups united under the authority of a single ulama, (religious scholar), the Rais-ul Ulama, who enforced Islamic religious and legal dogma and managed the affairs of the Islamic community. Headquartered in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia's Islamic community included about 3,000 religious leaders and 3,000 mosques in the 1980s. Some Yugoslav Muslim officials studied at Islamic institutions abroad. Financial contributions from Islamic countries such as Libya and Saudi Arabia helped fund many of the 800 mosques constructed in Yugoslavia after World War II. In 1985 a "grand mosque" was opened in Zagreb after years of delay. The only Islamic school of theology in Europe was located in Sarajevo, and Islamic secondary schools operated in Sarajevo, Skopje, and Pristina. A religious school for women, attached to the Islamic secondary school in Sarajevo, had a capacity of sixty. The Islamic community of Yugoslavia published a variety of newspapers and periodicals.
Relations of the postwar communist government with the Islamic community were less troubled than those with the Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches. Yugoslavia's Islamic leaders generally had kept a low profile during World War II, although the authorities condemned the mufti of Zagreb to death for allegedly inciting Muslims to murder Serbs. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tito used Yugoslavia's Islamic community to maintain friendly relations with oil-producing Arab countries because Yugoslavia needed access to inexpensive oil. But after the 1979 fundamentalist revolution in Iran, the Yugoslav government reviewed its policy on potentially destabilizing contacts between Yugoslav Muslims and Middle Eastern governments. The ulama responded by disavowing all connection with the pan-Islamic movement.
Besides mainstream Sunni Islam, the Yugoslav Muslim population also included several small groups such as the Bektashi dervishes. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Bektashi sect was one of the official religions of Kosovo under the tolerant policy of the Ottoman Turks. Its practice disregards much of traditional Islamic ritual and contains some Christian elements, especially in areas where Christianity is the prevalent religion. After Turkey dissolved its Bektashi orders in 1925, the sect survived only in the Balkans.
Data as of December 1990