According to the 2013 census, 50.70% of Bosnians identified as Muslim, 30.75% identified as Christians, and 15.19% identified as Roman Catholic Christians. A further 2.25% identified with some other religious affiliation (including Judaism, and agnosticism). Bosnia and Herzegovina is generally ethno-religious whereby one’s usually determines their religious affiliation. The majority of Muslims are Bosniaks, most Christians are Bosnian Serb and Catholic Christians are generally Bosnian Croat. It is very rare for a person to change religions. However, children of interethnic marriages are often irreligious.
Bosnians have traditionally been very tolerant and accepting of religious difference; Muslims and Christians coexisted relatively harmoniously for centuries. However, faith was used as a divisive tool for inciting violence during the war. There may be some residual sensitivity surrounding that. Nevertheless, most Bosnians are still open-minded. It remains common for Muslims to visit Christian neighbours on Christmas, and vice versa during Ramadan.
Generally, one’s religiosity is not very obvious initially. Furthermore, it may be difficult to differentiate between Muslims and Christians as women from both religions may wear headscarves. People’s faith may become more noticeable around religious months or holidays.
Islam was introduced to the Slavs of Bosnia during the Ottoman period of rule. Those that converted from Christianity became socially identified as their own group. For this reason, ‘Bosnian Muslims’ described religious affiliation as well as identity. However, today, the more popular term for this is “Bosniak”. While they still are closely affiliated with Islam culturally, not all Bosniaks are practising Muslims.
Bosnian Muslims traditionally follow the Sunni variation of Islam and the Hanafi school of thought. However, a 2012 survey found that more than half of Bosnia’s Muslims consider themselves non-denominational.1 Bosnia has a history of practising quite a modern form of Islam, influenced by the Turkish Ottoman practice of the religion. Not all Islamic customs are followed. For example, many Bosniaks drink alcohol. This is slightly changing with the influence of wahhabism (an ultra-conservative Islamic doctrine and movement), which has been introduced along with Saudi aid to help rebuild Bosnia after the war. For example, it is now becoming more common for Muslim women to follow the Islamic dress code. Nevertheless, this still only holds true for a small minority. Most Bosnian Muslims are noticeably liberal in their interpretation of Islam.
Bosnian Muslims share a widespread belief of fate by which Allah (God) predetermines everything. For example, one often hears the term “Inshallah” meaning ‘if God permits’. Of the five basic pillars of Islam, the salat (ritual prayers five times a day), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and sawm (fasting during Ramadan) are not widely followed throughout the culture. Less than 20% pray every day and only 30% attend mosque services once a week or more.2 However, 81% of Muslims in Bosnia chose to traditionally practise zakat or almsgiving.3 This requires people to donate 2.5% of their accumulated wealth to charity or a good cause unless they are impoverished.
Serbian Orthodox Christianity
The Serb identity and Serbian nationalism are often linked to the Serbian Church. Established in 1219, the Serbian Church is often understood as the institution that links contemporary Serbia with its long historical past. Since the breakup of former Yugoslavia, the church has again seen a strong revival. Since much of Serbian identity is linked to religious history, an attack on a church building is often interpreted as an attack on an individual Serbian or the collective.
While the Serbian Church is important to most Serbs, people’s level of adherence may vary. Generally speaking, many older Serbs see the church as an important part of their religious, social and cultural life. Regardless of spiritual beliefs, visits to one’s local church during major events such as Christmas and Easter are common. See the section on Religion in Serbian Culture for more information on the Serbian Church.
Catholicism is mostly followed by Croats and continues to constitute an important aspect of their and national identity. As a branch of Christianity, Catholicism is based on the doctrine of God as the ‘Holy Trinity’, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Important Catholic values that manifest in Croat cultural values include compassion and graciousness.
Like most Catholics, many Croats accept the authority of the priesthood, the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. Seminal Catholic moments (such as baptism, confirmation and marriage) are also an important part of one’s life and relationships with others. However, generally speaking, while many Croats believe in the fundamental teachings of the religion, they may not strictly practise their faith through regular church attendance.
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